George Burke’s passion for youth baseball is unmistakable.
The 69-year-old Summit Point resident loves to talk up the game, which he has been around all of his life. First as a player, then as a coach, manager and umpire, Burke has seen it all.
He umpired countless Babe Ruth League baseball games, both regular season and in tournaments, ranging from districts, all the way to the Babe Ruth World Series level, over a period of 25 years.
Burke had to give up umpiring about four years ago when he had a pacemaker placed on his body, due to a heart ailment. A direct hit by a baseball would be devastating, so his duties soon changed to that of umpire trainer and tournament director over the years.
Burke’s devotion to the game hasn’t gone unnoticed by Babe Ruth Leagues of Virginia officials. His longtime commitment to the youth baseball and softball organization has earned him a spot in the Babe Ruth Baseball’s Southeast Region Hall of Fame.
Burke, who now restricts himself to training umpires and helping run both Babe Ruth and Cal Ripken Baseball tournaments across the Southeast Region, which extends as far south as Florida, has earned the nickname the “old geezer.”
Babe Ruth and Cal Ripken Baseball, headquartered in Trenton, New Jersey, offers baseball and softball programs worldwide for players, ranging from T-ball to the 16-18-year-old division. Babe Ruth Baseball started in 1952 as the “Little Bigger League” in Hamilton Township, New Jersey. It was renamed Babe Ruth Baseball in later years.
On a local level, he’s involved with Babe Ruth and Cal Ripken Baseball programs based in Winchester, but has made the circuit around the region, both as an umpire and as an official.
Babe Ruth League’s of Virginia, Inc. nominated Burke in June. He was notified shortly thereafter by regional officials he had been inducted into the prestigious hall.
It’s been a humbling experience for Burke, the father of two children and grandfather of four.
“I first got into baseball as a player, then as a coach,” Burke said. “I first coached an independent team at Summit Point.”
As the years wore on, Burke began turning his attention to umpiring. His ability to umpire a game fairly, keeping the game under control, earned him respect around the region and on a national level as well.
Burke’s umpiring abilities took him all over Virginia, the region, all the way to the prestigious Babe Ruth and Cal Ripken Baseball World Series. He’s umpired at 50 state tournaments, 12 regionals and at least six World Series events. At numerous tournaments, Burke served as crew chief.
Locally, Burke umpired in three Cal Ripken World Series events at Aberdeen, Maryland. On an even more local level, Burke umpired a Babe Ruth World Series event at Firemen’s Field in Purcellville, Virginia in 2010, the year Loudoun County Babe Ruth League hosted, and won, the 13-15 Babe Ruth World Series.
“That was really something,” Burke said. “They were pretty excited over there.”
Umpiring has its share of ups and downs. Burke has seen it all, but what he always strived to do was show respect for players, managers and coaches, make his calls objectively and keep the game moving along as quickly as possible.
“I’m human, we all make mistakes,” Burke said, admitting there have been times when he’s made an incorrect call. He said an umpire must not dwell on a wrong call when it happens.
“The key is always make your call with authority,” Burke said. “That’s what I stress when I do training. Make those calls loud and clear, sell the call.”
Umpires are always faced with having to explain why they made a particular call to an upset coach or manager. Over the years, Burke has faced his share of questions, always listening to a coach or manager’s side, finally explaining his call.
“If you keep calm and explain the rule carefully, that’s the best way to keep a situation from getting heated,” Burke said. A manager or coach may still disagree with a call, but if it’s handled right, the manager or coach returns to the dugout with no further issues.
“Always try and defuse a situation if you can,” Burke said. “That’s the best way to handle things.”
While he misses umpiring, Burke still enjoys being a part of baseball, either as a trainer for umpires or serving on a tournament committee, including the role as a tournament director. The most important thing for Burke all these years has been the support of his wife. None of this would have been possible without it.
They are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this year.
“That’s the key right there, you’ve got to have that support,” Burke said, adding she has no complaints with his continued devotion as a longtime umpire and, now, training umpires.
Although West Virginia proper sits in Babe Ruth Baseball’s Ohio Valley Region, Burke said teams in the Eastern Panhandle play as part of Babe Ruth Leagues of Virginia programs. He also said Babe Ruth Baseball’s international headquarters permitted the annexation of those teams into the Virginia system some time ago.
Burke’s not slowing down anytime soon. It’s an ongoing labor of love for the “old geezer.”