Canton native Brent Pickens certainly did as he grew up. Now well past the age of playing ball, Pickens has started making frequent trips to Cooperstown as a volunteer umpire.
Each week, more than 100 youth teams go to Milford, N.Y., just south of the central New York village, to play tournaments that culminate in a championships game. Each team that participates is required to bring its own umpire, who then volunteers to officiate other games.
“Umpires go up to get experience and everything,” Pickens said. “You learn a lot. Up there, you run a three-man and four-man crew, and then six-man in the championship. Down here, we only run two-men crews. They have umpires from everywhere you can think. They all do things a little different, and you can learn about that. That is the stuff I try to bring back with me.”
While the experience hasn’t gotten old for Pickens, he was able to find a new way to experience it in his most recent trip to Cooperstown, when he was chosen as one of six umpires from a pool of 104 to officiate a championship game at Cooperstown Dreams Park between two teams from California.
“They have a big tournament up there every week in the summer,” Pickens said. “I’ve been there probably 10 times, but this was the first time that I got picked to do the championship game. It’s a big deal. They took our picture and everything.”
Standing on the left-field line, Pickens watched the championship game and made a few fair-foul calls. He said working as part of a six-man umpiring crew was much easier than working with the two-man crew that’s the standard for many younger levels of play in Georgia.
“It’s a whole lot easier,” he said. “You don’t have to focus on as much.”
Pickens, employed as an exterminator when he’s not on the baseball field, has been working as an umpire for about 20 years. He said his job gives him the flexibility to take time off for the trip to Cooperstown every couple of years.
Pickens, who works for One Source Officials, is the head umpire in the Sequoyah Junior Chiefs organization. It was with that group’s 12-and-under team that he made the trip this year.
“I started umpiring right here in Canton at Hobgood Field,” Pickens said. “I grew up playing ball right here in Canton. I used to be pretty good playing the sport, but I had a hard head. I don’t just try to umpire. I try to minister. I like to tell kids, ‘If you have a dream, stick with your dream and don’t give up on your dream.’”