Playing By The Rules

Greenhaven umpire has volunteered in all 50 states

By Jessica Laskey
September 2021

Alan McCullough has a large map in his office covered in baseball stickers. Each sticker represents the location of a Little League game he’s umpired. This past June, he reached his 20-year goal of umpiring in every state, ending at the site of the first Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

“Twelve years ago, I was going to a work conference in Washington, D.C., and thought I’d take my gear and make some connections,” says McCullough, who retired from a 45-year career as a recovery room nurse in 2019.

“After doing a game, I thought, why don’t I do this all the time? I started taking my umpire gear whenever I traveled. Wherever I’d go—whether it was Beaumont, Texas, Woonsocket, Rhode Island, or Kemmerer, Wyoming—I was welcomed and I was always able to share how important it is for our young athletes to see us volunteer our time for them, whether we do it as umpires, coaches or in the snack shack.”

The Greenhaven resident got into umpiring the way many people do—his kids’ Little League needed parent volunteers.

“I was so frustrated with the quality of umpiring I was watching,” McCullough says. “I thought, I know I’m not a coach, but what could I offer? Well, I really like following the rules. Rules give you balance and an understanding of what’s correct so we’re all using the same guidelines.”

This love of following rules led him to serve four years as a volunteer umpire for Pocket Little League and a few years as umpire in chief. In 2009, McCullough became umpire in chief for California District 7 Little League, which oversees nine Little Leagues in Sacramento. McCullough has umpired every level of baseball and softball in all 50 states and Australia. He plans to add Europe to his map once travel restrictions ease.

And he does it all for no pay.

“I’ve never received anything more than a hot dog and a Coke,” McCullough says. “Most of my own district has paid umpires and I don’t like it, but when parents don’t step forward, they don’t have any other options. I’m a firm believer that we’re going to get back what we give. You don’t have to be paid to be happy and to grow as an individual and support someone else.”

McCullough influenced his son Jonathan, who lives in Colorado, to become an umpire. When Jonathan was stationed in South Carolina with the Navy, his dad connected him with the local Little League. He ended up officiating all the way to the state level.

Proud papa McCullough attended Jonathan’s first game to photograph the experience—something he did across the west from 2012 to 2018 as the unofficial “Uncle Umpire.” “Someone needs to be there for the umpires, taking care of their needs and helping them save memories,” McCullough says.

After traveling to hundreds of ballparks, McCullough can look at his map and recall a memory from each location: That time in Wilmington, North Carolina, when his luggage didn’t arrive and he had to buy pants at Goodwill for the game that night. A Junior League game in Beaumont, Texas, when he was handed a ball with the politest, “Here you go, sir,” he’d ever received. And the World Series this June, when one team didn’t have enough players and recruited a kid the night before the big game.

“The coach kept apologizing, but I loved it,” McCullough says. “These kids were having a great time. They were competitors, but still friends working as a team. And I had the best seat in the house.”

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Jessica Laskey can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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