It was the most people he’d ever been in front of, let alone umpired for.
The 4,000 or 5,000 people that filled the stands at the 2002 Great Lakes Regional little league baseball championship game in Indianapolis were the most spectators Rick Castle had called a game in front of.
Yet, it was then that the Muscatine native and local umpire knew what he wanted to do before he hung up his gear.
“That got me going and I thought, ‘Gosh, before I decide to retire, so to speak, I‘d like to get the shot at the Little League World Series,’” Castle said.
In December, Castle, 52, got the call he’d been waiting for — he was selected to be one of 16 umpires to work this summer’s Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, from Aug. 18-28.
“Oh, gosh, I was ecstatic. The first thing I did was I tried to get ahold of my wife. Of course, I couldn’t get it her, which is normal,” Castle said with a laugh. “I called Jerry Millage and let him know.
“[Millage] knows so many people out there and he’s been pulling for me all these years to get this assignment. I don’t only look at Jerry as a friend, I looked at him as my mentor and I look at him as another father figure. He’s just a super, super guy. He’s helped me so much through this.”
Millage, who’s been umpiring 40 to 60 games each summer with Castle in and around Muscatine since 1996, by his estimation, has also been an umpire coordinator the last nine years for the Little League Central Region based in Indianapolis.
A veteran of the LLWS — including being behind the plate for one of the starts of Danny Almonte, who was ruled to have been two years too old to participate after the tournament was over, in 2001 — the Senior Boys World Series in 2007 and the Little League Softball World Series in 2012, Millage, 73, said Castle earned his opportunity.
“Rick’s a great umpire. He’s strictly business on the field, plus he likes the kids. That goes a long way because the kids end up liking him,” Millage said. “You don’t make enemies on the field. That’s the worst thing an umpire can do, is have a short trigger. Rick does not have that. He’s great on the field. He explains things to the coaches. He just does it right.”
The process just to be considered for the LLWS is arduous. A prospective umpire must work district games and state tournaments at home and be nominated by their district administrator to work regional games. It starts all over at the regional level, where the umpire has to work two regional tournaments and go to two umpire schools and then be nominated by the regional administrator to be considered for the LLWS based in part on the reviews from their regional performances.
Even though all traveling and any other costs come out of his pocket, Castle did all asked of him and more. He umpired three regional tournaments in Indiana and took two week-long umpire courses.
“I love working with the kids,” said Castle, who lives in Moscow. “… We talk through the games, we kind of joke around. Especially here in Muscatine and the youth leagues I do, I try to help coach them a little bit along the way, give them pointers here and there of everything I’ve learned through the years. I enjoy the game so much. It’s kind of in your blood.”
That type of dedication is why Millage did what he could to get Castle the opportunity, particularly with his only little league baseball (11-12 years old) regional tournament experience over a decade ago.
“He definitely deserves a shot. It was 2002 he did the regional tournament. That was 14 years ago,” Millage said. “Sometimes they don’t go back that far. That’s one of the reasons I put in a word for him. [I said] I think you’re missing the boat on this guy.”
Castle will go to South Williamsport for the first time in May for training, and he’s ready for an opportunity Millage described as “hard to explain. You just walk out and you’re humbled by the experience.”
Aug. 18 can't get here quick enough for Castle.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge because that’s exactly what it’s going to be. Not only that, but it’s also an honor to get to that level,” Castle said. “I’m looking to have fun. I’m not going to change anything I’ve done over the years. I’m going to be my own self, and that’s still giving back to the kids, still having fun with the kids because that’s what it’s all about.”