When an ump from Riverton backed out, the umpiring chief of the Western Region called Wyoming’s Little League District Administrator, who called Sanders.
For Sanders, it was a pleasant surprise and another step towards his ultimate goal, the same as that of the kids who take the fields he presides over — to make it to Williamsport.
“You always want to try to step up to that next level,” Sanders said. “It’s the only way you’re going to get a Williamsport invitation.”
Williamsport is the be-all-end-all of Little League umpiring. Thousands have applied but only a half of 1 percent ever actually make it to the big little show.
To be eligible to ump the Little League World Series one must have a regional tournament under his belt.
“I thought probably in the next few years would be my best chance,” Sanders said of making it to San Bernardino, Calif., site of the West and Northwest regionals.
Only a dozen umpires are chosen to work the West and Northwest Regionals, and Sanders knew it could take years to finally be chosen out of a pool of 600.
“I hoped,” he said.
Sanders has umpired all levels of youth baseball, from minors to American Legion, over the past eight years. He works four nights a week during the summer, on top of his day job at Sanders Plumbing & Heating.
He’d ump more, but said he limits himself to four nights a week “so I still have a family that will welcome me home,” he chuckled. “I have to be home once in a while.”
Sanders began umpiring as a way to stay involved with the sport he grew up with.
His mother played fast-pitch softball for years before eventually moving on to slow pitch.
“That’s where I remember all my summers being spent — at the ballfield,” Sanders said.
He played baseball at every level in Powell up through Legion. Eventually, he became a a Little League and Babe Ruth coach, a position he held for eight years.
But he had to give up coaching, and his direct tie to baseball, until, after a 16-year stint with the Powell Volunteer Fire Department, he once again had time for the diamond.
Now Sanders is the league’s most respected ump and the man chosen, unsolicited, to represent Wyoming on one of Little League’s biggest stages.
“There’s nobody better around here as far as I’m concerned,” said Cory Ostermiller, head coach of the Minor Division All-Stars and Powell Diamondbacks.
Two years ago Sanders changed the local landscape of youth umpiring.
Little League umpires used to receive payment by the league, but Sanders built a viable volunteer umpiring crew (which currently consists of seven umpires) that has worked games for the past two summers.
“Hopefully every year we’ll keep adding and build a good umpiring crew,” he said.
Local umpires are trained by Sanders during a one-day spring clinic he organizes.
“The umpires in Powell are a reflection of Calvin and the standards that he sets,” said Ben Jackson, head coach of the Major Division’s Royals.
Sanders stresses the importance of rules, which he studied intensely at the Western Region Umpiring School two years ago in San Bernardino.
“You need to know (the rulebook) better than anyone else on the field,” Sanders said.
And it’s apparent to everyone around him that he does.
“The guy is a stickler for the rules,” Ostermiller said.
Sanders acknowledged his reputation as a strict enforcer of each page of the Little League rulebook.
“If it’s a rule we’re either going to follow it or get rid of it,” he said, laughing.
Being on both sides of the mask has helped Sanders appreciate everyone’s role in baseball.
“I grew a giant respect for umpires that I probably didn’t have before,” Sanders said of transitioning from coaching to umpiring.
But being a coach helps Sanders empathize with the men who are trying to lead their teams to victory, so long as their coaching for the kids and not themselves.
“I really enjoy a coach who’s really working with the kids and constantly coaching,” he said.
Sanders truly is in it for the children, and the kids respect his knowledge and commitment.
“Our kids adore him, they really think highly of Calvin,” said Scotty Brown, majors director.
At his clinic Sanders tells the other umpires “these kids are working hard, you need to work hard too.
“Nothing irritates me more than a lazy umpire,” he said.
Sanders will surely be working hard in San Bernardino, though even after years of training and experience he said he’s feeling a bit nervous about working in an intensified setting.
“I guess my biggest fear and I go out there and blow a call and ruin some little kid’s chance of going to Williamsport, going to the World Series,” he said. “You just gotta go out there and do your best and hopefully I’ll go out there and do Wyoming and Powell Little League proud.”
It’s rare for Sanders to seem anything but in control. His ability to maintain order on the field is one of the reasons he was asked to travel to the west coast.
“He’s not going to let coaches go out there and yell at their kids or make a mockery of their game,” Jackson said. “I don’t think we could have a better ambassador representing (Powell).”
But Sanders knows umpires are anything but infallible.
“If I have a perfect game I better quit.”
Sanders will arrive in California July 30 for two days of orientation and training. Games begin Aug. 2 and go through Aug. 10.
The Wyoming team that advances to the West Regionals will play on Aug. 7. Sanders will not ump that game but it will be televised on ESPN 3. Both semi-finals games and the championship game will be televised on either ESPN or ESPN 2.