The second day of the National Softball Association Class B Girls Fastpitch World Series was a hot one. Fortunately, the schedule was light with teams playing just one or two games. It was an early afternoon reprieve for players, coaches, parents, parks and recreation folks and umpires.
Sonny Anderson and Bill Whitley, umpires from Hampton, Va., pulled into the parking lot at Hargett Park a little past 11 a.m. They needed to be at the park 30 minutes prior to the start of their game at noon. One got the impression they were always early for games.
The pair has worked together for more than 15 years. They ride together to tournaments all over the Atlantic Coast. Bill drives, and Sonny rides and talks.
Anderson, the senior of the two, has called games since 1981. Whitley started umpiring after retiring from the Air Force and has been with Anderson ever since.
They kid each other like an old married couple.
"We've gone thousands of miles from Ohio to Florida. This is our third time in Rock Hill for championship games. We do a lot of championship games. There's no telling how much gas we burned going up and down the road because Bill won't stop and get directions," Anderson said, both laughing.
Anderson and Whitley are two of 28 umpires in town to call games at Hargett and Cherry parks for the four-day tournament. The teams that play the games are the best of the best, and so are the umpires.
"We pull them in from all over. It's an honor to be at a championship like this. They umpire all year and get to come here," tournament official Robin Carlson-Poe said.
Anderson is full of life. He traded stories with Whitley prior to the game. He found Rock Hill native Brown Simpson -- also umpiring games this week -- and Craig Brittain, an umpire from Winston-Salem, N.C. The umpires have a bond. Some may see each other nearly every week. Others maybe once or twice a year. They all know each other.
"That's really a plus. It's just like a vacation," Anderson said. "The NSA puts you in a nice hotel. Sometimes they help with gas or food. But it's not about the money. It's about meeting people and having fun. It makes you feel good when people know your name."
Out comes the photo album Anderson is famous for.
Anderson watched NBA star Allen Iverson grow up in Hampton. He is friends with Iverson's uncle. That friendship led to Anderson's involvement with the Allen Iverson Foundation. He helps organize softball games to raise money for charities. The events bring in sports stars and other celebrities.
In the photo album are shots of Anderson and Iverson. Anderson and Carmelo Anthony. Anderson and Kevin Garnett. Magic Johnson. Antawn Jamison. Anderson is smiling, has an arm around most of the athletes. He is really smiling in the picture with Patti LaBelle.
"I knew Allen when he was young. I did his football games and on up through basketball when he was little," Anderson said.
Time to go to work.
Anderson polished his black steel-toed shoes from the bed of Whitley's pickup truck. The steel-toes were for his second game of the afternoon. He would call balls and strikes. Then he started work on his field shoes for game one. Both pair are impeccably cleaned.
Their first game started just past noon. Whitley had the plate, Anderson the field. The Richmond Storm took on the Finger Lakes Lakers from Geneva, N.Y.
The Lakers' left fielder made a nice diving catch to end an inning. The player trotted by Anderson.
"Nice play out there. Nice catch," he said.
Later in the same game, a Lakers player slid in under the tag of the Storm catcher.
"Safe!" Whitley called authoritatively.
Anderson quickly backed up the call. "Nice call, Mr. Whitley. Good call."
Hubert "Hubie" Hair is the UIC -- umpire in charge -- at Hargett and Cherry parks for the World Series, overseeing nine fields. He's been an umpire for 39 years and was one of the first to call a game at Cherry Park.
This may be his final year. He wants to spend more time with his three granddaughters and two grandsons back in North Charleston.
Hair is as loyal as they come. He's here because the region UIC, Mike Snyder, asked him.
"Mike Snyder and Jimmy Sutton got me into the (National Umpires Association) Hall of Fame," Hair said.
He explained his surprise about his induction and his appreciation for it this way:
"I had been in Vietnam for 19 months, got shot twice and received two Purple Hearts," he said. "You'd think the Hall of Fame would be just a spit in the bucket. But it was really special."
Sutton, who lives in Rock Hill, retired recently after serving as the state NSA commissioner.
"(Sutton's) been a big asset for me," Hair said. "No ifs about it. Jimmy Sutton made NSA what it is in the state of South Carolina."
Hair gets to see a lot of umpires and a lot of games every year. He hand picks some of the umpires for championships and others are recommended to him.
Guys like Sonny Anderson and Bill Whitley.
"Sonny is a fine person. He does a good job. He takes a lot of pride in what he does," Hair said. "He's probably been with me 10 years.
"Whitley always asks to ump with me. It makes me feel good. He's a fine umpire. I'd have both of them work with me anytime."
With the World Series continuing through Thursday, there are many more games to call.