OMAHA — The 2013 College World Series is currently underway, and one of the men calling balls and strikes and manning the bases is former Perry resident Bill Speck.
Speck is the son of Keith Speck, a longtime worker in Perry for the Milwaukee Railroad. Changes in the rail industry forced Keith and wife Wanda — who passed away in 2009 — to move to Bozeman, Montana. The move came during the winter of Bill’s freshman year at Perry; he would have been a member of the Class of 1975.
Longtime friend Dave Hayes (PHS Class of ’73), who now lives in Bentonville, Ark., recently joined members of the Speck family in Omaha for the second CWS Bill Speck has worked, as he was also an umpire for the 2008 tourney.
"Bill and I have stayed in touch over the years and see each other when we can," Hayes said. "His dad, Keith, won’t admit it, but he was a pretty good ballplayer himself back in the day and once struck out Mickey Mantle while they were in the minors."
Bill played baseball for two years at Indian Hills Community College in Centerville before moving on to New Mexico State University. From 1981-90 he worked as an umpire in professional baseball, rising as high as the Triple-A level.
"I came to realize that I might spend many years and never make the major leagues and I just did not want to do that, not with a family and business obligations," he said. "Charline and I have a daughter (Karli) and it was just something I was not ready to commit to once I felt I was not likely to be called up to the majors anytime soon."
Speck has a landscaping business in Modesto, Cal. but for over 20 years has worked 50-60 games at the collegiate level, must notably for the PAC-12, Mountain West and WAC schools.
"I am an independent contractor and I see the schedule in the fall for the next year," he explained. "Usually by Thanksgiving I have made all my travel and hotel arrangements for the next spring and summer. It works out to about a 15-week schedule or so, but I can still stay close to home and keep up with my business. I am home about three out of every seven days during the season."
Umpires for the CWS are chosen by a merit system, and Speck said it was a special honor to work the tournament.
"The seven other umpires who are here are all extremely talented and I am honored to be considered their peers," he said. "There is so much talent on the West Coast, and also down in the SEC, that to be one of the eight guys working here is special."
When Speck worked the ’08 CWS the tourney was still held at famed Rosenblatt Stadium. It is now held at Ameritrade Park.
"Rosenblatt was a great environment, but I have to tell you, this new stadium (opened in 2011) is something else," he said. "You get 25,000 fans in here making noise like the bigger college team fans do and it can be a great atmosphere."
Speck’s first game this CWS was Mississippi State vs. Oregon State. He also worked North Carolina State vs. North Carolina and will continue to work a game each day as the tourney moves along. His preference when it comes to his on-field assignment? Working the plate.
"I would not want to be behind the plate every game, or even back-to-back, but you are at your most alert because you have to be on every pitch," he explained. "Sometimes working second or third base, it can be a while between having to make calls, and if you work them back-to-back that is a long time just to be standing out there."
In the majors the home plate umpire is responsible for rubbing down six dozen brand new baseballs each game with a special mud that comes from the sediments of the Delaware river. Doing so takes some of the slickness and shine off of new balls. No such requirement is mandated by the NCAA.
"You show up, they give you six new balls to put in your bag and away you go," he said. "Not having to get 72 balls ready each game doesn’t bother me one bit."
The biggest surprise he might have for those who do not know him? He is not a baseball fan.
"I have not been in a major league park for more than 18 total innings in the last 20 years," he said. "This is my job, and after dealing with players and managers over the years I just don’t have a great love of the game. I follow what I need to for my job, of course, but I don’t casually watch baseball at all.
"When people hear that they think I must hate my job and nothing could be further from the truth … I truly enjoy what I do," he concluded. "It is my job and I try to do my best every time out, but that doesn’t mean that after 15 weeks of working games I want to spend August and September watching more of them."
Bill said he has not been back to Perry for many, many years. He once had relatives in Illinois, but those have dwindled over the years and now he spends much of his time on the west coast.
"I thought about running over there since I was in Omaha but the time schedule just would not allow it," he said. "I would love to get back and visit and I hope I can make that happen sometime in the future."