Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Oct. 4, 1999

Kenny Norman to be honored as umpire

By Luis Puga

When Kenny Norman speaks, everyone listens . . . on a baseball diamond.

That's because Norman has the dubious honor of being an umpire, at times not the most respected position in the game.

However, Norman will be honored for his role in making the calls. The Minnesota State High School Baseball Coaches Association will present him the Angelo Giuliani Award Sunday, Oct. 24 at the Annual FCA Awards Breakfast.

At 77 years of age, Norman has quite a background in baseball.

He has spent 35 years umpiring high school baseball and softball, and has been with the Northwest Umpires Association for 19 years.

But Norman also has had the final say in a number of other sports as well. For 25 years, he refereed high school basketball and officiated volleyball for 28 years.

His favorite sport: football, one of the few games he hasn't called.

A self-described high-ball hitter, Norman said he got into umpiring because people didn't like his hitting style.

"My wife and my sister told me that all these people were saying stuff about me ­ I should be an ump and at least get paid for it," he said.

But, he said for the record, he used to get a lot of hits.

Nevertheless, at 42, Norman began a long career as an umpire, traveling from town to town to officiate.

Always willing to call a game, he said he was on the road a lot. His schedule often had him at a game every day from week to weekend. This was not just for high school, but for amateur leagues and whatever else he was asked to do.

Over the years, Norman has heard them all.

Calls for eyeglasses and other vision aids are old hat to him. He said he's only had to throw players out of six games.

"You got these guys that are gonna mumble they didn't like the call. The first thing you tell them, and I still tell them today, is 'I'm not gonna listen to you. The only one I gotta listen to is my wife and most times I don't wanna listen to her either."

Of course, Norman is kidding and adds that his wife, Leila Irene, is "a beautiful gal."

However, jokes are part of Norman's way of talking. Consider it a fast pitch and you're the batter. If you don't pay attention, you'll miss something.

Norman also makes himself known through volume, something he said he learned as an umpire. He began speaking softly, until another umpire let him know that it was important to "let them know from Shakopee to Chaska" what your call is.

Norman said this sort of presence is important. He said volume lets the players and coaches know "That's one call I'm going to make, and I'm not going to be changing it."

He characterizes the only players who give him trouble about a call as the "poor" ball players.

So, has Norman ever missed a call?

He said that he hasn't in all his 35 years with a supreme confidence. Norman added that he's noticed how some major league umpires have come out and said they have made mistakes. He doesn't think much of that, and says, "you never admit it."

Once in a while, a player will pop up from Norman's past. Norman said it is usually a "nice" ballplayer who still is thinking about a call made a number of years ago.

The player will approach Norman and politely indicate that maybe he made the wrong call. Norman says to such players, "I might have, but you're still out."

This kind of determination helps. Norman explains that even today he still finds new rules in the book that he hasn't discovered.

He admits that sometimes, an ump has to use his judgement to make a call. With a lot of team pride riding on what you say, you had better be certain.

This attitude has helped him go, as he said, to officiate in places where other umpires refused to go.

In general, he said most problems are left on the field and the manager or player who argues your call will be the same one who buys you a hot dog after the game . . . sometimes.

For this reason, Norman said he enjoys officiating. He likes meeting all the people he has met and insists every one of his 30 some years in officiating has been fun.

That fun has been passed on to his sons, Bill and Dick, who are also umpires, as well as his grandson, Todd. He's worked with each at least once, and calls them excellent officials.

As for the award, he calls it a great honor to be nominated by his colleagues.

No doubt, as some of these coaches might have been ball players in games officiated by Norman, they might ask him to reconsider a call or two. Norman will of course listen to what they have to say, but in the end, he will say, "you're still out."

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