Kelly Culp has come to learn a few things in his more than 20 years as a baseball umpire — the past 10 or so spent mostly college and high school diamonds in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
Those who make the calls must be decisive, possess a thick skin and know they are not the show.
"You have to make quick decisions and be able to handle tough situations," says Culp, a 1991 NorthWood High School graduate whose umpiring career began soon after his playing career ended. Culp was a right fielder and first baseman for coach Dennis Myers.
"You have to know the rules and you have to be absolutely confident in your judgement. Baseball does not have luxury of 'no call' like some sports," Culp says. "We have to make the call. This job is not for everyone."
While the umpire asserts his authority, the idea is to blend in and not stir up trouble.
"The goal of any umpire or any official is to not be recognized," says Culp. "'I didn't even know you were out there' is one of the greatest compliments you can hear."
He prides himself on hustle and focus.
"When I step on the field, I realize there is no game that is more important than the one I am about to call," says Culp. "The level doesn't matter."
Culp knows that anytime he makes a close call, someone is going to question it.
But he sticks to his guns and turns a deaf ear to the boo birds.
"I've done this long enough that fans don't bother me," says Culp.
Ironically, Culp can trace the origins of his umpiring career to his yelling at an ump during one of his nephew's games. He was told that if he could do better, he should an arbiter himself.
That's what he did, getting his feet wet first on the youth diamonds of Millersburg with the guidance of Ross Wenger.
It didn't take long before Culp was working high school games in Indiana and then Michigan.
When his full-time job as soybean operations manager for Bayer Crop Science took him to work in Durham, N.C., he took on an umpiring schedule that has grown to about 90 to 100 games a year — most of those between Feb. 1 and mid-May with some summer high school, USA Baseball, American Legion and D-I fall ball scrimmages mixed in — thanks to the flexibility of his employer and the understanding of his family.
Culp, 41, and wife Jennifer live in Wake Forest, N.C., with their two kids — son Keegan, 11, and daughter Lauren, 9.
He has had two stretches where he umpired 10 games in nine days and seven games in six days.
"None of it would be possible without their support," says Culp. "It does take time away from the family."
Working mostly night games, Culp is a regular in the Peach Belt Conference, Conference Carolinas and Big South Conference. He also does mid-week non-conference NCAA Division I games for Duke and North Carolina State.
He has worked in Notre Dame games when they have come south and was assigned to two games involving Ball State and IPFW when the Cardinals and Mastodons came to North Carolina this spring.
"When I'm on the field, I try not to say I'm from Indiana," says Culp. "I don't want to appear biased."
While instant replay challenges have not yet come to college baseball like they have to Major League Baseball, Culp is a supporter of the idea.
"If you have the technology and it does not slow the game down greatly, I'm all in favor of it," says Culp. "My job, at the end of the day, is to get the call right."