|Lebanon's 'Iron Man' umpire|
|Wednesday, July 25, 2012|
If Barry Hardy, who’s been umping Lebanon Rotary and Kiwanis baseball games since the 1980s, could make the final call, he’d like to be laid to his eternal rest beneath home plate.
He’s more at home on the baseball diamonds where Lebanon youngsters ages 9 to 12 play the great American pastime than practically anywhere.
“I been buried in the ground up at the ball park,” Hardy, 59, said. “All the kids see me. They know me. That’s reason I love the game. I love the kids.”
Lebanon’s “Iron Man” of umpiring baseball games grew up in Gladeville and played cornerback on the Mt. Juliet High School football team in the early 1970s. The victim of three heart attacks has attempted to retire two or three times from his job behind the plate, but his devotion to the youngsters keeps him coming back to call more balls and strikes, more fair and foul balls, more safes and outs.
The best he recollects, Hardy umpired his first baseball games at 17 or 18 in Mt. Juliet. Joining the U.S. Army out of high school, he served for 14 years as a cook and mechanic. While stationed at the Army base in Schweinfurt, Germany, he began calling games in military leagues.
When he took a stateside leave in 1980, the Army paid his way for three weeks’ worth of training at an umpire school in Panama City, Fla. There he tutored beneath Eric Gregg, one of the major league’s pioneer African-American umpires.
“He was my teacher, and I learned a lot from him. I was skinny, and he was big (Gregg weighed 350 to 400 pounds during much of his career). He sat over me and made me stand in there and watch as the pitchers were throwing. I was scared, too. They were throwing that ball, and I wanted to duck and run, but he made me hang in there,” Hardy remembered, with a smile on his face.
He credits Bob Taylor, the late Lebanon band director, for getting him this job where he has been calling ’em like he sees ’em for 25 years or more. Hardy estimates he works about 90 games during the regular season before calling another 90 or so games once tournaments begin in July.
“I have done every tournament that there has been done here,“ he said modestly but honestly. “I’m the senior to the senior umps. I tell the new umps to come to the ball park early, to know their surroundings and remember where you’re supposed to be on the field at all times and know the hand signals.
“I see myself being a teacher as well as an umpire,” said Hardy, who has two grown sons, Rod and Michael, and seven grandchildren. “I teach the kids the fundamentals of athletics and playing baseball. Sometimes people come to call out for the money, but for me, the money’s good, but it’s better when you’re teaching at the same time.
“The sportsmanship of the game is what I try to teach everybody, cause if you’re not having fun coaching or playing, then you might as well not even do it.”
As for the hardest part, he confesses it is dealing with coaches and parents.
As for physical protection, the umpire’s uniform consists of a face mask, chest protector and shin guards, complimented by gray pants, a blue shirt and a blue cap. But the gear is not fool-proof.
“If I had a dollar for every lick and every foul ball I took, I’d be rich right now,” he mused of bearing the brunt of fouls balls to the head, Adam’s apple and shoulders. One trip to the emergency room revealed seams from the baseball imprinted on his arm like a tattoo.
Hardy, who umpires two games a night, three nights a week, once tried his hand as an umpire in a girls' fast pitch league. “That big ole yellow ball moved all over the place. Woo, Lord, I just can’t do it,” he reminisced about the gig that only ran for two weeks.
“After 40 years of calling, it’s been one merry-go-round. I’ve had a lot of laughs, a lot of fun. As the years go by, everybody gets to know you. I love it.
“The worst thing I hate, a kid comes up to bat and cries. A lot haven’t played before and are afraid they’re gonna get hit or strike out. I get ’em, hug ’em and tell ’em there’s gonna be another day,” said Hardy, Lebanon’s man behind the plate, who may just keep on umping from here to eternity.