Damren, Ralph (2016)
“My role was the summer recreation director in Ralph’s hometown. It was time for Pittsfield’s annual little league all-star tournament. Ralph’s skills have earned him opportunities on much larger stages; he instead chose to donate his time to the tournament. He umpired a full slate of games on Saturday, hung around and directed trivia and stores of baseball into the evening, only to return for a full slate of games on Sunday. During the weekend, I watch parents, coaches, and players of winning and losing teams go out of their way to thank Ralph. No matter the level of baseball knowledge, they knew Ralph just gave the game something special.”
-Ollie A. Faulkner
Damren was once behind the plate in Corinth, where an older Central High fan had set up a folding chair directly behind the chicken wire backstop:
“Every time I called a strike against any Central batter he would go, ‘hokey Pete, hokey Pete, he needed a tennis racket,’ Damren said.
When Central was in the field, if I didn’t call it a strike, he’d go ‘hokey Pete, right down Broadway.’
At one point, a warmup pitch rolled toward the backstop, and Damren retrieved it. As he righted himself, his eyes met those of the man.
I smiled and said, ‘let me know if I miss any,’ Damren said. He smiled and said, ‘miss any, I ain’t sure if you got any right yet.’
The man didn’t say a word the rest of the game. As the umpires walked toward their car, the old man confronted them.
He says, ‘you wasn’t so bad.’ I smiled and waved back at him, Damren said.
Ralph Damren is celebrating fifty years as a baseball umpire, and I do mean celebrating. Really, anyone who has come in contact with him would tell you he celebrates just about everything: sunny days, cold days when he remembers his gloves and Bruce Anderson doesn’t, stumping you with his”how many pitches?” trivia question, funny plays on the field and ones that were not so funny when they happened but which grew more humorous with the passage of time, his time on the field with young people, great displays of sportsmanship, and Oh Yes, balls and strikes and close calls on the bases.
Ralph began life as the son of George and Dorothy Damren who are deceased. He shared that home with three siblings: a brother, George, who is also deceased and two sisters, Linda (Bickford) and Debbie (Brooks). On June 8, 1985, he was married to his wife Roberta. He and Roberta have no children. An important fact here is that Roberta can get this man away from ballfields long enough to take an inseason Alaskan cruise. It is pretty clear who the crew chief is in that house.
Ralph has worked for Equitable, now AXA Equitable since 1971. From 1971 to 1976 he was an agent. Then from 1976 to 1993 he was a District Manager, and since 1993 he has held his current position as an agent.
Ralph’s association with baseball began during his highschool years at MCI. It was there where he came under the powerful influence of another Maine Baseball Hall of Famer, Mr. Al Card who was his baseball coach and a lot more. Ralph cites Mr. Card as the person who made the greatest impression on him during his time in baseball. It is pretty clear that Ralph learned from one of the best. By his own admission, Ralph was not on the radar of MLB scouts as a player. He described the MCI team he played on as a Powerhouse” in an article by Bangor Daily News writer Pete Warner in 2014 entitled “The Man behind the mask: Pittsfield native still making the right calls in 48th season as baseball umpire.” Ralph the hitter? Not so much. In the same article, he summarizes his career as one hit in six at bats, “ a ringing single against Hinkley-Goodwill.” Coach Card was a prophet when he steered this not so feared slugger into umpiring in 1966.
Ralph has remained strongly connected to MCI throughout the years. He was a trustee from 1990 to 1996, Alumni Association President from1992 to 2002, Finance Committee Chair from 1998 to 2002. In 2007 Ralph was elected into the MCI Hall of Fame, and he has served on the Hall of Fame Selection Committee since 2010.
If Al Card left a powerful and lasting impression on Ralph, there is no doubt Ralph has returned the favor to countless fans, players and coaches during his tenure. The is not much doubt that folks know he is on the field. In the previously cited Bangor Daily News article Pete Warner says, “There is no mistaking when he’s behind the plate. He barks out an unmistakeable ‘straaiiike’ call, and is the only umpire in the area who uses the traditional ‘balloon’ protector’. I was fortunate enough to attend a game this spring when Houlton fans had their first experience with Ralph. They heartily agreed with me that he does not get cheated when calling strikes. Of course, there is a story about the balloon protector. With Ralph there is always a story. Suffice to say he once tried the model worn under the uniform blouse, but that resulted in what could charitably be called a “wardrobe malfunction”. He tells it better. It is doubtful one could find an umpire held in higher regard by coaches than Ralph, among them is fellow inductee David Gonyar. Dave Eckelund said, “ I think if you talked to 10 coaches, I don’t know if you’d get any that would say anything bad about him. The same is true for his peers. John Curry, President of the EMBUA board and a veteran arbiter himself, “ He’s an incredible guy. He’s the glue that holds us all together. More than one player will tell you of a time when he benefited from Ralph’s even handed application of the rule book.
And at least once the players and coaches have returned the favor. What would impress a man who from 1966 to 1967 was in the Kennebec Somerset Umpire’s Association, from 1968 to 1970 was an approved umpire in Connecticut, has been on the EMBUA since 1971 and its interpreter since 1979? Well, it was two coaches and a very unfortunate situation. Let him tell it to you via Pete Warner. “ In the late 1970’s Ellsworth High was playing at Orono. With the Eagles leading 21, an elderly man in the crowd experienced a medical emergency. Orono coach Dave Ekelund and Ellsworth coach Jack Scott tried to assist the man, who was taken to the hospital but later died. He was the grandfather of Red Riots pitcher David Paul, who was in tears on the bench. [Scott] says, ‘ I don’t expect him to pitch anymore today We’re not going to take advantage of it. We’re going to go home and give them a forfeit.”. Ralph calls it “ probably the most sportsmanlike act I’ve ever seen.”
Before we close, we should also note that Ralph is also a long tenured and widely respected football official as well. He has been officiating in Connecticut and Maine since 1969. He has received awards from the NFL Foundation and the College Football hall of Fame. He serves on the NFHS Football Rules committee. He has organized and monitored two experimental rules which were subsequently adopted by the NFHS. In 2012 he was awarded the Larry Labrie award by the MPA recognizing his outstanding contributions to the MPA Interscholastic Division.
Fifty years is quite a long time to do anything, so why officiate that long especially in spite of a hip replacement? All those free little league games in Pittsfield, those cold, snowy days in April, those days when the coach gets up on the wrong side of the bed, those days when you differentiate if the player said those words to himself or to you? Let Ralph tell you.’You do it, at least from my perspective, because it makes you feel young again. You’re working around kids; you’re working a game you love, and it’s good exercise. “ Looking at it that way, the past fifty years on selected baseball and football fields have been pretty good for everyone involved.