Author unmasks Dreams Park umpires

CONTRIBUTED Michael Marshall Brown poses with his book, “The Umpire’s Bunkhouse,” in this undated photo.

An author with local connections is taking the mask off Cooperstown’s often-anonymous, always-necessary men in blue.

Michael Marshall Brown, author of “The Umpire’s Bunkhouse,” will be in Cooperstown on July 14 for a pair of book signings on the same ground covered in his book, which recalls his time spent as an umpire at Cooperstown Dreams Park during the summers of 2018 and 2019.

“The umps from all over the country are real characters, they’re all different and they’re all striving to be excellent,” Brown told The Daily Star on Tuesday. “They’re all so different. Umps are supposed to be the same, but behind the mask, there’s no personality to them. You don’t know their names, you don’t know anything about them, usually.”

Brown spends much of the book passing along vignettes of the other men that occupied the crowded umpire’s quarters at Dreams Park, collecting short stories of characters ranging in age, appearance and state of origin.

“I had been to Cooperstown to umpire two years ago and it was a short stay as an ump, but I knew there weren’t that many books on umpires in the first place, and Cooperstown is such a magic word,” Brown said. “I came back last year with a notebook and talked to my buddies and told them I was going to write a book.”

Brown, 65, also addresses some of the issues facing umpires, including low pay and excessive criticism from fans. He said his attempts to humanize his cabinmates, published through self-publishing service Outskirts Press, could hopefully contextualize umpires as people in the midst of an evolving game.

“I’m not an alarmist, I’m a positive person, but I ended the book asking if we were the last of a breed,” Brown said, citing uncertainties due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the emergence of automated umpires. “We’re 58 years old, that’s the average age of umpires, and a lot of guys in Cooperstown are older than me. I feel like we are in a space right now where the shortage of umps is only one fact, but it’s a big one because who is going to replace us when we die, and when we retire?”

Brown, now a resident of Ohio, said he ended up at Dreams Park after a friend in umpiring asked him if he wanted to travel to the tournament. But 2018 was hardly Brown’s first trip to the area, as he previously spent a stint in The Daily Star’s sports department during the 1980s.

He said he retained personal ties to the region, and often visits the Empire State to hunt and fish. Now retired and umpiring full time, Brown said he looks back fondly on his time in the area, and easily recalls covering championship teams of the era, especially the 1981 Cooperstown baseball team.

Brown said his latest trip to the area will include a stop at The Cooperstown Book Nook during the morning of July 14 before heading over the The Otesaga Resort Hotel for an appearance from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. that evening. He’ll make stops in his native Vermont and Plattsburgh afterward, and plans to be in Oneonta July 13, though he has yet to establish an event in a schedule already altered by the pandemic.

“It’s a flashback. It’s more than just trying to sell some books. It’s a personal thing, and I’m going to see a lot of people,” Brown said. “It’s a homecoming of sorts.”

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