Scott Barden wants to be a lawyer.
But his word is already the law when he’s working the plate or base paths as an umpire for Coquitlam Little League.
In August, 21-year-old Barden will face the biggest trial of his umpiring career when he calls balls, strikes and outs for 13-year-olds at the 2018 Junior League Baseball World Series in Taylor, Michigan. He’s one of only seven Canadian umpires selected to work Little League’s seven levels of world championship baseball and softball tournaments, from the famous Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., to the Senior League World Series for 15-year-olds.
The assignment, for which Barden doesn’t get paid, will be the pinnacle of the nine years he’s spent wearing the protective mask and black polo shirt that comprises the umpire's uniform. He also hopes it will bring him the kind of recognition that can work in his favour when the Douglas College criminology student applies to get into Major League Baseball’s month-long umpire pro school in Florida, the first rung for the prospective officials with their sights set on the sport’s pro leagues.
Barden knows becoming an ump in MLB is the longest of long shots, which is why he’s also setting himself up for law school at the University of British Columbia. Even if his baseball dream never plays out, he said his passion for the game will keep him behind the plate in some capacity.
Barden started umpiring when he was 12 years-old. It was a way to extend his love for baseball beyond just playing it, while also earning a little bit of spending money.
Even though he was calling games for kids as old or older than him, he knew right from the start the importance of commanding their respect.
“The big thing is just knowing the rules,” Barden said. “Act professional and at the same time make good calls and they’ll respect you.”
While coaches and excited parents can be a handful at times, Barden said he’s careful not to let emotions get into his calling of a game.
“I think I’m pretty relaxed,” he said, adding he’s only ever ejected one player in his entire career, because a confrontation with another player got physical. “If you’re calm, then they’re going to be calm.”
His measured demeanour earned him the opportunity to umpire the Junior nationals in Lethbridge, Alta., last year, the Little League nationals at Hastings two years ago and the Senior nationals at his home ballpark three years ago. It also caught the attention of Little League Canada, which scouted him in Lethbridge, and debriefed him for 20 to 30 minutes after every game he worked.
Barden said he knew he was on their radar for a World Series gig, but when he got the email advising him of his selection, he was still surprised.
“It’s a huge honour,” he said, adding he’s looking forward to working with other top umpires and top players because he knows they’ll bring out his best.
“It’s good baseball,” Barden said. “They throw strikes, they make good throws. If forces you to elevate your game too.”