Female umpire leads on the diamond

Female umpire leads on the diamond
Cheryl Philips, center, with fellow umpires Tommy Usser, left, and John Cerie.
Cheryl Philips suited up for home plate

Cheryl Philips suited up for home plate

Cheryl Rogers Philips had hoped to make a bit of local Little League history June 23 but a stray pitch to her face mask put the brakes on being the first female umpire to call home plate in a district playoff.

“I took an approximately 45 mph pitch directly to my face mask resulting in my face mask coming off and being momentarily knocked unconscious. I have been told I got back up and told the batter he could walk to first base as he had been hit by the ball,” said Philips, who lives almost within a strong ball throw of Fishweir Park. “The young man responded ‘No, Blue, you got hit.’ 

“Also I have been told I repeatedly told the JFRD rescue crew I needed to finish calling the game,” she said, but that was not to be. “I have been struck by stray balls several times as an umpire, but this was the first time I could not complete a game and had to go to the hospital.”

Philips said she has called all bases as well as home plate in her 20-plus years as an umpire for Florida District 11 Little League, but not in a playoff game. How and why she became involved as a Little League volunteer umpire is as interesting as her thwarted debut behind home plate in a playoff game.

After attending Fishweir Elementary School, Philips went to Central Baptist Christian School, where she played the position of catcher on the softball team, as well as ran track. “You might say I was always behind the plate,” she said.

Philips was determined to attend Robert E. Lee High School at the time her first cousin Charles (Corky) Rogers was the athletic director and head football coach. “I decided to fly under the radar as far as sports and tried out for the cheerleading team,” she said. “I made the team and became a squad leader.”

When Philips’ two sons were young, they played for the Navy Ortega Lakeshore League (NOL) and during one game she objected to a call.

“I did not like a call the umpire, the late Shotty  Drew, made and he and I had a discussion about the call,” she said, laughing. “Shotty said ‘If you think you can do a better job then why not come out here and umpire next year?’ I took that as a challenge and the rest is history.”

Philips completed certification as Little League umpire, which included a training class at the Florida District Little League School in St. Petersburg. As a volunteer, she is responsible for her uniform, equipment, travel, and “oh let’s not forget medical. Bills are still coming in on that.” 

Cheryl Philips calling third base

Cheryl Philips calling third base

Further motivation to be an umpire occurred her first year. “Most people and the coaches thought it was a joke or that I would not last,” Philips said. “Twenty-plus years I am still standing, so I guess the joke was on them as I have proven myself and have the respect of my fellow umpires.”

One poignant memory she recalls was the time she called her first perfect game early in her career. “A perfect game means the pitcher allowed no hits and no players to make it to base. Shotty [Drew] was calling first base and I was at home plate,” she said. Drew passed away not too long after that in May 2000, and Philips said when she called her first game the next season without Drew, she found a cross-shaped pine needle on home plate. “I smiled and looked up to heaven, knowing Shotty was calling that game. I gave the pine needle to Shotty’s son who was attending the game.”

Philips serves as a senior umpire, and for two years had taken her turn as chief umpire. She said she has called more than 200 games in her career, about 10 to 15 games per season, and has umpired games for her sons and her two grandsons.

“It is a wonderful experience and so much more than just attending a game while they play. It gives you the actual involvement with them as they play rather than you just being there,” said Philips. “I have some awesome memories of these kids making plays, but what is really great is when an adult I called as a child calls out from the stands ‘Great call, Blue,’ as I now call plays for their children.”

Philips was recently invited to attend a dinner for umpires who have called playoff games. She is the only female to be invited and this will be her third invitation in 22 years. “It will be fun to sit back and listen to all the ‘uncut versions’ from the umpires,” she said.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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