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The home-plate maestro...

Baseball umpiring and conducting music; ACDA member, Ken DeJong, enjoys doing both and finds a number of similarities

What do baseball umpiring and conducting have in common?     

Ydejongou should ask Kenneth DeJong, Bellevue conductor and umpire, now in his third year with the Northwest Baseball Umpire Association, is well over a hundred games into his new-found “professional avocation.”  

He’ll answer with a smile, “Well, I still get to wear black; I still get to stand with my back to the audience; I still get to wave my arms around; I still get to have the perception that I’m in control; and, of course, I'm always “right.”  

He says, though, that the most significant comparison is in “multi-tasking” – keeping track of balls, strikes, outs, lineups, safety issues, communication with partner, and preparing for what might happen next.   “Home-plate maestro” is what the Issaquah Press called him.

The unusual combination of careers has been written about in the Seattle Times, the Issaquah Press and the national Referee magazine.  He umpires youth baseball, high school baseball games, and men’s recreational summer baseball. 

DeJong pitched fast-pitch softball for about 20 years, including a military team in the midwest, but professional time constraints won out and he left the sport – 20 years ago. 

Ken is the Music Director and Organist at Saint Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Bellevue, where he is entering his twenty-third  year.  He is a full-time staff member, with a variety of activities. 

His complete setting of the Lutheran liturgy is much-loved and sung by Saint Andrew’s regularly;  his first piece for organ was published by Augsburg-Fortress.  The church orchestra has blossomed from 15 to over 50. 

He is the conductor of the Lyric Arts Ensemble, a 16-voice and chamber orchestra group that serve as Resident Artists at Emmanuel Episcopal Church on Mercer Island. 

He serves as conductor for an annual retreat for church musicians at Blue Cloud Abbey in South Dakota, and on the Friday mornings, you’ll find him at the Jubilee Reach center in Bellevue, spending before-school time with elementary school children. 

He recently retired from 25 year of singing with Male Ensemble Northwest.   

“After 40 years of conducting, It was very interesting to be an 'apprentice' – the term used for first-year umpires in the Association.  There are the endless situational rules that vary from league to league and age level to age level.  The specific assignments for two-man umpiring systems require both communication and teamwork – covering each other when something unexpected happens on the field.  It took a while to even ask the right questions.”

“When people learn that I’m an umpire,” says DeJong, “most people ask first about how we deal with the unruly parents. But, in reality, our parents are highly supportive, and we receive lots of thanks for the job that they wouldn’t want to do.   Kids – and adults – just want to play their game, and they need someone to interpret rules and make the calls.  Our focus is on being in the best place at the right time to get the call right, and we don’t have an interest in the outcome of the game.  So we have a job that’s both fun and rewarding.”    

He says that the biggest challenge was to change from the timing of conducting (being ahead of the action) to the timing of umpiring (waiting until the completion of action to make a call.)

Duties range from insuring that equipment meets accepted standards to confirming that the fields are safe and playable and that common rules are upheld and the games are played with spirit and sportsmanship. 

Asked if he’s tossed out any players or coaches, he answered, “Close, but not yet.  Our goal is to work preventively to keep people in the game, not on the bench.”

Does he have great umpiring aspirations?  No, that’s a very long and arduous career path, and his interest is in keeping active, working with youthful athletes, both of which help “keep him young.”