Diamond Nation a must destination for umpires, too

By Bob Behre | January 31, 2023

Diamond Nation umpires, left-to-right front, are Pete Hamm, Anthony Verderese, Sean Gilday and Richard Siegal and, back row, Earl Haley, Marc McGeehan, Bobby Ricciardi, Mike Fredericks and Vinny Mazzaglia.

Diamond Nation has become over the years a much-desired destination for more than just outstanding baseball and softball players, teams and organizations. If you are an umpire, it would be difficult to find a better landing spot than the spacious facility in Flemington, N.J.

“If you are a new umpire and you want to get better, there are a lot of games for you at Diamond Nation and a lot of experienced umpires who can help you get better,” says Pete Hamm, who has been umpiring at Diamond Nation and Jack Cust Baseball Academy a total of 14 years.

“You hear there is a shortage of umpires because a lot of people are behaving badly,” says Hamm, “but we don’t have that problem here. The staff here is right on it and don’t let things escalate. Our umpires don’t have to deal with that nonsense.”

But the umpire shortage is real and Diamond Nation’s tournament director Marty Clark has fought a battle the past few years to keep his umpiring staff at a desired capacity.

“We look for five-to-10 new guys a year,” says Clark, who umpired high school baseball games for the NJSIAA for 47 years  and still officiates high school basketball games.

Clark and Diamond Nation will be host to a free umpire’s clinic on Saturday and Sunday Feb. 25 and 26, steered by Division 1 college umpire Curtis Dugar. “The first day is via Zoom then the second day is in person,” says Clark. “The session on Saturday is two hours and the Sunday session is three hours. We have about 20-25 guys coming right now. It’s an umpire-run clinic designed to improve your skills and with the intention of the new umpires coming on staff.”

The clinic will address game situations, proper mechanics, positioning, etc. Umpires interested in attending the clinic should call Marty Clark at 609-423-9378.

One fairly new umpire to Diamond Nation who has gained a significant amount of knowledge and experience since joining Clark’s crew is Darren Zlasney.

“When Darren started with us he was pretty raw as an umpire,” says Clark. “He’s worked with us for three years and he has become a very good umpire due to working with experienced umpires at Diamond Nation.”

Zlasney’s success as an umpire has bore fruit in the fact that he was selected last year to be on the umpiring crew for Little League Baseball’s East Regional Tournament in Bristol, Conn.

“When I started umpiring at Diamond Nation in August of 2020, I thought I was a decent umpire. From the numerous games, great umpiring partners and teachings from Marty Clark, I think I’ve developed into a pretty good umpire.” Zlasney says his goal is to be assigned to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

Zlasney wouldn’t be the first Diamond Nation umpire to be bestowed that honor. Former Diamond Nation umpire Sean Guilday worked the Little League World Series a few years back. 

Umpiring at Diamond Nation has become a sweet second job or retirement gig for experienced umpires. Zlasney, a senior claims specialist at Chubb, works, according to Clark’s estimate, 375 games a year. Diamond Nation’s baseball and softball season begins in mid-March and runs through the first week of November.

“Since I started in August of 2020,” says Zlasney, “I’ve umpired more than 900 games. If you are dedicated to the work and are looking for a great second income, then Diamond Nation is for you.”

Hamm has pretty much seen it all at Diamond Nation the past 14 years and keeps coming back, sure for his love of the game and his trade, but also for the conveniences Diamond Nation offers its umpires.

“They give you all the games you want and you don’t have to run from one field to another,” says Hamm, a high school teacher in New York. “Marty and his staff try to accommodate you that way. Games are very rarely rained out because of the turf fields. They take care of their umps, keep us hydrated and have baseballs ready to go. And the games have a time limit (and run-rule), so you can plan your life around your umpiring schedule.”

Darren Zlasney has been umpiring at Diamond Nation for three years and was assigned the Little League Baseball East Regional in Bristol, Conn. last year.

Rick Garzillo has umpired at Diamond Nation for eight years and has an impressive resume as an arbiter. He’s been the umpire in chief for the Cal Ripken Babe Ruth Baseball World Series the past 17 years. He’s, in fact, worked as an umpire at many stops around the country.

“I’ve worked at various places like Diamond Nation,” says Garzillo, technology section manager for IGT New Jersey. “The assignor is the best assignor these umpires will ever work for. The games are competitive and the level of play is second to none.”

Garzillo, in fact, took the time to provide a bulleted list of items that make the Diamond Nation umpiring experience so positive. It’s an enlightening list for umpires who’ve never worked at Diamond Nation. “If an umpire wants to improve his skills and advance outside of Diamond Nation, it’s a great place to develop,” says Garzillo.

Diamond Nation uses the arbiter to assign games and umpires can update their availability based on need and personal schedules. “The assignor will put less experienced umpires on crews with seasoned umpires to help in their development,” says Garzillo. Additionally, Diamond Nation does not charge umpires assessment fees or dues.

Another important ingredient to the Diamond Nation experience is the quality of organizations, teams and players that frequent the facility.

“The level of play is very high,” says Hamm. “It’s the best baseball around, far superior to the high school game. We see a lot of great players and great coaching.”

Hamm says he umpires 20-25 games per-week in the summer when the facility is churning with games beginning at 8 a.m. through 8 p.m., seven days a week.

Rick Garzillo has umpired at Diamond Nation eight years and has been the umpire in chief for the Cal Ripken Babe Ruth Baseball World Series the past 17 years.

“If you become a high school or rec ump, you work 20-50 games in a season,” says Clark. “If you come to Diamond Nation, you can umpire anywhere between 200 and 400 games a year. It would take you 6-7 years to get that experience somewhere else. We want guys with some experience and guys who are looking to get better and hone their craft.”

Shaun Favino, a welder by trade, is another veteran umpire who found a home at Diamond Nation after umpiring at several other locations. Favino has been an umpire at Diamond Nation for the past 12 years.

“I’ve worked with and learned from some excellent umpires at Diamond Nation, which has helped me better my game,” says Favino. “If I’m going to umpire ball games, I like to be with people I like and who do a quality brand of game. It’s also been nice to watch players who move on to college and some pro levels.”

Clark says his umpiring staff hails from New Jersey, New York and parts of Pennsylvania, particularly Bucks County and the Lehigh Valley. “Most guys travel 30-45 minutes, but the amount of games they are getting warrants that,” said Clark. “A typical umpire here works four or five days a week and, because of our seven-days a week schedule, has flexibility in his own schedule. Our umps also have their own parking lot and there is always adult staff here to support them throughout the day.”

Zlasney made a final point that may be overlooked.

“Diamond Nation broadcasts its games on the internet, which gives us an opportunity to watch ourselves, evaluate and improve on what we see,” says Zlasney. “Marty will often show us game situations where we perform at a high level as well as show us opportunities to develop our umpiring skills.”

Just like the opportunities provided to ball players and their teams, the Diamond Nation umpiring experience is a can’t miss.

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