Just To Be Asking: Mike Rust

 

Matthew Busch/The Herald
Umpire Mike Rust of Chandler, left, chatted with Southridge coach Brad Wibbeler prior to the start of a game against Jasper earlier this season.

Warrick County resident Mike Rust calls balls and strikes at both the high school and college levels, and after getting his umpiring start in Jasper, he’s moved up the rungs to be on the call of Missouri Valley Conference baseball. After 32 years, this is his last season of umpiring.

How long have you been umpiring and what got you started?
This is my 32nd year, and a good friend of mine got me started umpiring. He had been involved in sports officiating, and I took a umpiring class with him and it evolved from there.

What is it that keeps you coming back every year?
I just love baseball. Even as a kid, pickup games around town, that was the thing to do in the summertime to keep yourself busy. Baseball, baseball, baseball. College, didn’t have the skill to play but I still loved the game and this is a way to still be a part of it, compete and participate.

How many years have you umpired college games?
I’d say a good 20 years of some level of junior college or Division I.

Was that something you qualify for or how did you advance to that level?
It was kind of an odd way, how I got started. As a high school umpire, I began working some high school tournaments, my first sectional was here in Jasper, so it’s a neat place here. But through an umpire magazine, I saw an advertisement for an umpiring camp and I was just wanting to improve my skill level and wound up going to a camp over at St. Louis.

So your first high school tournament was in Jasper?
First sectional I ever umpired was here in Jasper. Likewise, first regional was here and first semistate was here.

When you’re umpiring games in Jasper, what makes that experience unique?
Oh, it’s the atmosphere. High school-wise, I don’t think there’s a place that compares. Years ago, (Evansville) Memorial always had a huge following, Evansville-wise. You saw that when they came up here to play, you always saw that, but it’s just the atmosphere is just they have spectators who are into the game, nice park, nice seating, PA system, it’s just the atmosphere. I’ve just always appreciated that.

So much has changed during the last three decades. What’s the biggest difference between now and when you first started?
I think facilities have improved. Baseball, I think in general, the skill level you see in players varies from time to time but I think there seems to be more distractions for kids nowadays versus years back, but you’re still seeing quality kids.

Do you umpire only in Indiana for the IHSAA or do you umpire in other states?
No, and this is my last year. I’m hanging it up after the spring.

Wow. Well, here’s the obvious next question: Why is now the right time to walk away?
It’s time. I’ve got five grandkids and I just want to spend time that way. I still love the game, still want to go watch games but just also want to spend time with them.

How many different games or schools have you umpired in Indiana?
High school, it’s pretty much southwest Indiana until you get out of regional competition. I’ve been up to Lafayette for a semistate on year, over in Jeffersonville and New Albany, those areas, but it’s pretty much southwest Indiana.

When you’re umpiring college games, what’s the excitement level like, compared to high school? How excited are you when you get to the field?
You’re super-charged. And the same with high school tournaments, you’re really charged up, really focused. Again, it’s all about atmosphere. The Missouri Valley Conference Tournaments that I’ve worked, it’s an experience just going out to Wichita, Kan., and working in front of that crowd. It’s a totally difference experience the first time I went out there, having 6,000, 7,000 fans hooting and hollering on every pitch. University of Arkansas is kind of the same way; just tremendous atmosphere.

Have you ever been to Omaha for the College World Series? Is that a goal?
No, but that’s still a goal. I want to get out there. It’s fun watching on TV, recognizing a lot of guys I’ve umpired with.

In high school, how often will a manager become confrontational with you and take it beyond merely asking you a question?
In my early years when I was getting started, and I think the same is true at any level that I’ve worked, when they first start seeing you, they tend to question you more and challenge you more. But as coaches become familiar with you and understand how you work and what you’re capable of doing, I think they relax and they in turn, there’s that respect back and forth that exists.

Do you know how many total games you’ve umpired over the years?
(Laughs). No, I’d be afraid to count.

What advice would you give to someone who’s starting out as an umpire?
I’d say don’t be afraid to ask questions, don’t be afraid to study what some of the good umpires are doing, don’t be afraid to look for an umpiring camp to attend to improve your skills, but most importantly, find somebody locally that is a good umpire and observe and learn from him.

Interview by John Patishnock




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