By Jimmy Allinder
Bob Ciriello has never regretted not trying to be a professional umpire.
Although becoming part of a major league crew occasionally tickled his dreams, the East Brunswick resident has had a 29-year love affair umpiring Little League-sponsored games, primarily in Old Bridge Township.
Ciriello’s dedication to youth baseball for much of his adult life was recently rewarded with him being chosen to be part of the crew that will umpire the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
“Words can’t describe how humbled and honored I am for being selected,” Ciriello said. “I’ve been overwhelmed by congratulations from my family, friends and fellow umpires.”
To be considered a candidate for Williamsport, which stages its annual World Series in late August, Ciriello not only had to ump countless games, but also needed to be recognized for objectivity, which, given his avocation, could be a challenge for even the most fair-minded individual.
He then had to umpire in a region tournament, which in Ciriello’s case is the East consisting of 11 states and Washington, D.C. He satisfied that requirement decades ago, but it was this year that he was tabbed from among hundreds of candidates to represent the East Region in Williamsport.
“Qualifying to ump a region tournament was a big step,” he said. “It required that I have a solid résumé of working games at the state level, attending training seminars and receiving a recommendation from the local district administrator, [Gary Giackette].”
As Ciriello prepares to undertake the highlight of his umpiring career, he reflects back to when he first became the man in blue.
“I always loved baseball and began umpiring as a way of following in my father’s footsteps,” he said. “He umpired when I played, but one of my biggest regrets was he passed away in 1987 having never watched me call a game.”
Once Ciriello started umping, he never slowed down. He works in the Old Bridge District, which is associated with Little League, which enabled him to be observed by coaches who noticed he was not a run of the mill ump.
“I was asked to do games in other districts and umpired my first Little League International Tournament game in 1992,” he said. “Meanwhile, I kept up with training by attending week-long sessions on occasions at the East Region headquarters in Bristol, [Connecticut]. That helped me refine my knowledge of the rules [and] mechanics and acquire other game management skills.”
When Ciriello speaks about what he believes is important about maintaining control of a game, it’s obvious why he earned his trip to Williamsport.
“I think an umpire has to have a high degree of tolerance for criticism,” he said. “There have been rare occasions when I ‘asked’ a manager to leave the field because he displayed actions that, let’s say, weren’t appropriate in front of kids.”
Ciriello also draws the line when coaches question his integrity.
“I consider myself unbiased, so if anybody implies or says I’m cheating, I take exception,” he said. “Managers have the right to disagree with a call, but they need to understand I honestly don’t care who wins. My job is to be fair and enable participants to play on an equal basis.”
One of the biggest challenges Ciriello faces is dealing with parents who think their child is the next Derek Jeter.
“Honestly, in all my years of umpiring, very few kids stand out as being that exceptional,” he said. “Parents can let their emotions get the best of them if a call goes against their kid. My goal is to keep the game a positive experience for everybody, and I’ll do whatever I have to [in order to] maintain that standard.”
Ciriello recently returned from an orientation in Williamsport, where he met other members of the crew who will ump the Little League World Series.
“They come from the other four districts in the U.S. and countries that participate in Little League baseball,” he said. “It was wonderful to meet them, and the experience made me realize how fortunate I am to have earned this honor.”
Ciriello and his wife, Linda, have been married for 35 years and raised two children, Melissa and Nicholas. What pays the bills is his job with AT&T Inc. as an information technology manager, which he has been for 37 years.
With retirement looming, Ciriello has no plans to use some of his downtime for rest and relaxation.
“You’re kidding me,” he said. “I’ll be doing even more umping.”
Spoken like an individual who truly loves what he does.