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Local umpire Levi Hobson honored by New Mexico

Levi Hobson rings up a New Mexico Junior College baseball player on a called third strike. (Submitted Photo)

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The man crouches behind the catcher as he awaits the pitch from the pitcher. The ball arrives across the plate with a curve to it, freezing the hitter who is bent at the knees to get a good look at the pitch. The man behind the plate calls strike three, ringing up a New Mexico Junior College batter. Shocked, the batter walks with his head down back to the dugout.

It’s Levi Hobson, so meticulous in calling a game behind the plate that he was honored in his seventh year umpiring by the National Federation Officials Association Baseball as Official of the Year for the state of New Mexico on July 20, 2018.

Hobson feels like there’s a good brand of baseball being played in the area, and that when he calls a game, he wants the players and coaches to know they’re going to get a quality strike zone from him and his fellow umpires — and he wants them to feel like it is the same effort and game they would get if they were in the championship game in Albuquerque.

“Being a good umpire is more than just having good judgment and timing,” Hobson said. “It’s the intangibles of looking the part, being on time, being an effective communicator, adjudicating the rules properly and being approachable with the players and coaches.”

Hobson is a former Coyote pitcher and first baseman. He graduated in 1998 and played two years of baseball at New Mexico Military Institute. He was so good that he was offered a scholarship and played at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, where he graduated with a degree in Environmental Science.

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During his college playing career, he was introduced into umpiring because his team had to umpire high school scrimmages. Hobson never thought anything more about umpiring until he was coaching at NMMI for the  Colts as an assistant in the 2010-11 season, and one of the umpires told him that if he ever wanted to umpire to give him a call. Hobson began by studying the rules and mechanics of umpiring, doing local high school games before heading to umpire camps in Tucson, Arizona, Waco, Texas and Oklahoma City.

Hobson works on the family farm and is the assistant boys’ soccer coach at Roswell. He works with the goalkeepers on the team.

What started out as a hobby for Hobson has turned into a second career. Hobson umpired high school baseball games for the first four years he umpired before mixing in college games the last three years. He has worked in the Heartland Conference, the Western Junior Athletic Conference, The Lone Star Conference and the Red River Conference (NAIA). Hobson’s next goal is to try to get to the Division I level in umpiring. Some of the umpires he has gone to umpire schools with have appeared in the College World Series and the major leagues.

“Umpiring has offered me a great opportunity to stay in the game,” Hobson said, “and give back to the game that’s been very good to me. After playing and umpiring at the college level, I wanted to bring that same level of focus and professionalism onto the high school diamond.”

Hobson works 30 college baseball games a season plus 20 high school games. The pay is good but it is even better if he can make it to Division I level, where the pay is as much as $1,000 a game. If he gets good enough to make it to the postseason, the pay increases dramatically.

For each game Hobson umpires depending on the league, there are different rules and uniforms. He doesn’t think the public is aware of the mental and physical preparation umpires go through to get ready for a game. Hobson works out physically to withstand the harsh weather conditions for the season. He also works on the mental aspect of being an umpire and blocking out the verbal assaults from fans. Hobson will call games in New Mexico, West Texas and go as far as Oklahoma City.

“I don’t care if it’s a 6A championship game at Isotopes Field or a Junior Varsity game at Joe Bauman Field,” Hobson said, “every game means something to those participating in it. A lot of fans think we don’t hear what they say to us, but we do. I would say hearing what people say sometimes is the least favorite part of the job.”

One of Hobson’s favorite memories was in 2016 when he was the third base umpire in the 6A championship game between Rio Rancho and Carlsbad. The game was in extra innings and a Carlsbad batter came up in the eighth inning and laced a triple down the left field line. After the play was down, one of the Rio Rancho players noticed pine tar on the hitter’s bat and brought it to the manager, who brought it up to the umpires and mayhem ensued. Rio Rancho’s manager wanted the batter to be called out, but the umpires talked about it and let the play stand as Carlsbad went on to win the game, 2-1.

“I don’t believe in makeup calls,” Hobson said. “We’re all human. I’ll tell the catcher I missed one if he asks. We don’t have the luxury of throwing it to New York for instant replay on close calls, we have to get it right the first time.”

Hobson would like to one day be asked to work a postseason game or regional tournament, whether it’s in Omaha or Williamsport. He feels like the importance of being a good quality official is paramount, because without officials, the games wouldn’t count and it would only be a scrimmage.

“By coaching high school soccer,” Hobson said. “I realize how much effort and sacrifice the players and coaches and parents invest. I want to echo that energy and bring my best every time I umpire. Ultimately, it’s not about who wins or loses, I usually don’t follow the scoreboard. For me, it’s about providing a safe, fair contest for the kids to showcase their skills.”

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