It’s only fitting that Brad Elliot ends his umpiring career where it all started almost 50 years ago.
Trail Little League invited Elliot, a Trail native, to throw out the first pitch at their opening ceremonies on Saturday at Andy Bilesky Park, because after 49 years of calling balls and strikes, the man-in-blue is retiring from umpiring.
“The body is telling me now it’s time,” said Elliot, who called it quits this year after spending the past five decades umpiring at almost every level of baseball, softball, and slo-pitch, and ringing up outs at regional, provincial, and national championships.
Elliot, now 71, began his sojourn into the dark art of umpiring in the spring of 1965 when he called his first Trail Little League game.
“A relative of my mother’s, he was the Umpire and Chief (UIC) for Little League, and when I moved back to Trail, I ran into him one night he was stuck for an umpire up at Little League so I started helping him out that year,” said Elliot.
“The following year I started getting all the papers, and I phoned the president and asked, ‘How come I’m getting all these papers for Little League?’ and he says, ‘Oh your uncle retired, and he said you’re taking over.’ – So that’s how I got into it,” he laughed.
The 71-year-old retired accountant has seen some of Trail’s best ballplayers and coaches come through the Little League, Babe Ruth, and softball ranks, including Andy Bilesky, Jason and Lauren Bay, and Chris Kissock, and is struck by the dedication of both athletes and volunteers from small towns like Trail.
Fellow umpire Bill MacMillan had the privilege of bestowing the BC Baseball Umpire Association’s George Connelly Builders Award honour on Elliot in 2013, awarded for outstanding long-term commitment to building and maintaining a strong umpire program in the area.
“Brad is one of those guys that is always there,” said MacMillan. “He ‘s the kind of guy that gets out there every day and is always looking to improve. He’s not terribly hard nosed, he’s just a local guy doing local stuff.”
In the same year, Elliot also received the Sports Hero award in baseball from Sport BC for his dedication and contribution to Trail baseball.
The awards are treasured moments for Elliot, and the recognition is well-deserved, says Trail Little League coach and director, long-time player, and Trail AM Ford Orioles manager Jim Maniago, who has occasionally disagreed with Elliot’s perspective during games.
“The thing with Brad, he’s a good guy, he’s not arrogant, he’s not there to do anything other than do his best for the kids and for the game,” said Maniago. “He’s very easy to deal with and never one to get too worked up very easily, and like I said his focus is just to keep the game moving and keep it fair for everybody. He’s not one that gets overly officious, and he’s not one that goes looking for problems, he’s just there to have fun, same with everybody else. ”
And despite the perception of persecution that surrounds officials in most sports, Elliot insists the reason he continued to umpire year after year was due to the sheer enjoyment of the game and the umpiring fraternity.
“I enjoyed the years I did in Little League travelling to provincials and Canadians, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and once I moved up to Babe Ruth it gets a little more serious, but I enjoyed it all, and like I said, ‘If you don’t enjoy it, you shouldn’t be there.’”
While players and coaches will no longer run into him on the base paths, the amiable Elliot has no plans of going gentle into that good night.
“I’m still going to be doing allocating for the umpires and looking after them, and work with Scott (Calvin) in the concession stand or at tournaments, whatever, just to keep involved . . . and stay out of my wife’s hair.”
Elliot will be recognized for his contribution to Trail Little League at the opening ceremonies at noon Saturday.