PENDLETON, Ind. — Darin Axel-Adams pulled one of his dozen or so beloved baseballs from its case that hangs over the nightstand in his bedroom.
The Pendleton resident, who collects the balls signed by other officials and players from high school games he officiates, hopes to add a special ball to his collection on Saturday when, for the first time, he will umpire a high school baseball state finals.
“It’s the pinnacle of what we do in officiating. The ultimate goal is to work a state finals,” he said.
Born 45 years ago in Lafayette, where he was raised by his father, Larry Axel, a professor of theology and philosophy at Purdue University, and his mother, Becky Chambers, a retired music teacher, Axel-Adams’ only experience with baseball was in Little League.
“I was going to play baseball when I got to college, but I hurt my knee,” he said. Besides, Axel-Adams admitted, he was just an average player.
When he got to Macalester College in Minnesota, his work-study assignment was with the athletics department, where he was assigned to umpire softball games.
“I got bitten by the bug and just really kind of enjoyed it,” he said. “Umpiring gave me a way to stay involved in athletics. It kept me involved in baseball.”
Axel-Adams takes pride in the fact that, unlike many of his classmates, he never had to work in fast food, restaurants or convenience stores in the summers.
“The next two summers (umpiring) was basically my summer job,” he said.
A third-grade teacher at Lantern Road Elementary School in Fishers, he takes some lessons from his classroom onto the field.
“On the field during the game, umpires are role models, too,” he said. “A lot of the things I employ in one — either in the classroom or on the baseball field — I can bring to the other.”
That means maintaining respect for the game, authority figures and other people, including attendees, he said.
“With all the yelling and high emotions that come with a ball game, the umpire has to stay cool and professional,” he said.
To move on to officiate at championship games, potential umpires are ranked and voted on by coaches based on their work in the field, their experience and their participation in meetings and training events.
This season, Axel-Adams umpired at the Lapel sectional and the Morristown regional. Generally, umpires selected to officiate at one championship level are moved up to the next level to maintain continuity, he said.
“Because of that, I knew I would go on to a semi-state assignment,” he said. “It was all very surreal. I was not anticipating it. When the assignments came out, I was dumbstruck, and I’m still feeling that way.”
Though he has been an umpire for 25 years throughout east-central Indiana, Axel-Adams admitted he’s a little nervous.
“I think you’d be foolish to not be a little nervous,” he said. “When you come right down to it, it’s just another ball game. The game doesn’t change, and our job doesn’t change when you go out on the field.”
The timing, however, has been a little awkward. Axel-Adams and his family were scheduled to leave late last week for a Methodist church work assignment at the McCurdy School, a mission-oriented school for Native Americans in Espanola, N.M.
Because of semi-state over the weekend, Axel-Adams flew out to meet his family on Sunday and will return Friday to prepare for the state finals.
Phil Gardner, assistant commissioner in charge of baseball for the Indiana High School Athletic Association, has known Axel-Adams for many years in his capacity as a coach.
He said this year, the IHSAA received about 250 applications from umpires hoping to officiate at the state finals, but only 16, including Axel-Adams, were selected.
“Darin has been a leader in his officials association,” Gardner said. “All of that together has shown what you can do and what he has been able to do, which is outstanding. He officiates with high integrity.”
Being an umpire, above all, requires good people skills, Gardner said.
“To get to know where Darin’s at, you’ve got to know how to deal with people . You don’t just get there because you know what a ball and a strike is. You get there because you know how to treat people.”
Though the umpires are paid a nominal sum for each game at which they officiate, the ones working the state finals will receive a certificate and a special jersey, Garner said.
“You wouldn’t even have to do that to get there because they are so excited to make that their ultimate goal,” he said.
Dave Hinchman, who has umpired with Axel-Adams for seven years under a two-man system, describes his colleague as very fair, very controlled and even tempered.
“He’s just a really good guy to be around,” he said. “I have never heard a harsh word out of the man’s mouth.”
As chairman of the Central Athletic Officials Association, Axel-Adams is very knowledgeable about the sport of baseball, Hinchman said.
“He understands the game. He studies the game. He’s a very confident leader, if you will,” he said. “I think it’s well deserved.”
Source: The (Anderson) Herald Bulletin, http://bit.ly/2sut1dx
Information from: The Herald Bulletin, http://www.theheraldbulletin.com
This is an AP-Indiana Exchange story offered by The (Anderson) Herald Bulletin.