Former Soquel High player Lewis Wiliams III is working through the minors as an umpire with an authoritative call
By Jim Seimas, Santa Cruz Sentinel
Ha. Two. Haw!
That’s how umpire Lewis Williams III — in a crisp, loud voice — calls strikes when working Advanced Single-A California League baseball games. But it’s not his voice or ability to make the correct call that fully makes the former Soquel High and Cabrillo College player stand out when working behind home plate.
It’s the hammer.
The hammer — an old-school, industry term — is the name for a closed fist held high to the side of the umpire’s body. Williams raises the hammer every time a pitcher throws a strike. And in the umpiring world it’s a big deal.
The hammer isn’t for every umpire. Most go with a finger point. But Williams, who is 5-foot-11, 178 pounds, believes he carries it well.
“Not a lot of guys do that,” Williams said of the hammer. “It’s more aggressive and more authoritative. A lot of my evaluators like it.”
One of his evaluators recommended the move to Williams, who at the outset of his officiating career was judged “too vanilla.” Since evaluators work as talent scouts and have influence on promotions, Williams decided to add some flavor.
When the San Jose Giants host the Visalia Rawhide for a four-game series beginning Monday, Williams will return to his old stomping grounds to show he’s gone from vanilla to Neapolitan.
He still falls considerably short of the over-the-top antics pulled off by actor Leslie Nielsen in “The Naked Gun,” but he’s making a name for himself.
“He’s one exceptional umpire,” said colleague Burt Augustine, an official in the Atlantic League, who hired Williams to officiate in New York in 2009. “He does a great job on and off the field. He’s a quality person. Hopefully, one day I get to see him in the big leagues.”
And, unlike Nielsen, Williams knows his strike zone. The soon-to-be 29-year-old was one of the top students at the prestigious Wendelstedt Umpire School in Florida and has instructed at The Umpire School in Vero Beach, Fla.
“I’m fair,” Williams said of his strike zone. “I like calling low strikes more than the top of the zone.”
The San Jose series is a homecoming on multiple fronts for Williams. He also served as a bat boy for San Jose for two seasons while in middle school and knows most of the front office staff.
“I’ve requested the max allocated tickets for friends and family,” Williams said.
It’ll be nice to have some support in the crowd, he said. He’s usually in a different city and hotel every fourth day.
“This job is very stressful,” Williams said. “Every day everyone expects you to be perfect. We’re talking 6,000 fans and 50-plus players and coaches.”
Williams hunts, fishes and works out in his free time to time to reduce stress.
He has come a long way — figuratively and literally — since breaking into the industry.
He had an unsuccessful run at the Wendelstedt School in 2009, but worked more than 300 games before giving it a second shot.
He worked on his craft in the New York Collegiate Baseball League in 2009 and ’10 and also worked a mix of NCAA Division I and junior college games in the Big 8 Conference.
After graduating from Wendelstedt School in 2011, Williams has climbed the ranks with fervor. He has worked in the Arizona League, Northwest League and South Atlantic League prior to this season.
While Williams umpired some high school games in Santa Cruz and Modesto, he didn’t stay at the level long.
Williams’ dad, Lewis Jr., used to work high school games with his son. He remembers that Williams never liked working behind home plate, so he admits he was shocked when his son first told him he wanted to be a professional umpire.
The father said his son returned from umpire school a changed person, comparing it to a son or daughter who enters the military and comes home after boot camp.
“He was a different person, a confident guy,” his father said. “It was a 180 degree turnaround.”
Lewis Jr., who still umpires junior college games, is proud of his son, just as proud as if his kin had made it to the majors as a player.
“It’s the same way,” Lewis Jr. said. “All of my friends know. I’m always talking about him. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
He has attended about 10 of his son’s games at each level. This year, though, he figures he’ll see 50 to 60 contests.
As a youngster, Williams aspired to make it to the majors as a player. An Achilles injury sustained in junior college derailed that dream. Still, the majors remains the goal.
Either way, the dream comes with a long road of low pay.
Considering A-ball umpires make between $2,000-$2,400 a month, Williams works for UPS in the offseason to make ends meet.
“At this job, at this level I’m at, you’re not in it for the money,” Williams said. “What’s worth it is when you make it to the majors — the money and the perks. But you’ve gotta pay your dues.”
While he has climbed the ranks quickly since graduating from Wendelstedt, the majors could take the better part of a decade, if he gets there at all. Still, Williams can’t help but dream of the payoff for his efforts.
“Every day,” he said bluntly. “That’s what keeps me motivated and driven — my first day at big league camp at spring training.”
Williams made it to Opening Day for the Oakland A’s this season, but as a spectator. He took in the action from a suite, but didn’t cheer for either team.
“I watch the umpires,” he said. “I couldn’t care less about what happens in the game.”
The hammer was resting. And its owner was back at school.
Contact Jim Seimas at 831-706-3256
Link to original article: http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/news/ci_25605188/former-soquel-baseball-player-lewis-williams-iii-has