Behind the plate at world championship

Hope umpire makes the calls for ISC junior men's title event in Argentina

Hope’s Aaron Poulin was in Argentina to work the softball junior men’s world championships. Seen here is Venezuela (blue) vs Singapore.

Modern technology has made the world a very small place – but Hope resident Aaron Poulin knows differently, after traveling to Argentina to work as an official at the International Softball Federation Junior Men’s World Championship.

The event ran from November 2 to 10 in Parana, Argentina and Poulin has had some readjusting to do in his week back home, especially to the dim daylight and a loss of about 25º C in temperatures.

“From Hope to Parana, Argentina was 38 hours total, with flights and bus travel,” said Poulin on Monday. “That’s way too much sitting down time for me… the longest trip that I’ve ever been on.”

Pity the players and officials from Japan, who endured an even longer trip.

Thirteen countries, including Croatia, India, Denmark and the Czech Republic were there to celebrate this amateur sport and vie for the world title. For Poulin, it was a trip that he has been looking forward to since the last century.

“They were all playing for a world championship and the opportunity to represent their country,” said Poulin. “Many players had to pay their own expenses to get to the tournament, as did some of the umpires as well. Softball Canada covered my travel expenses for the trip, as they usually do for umpires.

“The Argentina players were very much local and national heroes for the entire week of the tournament.

“I’ve been umpiring for 25 years,” said Poulin. “The last 14 years, I’ve been ISF-certified, which makes me eligible for ISF events such as World Championships and previously, the Olympic games.

“ISF world championships occur every two years for junior women, junior men, senior women and senior men,” he explained. “I’ve been waiting since 1998, when I was internationally certified. I passed on the junior women’s last year in South Africa so that I’d be able to attend the junior men’s in Argentina.

“Parana is where most of the softball in Argentina is played. Diamond One has a huge grandstand and seating for around 6,000 fans and the back diamond is much smaller, for the few games that were played there each day.”

Nineteen officials were tapped to serve behind the plate, or to cover a base or one of the foul lines. English and Spanish were the official languages of the event and everyone else had to adjust to that standard or supply their own interpreters, said Poulin.

Ten of his games were on the bases and lines and four were behind the plate. But would he be chosen for the final between Japan and the hosts, Argentina?

Coming into the final night of action, Saturday November 10, Poulin knew that if Canada made the final, he would be disallowed. Officials have to be seen as being neutral. Canada ended up in fourth spot — one notch higher than the Americans — so Poulin had a chance to be in the championship match.

“We didn’t even get our assignments until fifteen minutes before the 7:00 p.m. game,” he said.

He didn’t get chosen for the Japan-Australia semi-final, so his chances got better… and yes, he made it. Poulin got the home plate job for the championship match, at 10:30 p.m.

“You’ve got nineteen umpires and every one of them has that little dream of making the final,” said Poulin. “It was a great honour.”

Saturday night in Parana was nothing like Saturday night at Softball City in Surrey, B.C. — especially considering the national team was in the final match.

“Umpiring in front of a crowd of close to 7,000 fans was unbelievable because of the noise that was created,” said Poulin. “They sing, chant, and cheer for the entire game without too many rest breaks. Here, you barely ever hear the crowd unless something exciting happens, like a huge home-run.”

In a strange country, he didn’t know what to expect — so when the fireworks started going off, Poulin said it gave him a big scare.

“You’d hear big bangs and they scared you… and they kept scaring you, even once you knew what they were. Then they’d let off Roman candles behind the outfield fence after every home run.

“They even brought in an announcer from Colombia and he was always pumping up the crowd, playing the Gangnam song. I never want to hear that song again.

“They had two bands playing in the stands and the crowd was chanting ‘Ar-Gen-Tin-A’ over and over — then Argentina would make a big play and the crowd would go nuts for five minutes, then settle back into the regular roar.

“I had an umping buddy e-mail me from New Zealand, where they’re just starting their season. He said it’s hard to go back to crowds of thirty fans, after working in front of thousands.”

Japan was perhaps weary from their third game in a row that day and Argentina scored three runs in the seventh inning to ensure the 5-0 win.

Poulin left his family at home for two weeks — but thanks to home-and-away iPads, the world became instantly small again.

“I talked to my wife, Lenora and daughters Arden and Lily most days on Face Time on my iPad,” said Poulin.

“There was lots of support from my family and umpire friends from BC. I couldn’t have accomplished this trip without the support from Lenora, Arden, and Lily for all the time I’ve been away over the past few summers. They’ve been very understanding when Daddy was away on an umpire trip, preparing for this trip of a lifetime. Thanks to my three special girls!”