OTTAWA – When you first meet Don Gilbert, you meet an unassuming man who is very kind, gentile and welcoming to everyone. Those who do not know him have a hard time grasping that this man was the Supervisor of Umpires for Baseball Canada for 12 years.
The very humble Lasalle, Ontario native is not one to point out his accomplishments without a little extra prodding. But what this man has done for umpiring in Canada is beyond extraordinary.
Under his watch, umpires in Canada have gained notoriety on the international stage. More Canadian umpires have been assigned to international tournaments since Gilbert was elected to the position in 1996. But as mentioned before, the always humble Gilbert deflects the accolades.
“The credit should really go to the many people in the provinces and provincial supervisors and the result of me saying ‘can you handle this, can you handle that.’ I got a lot of the credit for it but they did all the work.”
Another major achievement was the creation of the Baseball Canada Umpires Operation Manual. The manual has helped standardize the administration and development of umpires at the national level.
“We were able to develop an operations manual that kind of takes away the autonomy from anybody,” explains Gilbert. “You wouldn’t have a small group of umpires come in and say ‘this is how it’s going to be done.’ It’s become a process based on this document that says ‘this is how is has to be done.’”
Gilbert however has done much more for umpires in Canada than simply being a supervisor. He brings over 30 years experience to the table as an acclaimed umpire. Gilbert had called games for numerous provincial, national and international tournaments. His proudest moment came in 2004 when he got the privilege to umpire the gold medal game at the Olympic Games in Athens.
“The Olympics gave me a greater appreciation for professional umpires. The type of focus and concentration I had to do day in and day out for that tournament, it gave me a new found respect for professional umpires.”
That appreciation was evident in his leadership style according to the man who has replaced Gilbert as Baseball Canada Supervisor of Umpires, Corrie Davis.
“I think that Don truly cared about every umpire in Canada, whether it be a twelve year old in the Maritimes or a Level 5 guy from BC,” says Davis. “Part of what made him a great leader was the fact that he had empathy for us, he understood the specific challenges that umpires face, and he worked hard to make things easier for us.”
”If you were an umpire, he treated you like family.”
More evidence of his empathy comes from Gilbert’s very first game as an umpire back in Ontario for a Mic Mac Junior game.
“I was horrible,” recalls Gilbert. “I was calling pitches in the dirt for strikes.”
From that point on, Gilbert got better and grew to become one of the best umpires in Canada. He has received several accolades, being named Ontario Umpire of the Year in 1992, Baseball Canada Umpire of the Year in 1997 and International Umpire of the Year by the IBAF in 2004. All that culminated in 2008 when he was enshrined in the Windsor/Essex Sports Hall of Fame.
“I was extremely honoured,” says Gilbert. “That’s not supposed to happen to umpires.”
But perhaps more impressive than his personal accomplishments are the achievements he helped build as Baseball Canada Supervisor of Umpires.
“Leaders can’t be successful if they lead in a direction that people don’t want to go in,” remarks Davis. “I think that part of what made Don so successful is that he was able to steer the boat in the same direction that we were paddling in, and at the same time, motivate us to keep going.”
“We are indebted to Don for his twelve years of leadership,” adds Davis. “Our program has grown significantly under his guidance. I think that the best way that we can thank Don is to take what he’s done for us, build on it, and provide even more opportunities for Canadian umpires to achieve their goals.”