Dean Dill celebrates 50 years of umpiring games

For half a century, Dean Dill has tried his best not to stand out every time he’s stepped onto a baseball diamond.

Truth be told, Dill would be happy if nobody notices him at all.

“The best thing I think an umpire can do is if he goes out there and nobody knows he’s there,” Dill said. “If they have to ask who to make the check out to, it’s a good night. We’re out there to serve a purpose, not to be seen. The kids are the show.”

Dill, who began his 50th year of officiating baseball games on Tuesday, has done a good job of that through the years.

“Honestly, he’s one of those guys who just kind of disappears,” former longtime Chapman coach Kevin Carr said. “He’s not one to make it about him. You barely notice he’s out there, which is exactly what you want in an umpire. When you see him calling a game, you know he’s going to call only what he sees, that it’s going to be right, and that it’s about the game and the kids playing it.”

Dill started calling games in 1968, at the age of 20. He turned 70 in January, and said those intervening decades have seen plenty of changes, but none more pronounced that the ability of the players.

“The biggest change is actually the athleticism of the kids,” he said. “You had a lot of fairly good ballplayers of about the same talent and level. The equipment and everything else available has raised the game, and the kids are so much stronger, faster, and bigger. If a kid could throw the ball 85 (miles per hour), you’d think he was surely going to the majors. Now, that’s every kid. Some of them throw 90.”

While he’s tried not to be a visible part of the games he’s called, Dill has seen his share of controversial plays and tough calls. They’re something he learns from and uses to teach others.

“Over the years you always get some of those,” he said. “I’ll talk about them at our meetings sometimes. They always tell me I ought to write a book.”

Dill still remembers the first game he ever called, a 7-2 Dorman victory over Cowpens High.

“Cowpens High has been gone for years,” Dill said. “It’s Broome now. But I can remember that game like it was yesterday. A lot that I’ve called I can remember like that, especially all-star games and state tournaments. You always remember those. They stay with you forever and ever.”

He also remembers one of his biggest mistakes. Dill was officiating a Dorman-Spartanburg contest at Dorman’s former campus near the current west side Wal-Mart location.

“At the time, Tommy Owens was coaching Dorman and Dale Mulwee, who’s passed on now, was at Spartan High. They both requested me to call the game.”

Dill called the bases, and in the second inning a Spartanburg runner drifted a little too far off first. The Dorman pitcher’s pick-off move was great (“he threw a bullet,” Dill said), and the Cavaliers’ first baseman was true with his sweep tag.

“He got him all the way up his arm and down his back,” Dill said. “And I hit one knee on a swan dive and yelled ‘Safe!’ as loud as I could.”

He heard rumblings from the crowd, but no outright anger. He fully expected an irate Owens at his back moments after the call, but Owens never came out. Dorman won the game, and afterward Owens thanked Dill for his work. Dill sheepishly mentioned the missed call.

“Dean, you already knew you missed that and everybody in the stands knew you missed it,” Owens said.

Byrnes coach Michael Maus said Dill has always been even-keeled, particulary in big games.

“He’s called some games that I’ll never forget, games I was playing in and games I coached in,” Maus said. “He’s been a great example. You can get flustered at him and he’s not upset. He can separate the heat of the moment and make the right call. I appreciate all his service.”

Dill is pleased to see those involved in a game he umpired as players, like Maus, Chesnee’s Scott Wease and Chapman’s Steven Fusaro, who have gone on to coaching careers.

“It tickles me to death,” he said.

He’s also excited to help train new umpires, something that began about 15 years ago.

“In the past you’d take a test and they’d throw you out there,” he said. “Now we actually train them. We go through mechanics, we go through the rule book, we actually take them out in the field and show them where they’re supposed to be, the positions and the angles where there supposed to be. It makes a big difference."

Dill is quick to offer advice to anyone who wants to break in as an umpire.

“First, know the rules. It’s about the integrity of the game,” he said. “You show up on time, you hustle, you look the part, and you call it right straight down the middle.”