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Monday, Aug. 29, 2016

Struck Strikes Out: Don't shoot old Blue

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

While we're still all abuzz over the Cherokee Braves baseball team winning the Class 2A State Championship last week in Des Moines, and how they showed such true class and dignity throughout their march to the title, let me tell you about another model of class and dignity.

His name is Stuart Christians and he is a high school baseball umpire and a State Trooper from Le Mars, whom I took to task in a recent column after he lost his cool in Cherokee's District Tournament win over Maple Valley/Anthon-Oto.

In that game, home umpire Christians over-ruled the base umpire's call on a close play at third base, and after some people in the crowd questioned the ruling, Christians went to the backstop and cautioned some Cherokee fans to quiet down, and then did the same on the MV-AO side.

Then, when a man hollered out to play ball, Christians shouted "Who said that?" Then, when a woman said the same thing, Christians threatened to "Kick everybody out of here."

Because the embarrassing scene played out in front of more than 1,000 fans, I felt compelled to publish the "news" in a column, asking what would Cherokee athletic director Neil Phipps have done if Christians had persisted in his threat?

I also made a mental note at that time to always drive the speed limit in Plymouth County.

The column ran in the Chronicle Times on Friday, July 20. Christians, assigned to work RAGBRAI that whole next week and weekend, didn't get to see the column until earlier this week. He then called me at my office, I wasn't in, so he left a voice mail THANKING me for the fair and candid way I presented the incident. Here's part of what his voice mail said:

"Paul, I just had a chance to read your column and I want you to know I appreciate the fair and candid way you wrote the story. It's a very well-written story and I can't find a single paragraph where I would disagree with you on what happened. I wish I could go back and not have that ever happen. But it did and I congratulate you on telling it fair and candid. Thank you."

Stu left me his home phone number if I wanted to talk to him about it. However, a few hours later, before I had a chance to call him, he called me back.

We visited for quite a while as he told me his side of the story, how he came to over-rule that one call, and how he was not and would never make an excuse for what he said that night to the crowd. He felt terrible it happened, and vowed it has never happened before and would never happen again.

"I love the game of baseball. I absolutely love it," said Christians. "I've been at this (umpiring) for 24 years and maybe it's time to quit. Maybe one more year (25) would be a good time to retire. I don't know.

"The sad thing is, I work a lot of games with my son. We need more good, young umpires. I'm happy he loves the game like I do. I'm just glad he wasn't there that night to see the poor example I set."

I told Stu how I understood how an umpire could get caught up in such an incident, that I knew the dynamics of it because I was right in the middle of it. "Don't you go making excuses for me because I'm not going to do that. I was wrong," said the Trooper.

The sincerity and caring in his voice was unmistakable and I immediately began trying to convince him not to give up the game, to work with his son in this labor of love until he couldn't do it any more. I don't know if I was successful as we said our goodbyes.

Before I wrote the first column, I visited with a couple State Troopers I know. I then talked to Cherokee coach Scott Koch, AD Neil Phipps, and retired Cherokee AD Paul Fuhrman. I asked them about Stuart Christians.

To a person, they all spoke about him being a quality umpire, a real nice guy, his outstanding integrity, the professional way he does his job, and how knowledgeable he is about the game of baseball and its rules. The incident was very out of character for him, they concluded.

Through the years for words I have written, I've been threatened with physical harm and law suits, had advertising canceled, been called every name in the book, had doors and phones and newspapers and letters slammed in my face, and have had my car and home repeatedly vandalized.

I've never, ever had anyone call me to thank me for embarrassing them in the newspaper.

Stuart Christians did that. He took the licking and kept on ticking, while proving beyond all doubt that he's every bit the man of character and integrity that those who know him say he is.

You know, sometimes you meet some of the finest people under the strangest circumstances.

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