Bob Lamb receives Dick Willis Memorial Award
Dave Dawson/The Packet & Times Orillia’s Bob Lamb recently won the Dick Willis Memorial Award that recognizes Canada’s top umpire. Lamb, who has been officiating baseball games at diamonds throughout the province for almost four decades, was named umpire of the year for Vaughan, then was named the York Simcoe Baseball Association's top umpire and capped the trifecta by winning the prestigious Dick Willis trophy.
Bob Lamb jokes that he is a "showboat" behind the plate - an umpire with a distinctive and demonstrative Strike 3 call that local baseball players know well. But he is also a devoted student of the game who knows the rules like a preacher who can quote scripture to fit any situation; he is an experienced diamond arbiter in demand throughout the province.
After almost four decades of calling balls and strikes, the flamboyant umpire dubbed the "ballerina in blue" has been recognized for his excellence, hard work and talent, earning the coveted Dick Willis Memorial Award that honours Canada's top official and recognizes "their outstanding contribution and umpiring of the game of baseball."
"It means a lot to me," said Lamb of the prestigious award. "It's like a thank you and it's an appreciation for what you've done."
And he's done it all. A long-time catcher, he began umpiring softball when he was 16 in his hometown of Durham. When he moved to Toronto to attend Seneca College, he responded to an ad in the Toronto Sun and went to a clinic where he could become an accredited official - only to learn the program was for wannabe baseball umpires - not softball. He stayed, starting a lifelong journey that continues to this day.
When he was transferred to Orillia - by Woolco - in 1992, he eventually found his way to local diamonds and has been umpiring in the Sunshine City ever since. For the past 15 years, he has served as umpire in chief for Orillia's Legion Minor Baseball program. He not only umpires countless games, he helps train young umpires and handles the scheduling to ensure officials are at local diamonds for every local house league and travel game as well as when tournaments overtake city diamonds.
About a dozen years ago, he was asked to be an umpire in Vaughan and has travelled to the city just north of Toronto 12 to 15 weekends each summer ever since. It was Dirk Drierberg, an official in Vaughan, that nominated Lamb as Vaughan's senior umpire of the year for 2016.
After winning that award, Lamb's name was put forward as the umpire of the year for the York Simcoe Baseball Association, the governing body for the sport in central Ontario. He won that as well. As a result, he was nominated for the coveted Dick Willis award and completed the impressive hat trick of awards when he was presented the national honour earlier this month at a season-ending awards event at Horseshoe Resort.
The award is especially sweet for Lamb, whose daughter, Pamela, won the same award for junior umpires in 2005. "We are the only father-daughter combination to win the two awards," Lamb said with a big smile. "That is something we're pretty proud of."
Lamb has taught and coached dozens of young umpires, but he is most proud that he was able to pass along his passion for umpiring to his own three kids. While Pamela, a married school teacher living in Ottawa, no longer umpires, his son, Nathan umpires in Orillia while his eldest son, Joe, serves as umpire in chief for the North London Baseball Association.
"I have been fortunate to be able to umpire games with all of my kids at one time or another," said Lamb. "Those are always special games."
So deep is the family's passion for umpiring that Pamela got married last summer on a Thursday. That allowed her dad and her brother to umpire multiple games that weekend at a tournament. After all, says Lamb, they were needed.
"I think that's partly why I won this award," he explains. "I'll umpire mosquito games or tyke games or senior games. I'll answer the call to go wherever they need me - rain or shine. I just love to umpire."
And while he will turn 55 next month, he has no desire to step away from home plate - his home away from home. "You know what, I want to do it as long as I can," he says. "It's just who I am "¦ it's what I do. I can't really imagine not doing it."
The Dick Willis Memorial Award recognizes Canada's official of the year for their outstanding contribution and umpiring of the game of baseball. Eligibility for this award begins when Baseball Canada receives nominations from provincial umpire associations. Nominees must be a certified umpire, have involvement in the local and provincial umpire organizations and be an active umpire during the year of nomination. The award is named in honour of Dick Willis, a long-time Toronto area umpire who ran clinics and trained countless up-and-coming umpires - including Lamb.