The summer of 2019 was a whirlwind for Josh Cordova Jr. to say the least.But on July 6 -- his birthday, no less -- the teenager received an unexpected offer that proved to be as exciting as it was educational.A few weeks prior, Cordova had been the umpire of a
The summer of 2019 was a whirlwind for Josh Cordova Jr. to say the least.
But on July 6 -- his birthday, no less -- the teenager received an unexpected offer that proved to be as exciting as it was educational.
A few weeks prior, Cordova had been the umpire of a baseball game of 7-year-olds gone haywire in Lakewood, Colorado, one that would ultimately go viral, and he was thrilled to receive a surprise birthday gift.
The Minor League Baseball Umpire Training Academy and director Dusty Dellinger got wind of the game at which parents and coaches brawled on the field and noted the way Cordova handled himself. Even as things got violent, the then-13-year-old stayed composed in a situation that went from game to kerfuffle to full-on fist fight. His demeanor and professionalism during the chaos stood out, and he was given an open invitation to go to Florida and learn the ropes of being a professional umpire.
Having never trekked to the Sunshine State, getting an opportunity to venture with his parents and siblings to Florida in the middle of January might have been enough of a present. But learning the ins and outs of the rules and techniques of something he has a great passion for made the answer an unequivocal yes.
"First and foremost, [Dellinger] said happy birthday and then asked if me and my family [wanted] to go down to Florida and check out their umpire academy," Cordova recalled of that early July phone call. "And then he said, when I'm 18 or when I got out of high school, I could go down there. I have a scholarship there."
This was just the latest show of support Cordova had gotten since the chaos of that fateful June game. At the end of that month, Major League umpire Chris Guccione watched video of the fight and offered to bring Josh and his family to a game at Coors Field to see what goes into preparing for a big league contest. The Cordovas saw all the pregame work that goes into the profession and toured the umpires' locker room and the field.
With that experience and the support of so many officials across a multitude of sports, Cordova had no intentions of quitting his umpiring gig. In fact, he only wanted to build upon the foundation he set for himself when he started getting into the officiating side of the game the previous year. His dad, Josh Sr., said the outreach from so many individuals made it an easier process for his son and the whole family.
"Everyone in that type of work has been so supportive and reaching out, and it's been great," Josh Sr. said. "For us, it was just one of those deals where Josh was there doing his job and then it just so happened something crazy broke out. It was shocking to all of us just to see the community that actually surrounds umpiring and officiating ... the community alone is amazing. We never really were exposed to all that prior to this, and just seeing that, it's awesome."
Fast-forward to the middle of January, and Cordova and his family headed from the near-freezing temperatures of Colorado to the welcomed warmth of Vero Beach, Florida.
Down at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex, Cordova joined veterans who also were furthering their skills at the academy. Being the youngest of the corps, the teenager understandably could have been overwhelmed by the situation. But the other umpires made sure to welcome Cordova into the fold from the outset.
"The campus itself was pretty cool because everyone had such a great vibe and everybody was bonding," Cordova said. "It's almost like a brotherhood with all the umpires."
And it wasn't just the North American contingent that reached out to Cordova and wanted him to feel at home. Umpires from around the world attending the training sessions made sure to talk with the youngster, even showing him how news of the game he'd officiated had gone worldwide.
"It's kind of crazy because people from Australia approached me, said they'd seen me on the news and gave me a baseball," Cordova said. "Then these umpires from Japan approached me and gave me a couple of gifts as well, which I thought was pretty crazy because I wouldn't have thought [the news] had gotten way out there."
Having those positive influences made it easy to get adjusted to the camp from the start. But the gifts were only a small part of Cordova's two-day experience at the complex. He brushed up on the umpire's manual and sat through class in the mornings before getting quizzed on the material. A mix of some true-and-false and multiple-choice questions comprised the test. And with all the work he put in, Cordova proudly passed all of his exams.
Out on the field, he took drills like the rest of the group. He learned how to position himself on the field for potential double plays as well as standing behind home plate, calling balls and strikes. As much of a challenge as it might have been to get his feet wet on the diamond and put himself out there, the other trainees never stopped encouraging him.
"It's definitely nerve-wracking with a lot of, you know, a lot of the older guys, skilled guys," Cordova said. "But after every rep, they cheered me on."
Whether it was honing in on the strike zone -- which Cordova admittedly said he wants to get better at -- or making sure he knew what to do if a runner misses a base, the teen feels more confident in his umpiring. He actively observed the other umpires and how they set their feet and positioned themselves with certain batters at the plate. Although it might seem like minutiae to some, Cordova soaked it in with a keen eye to understand what he can do better.
As a player himself, experiencing the other side of the game has made him respect the position of an umpire more, and he sees it as beneficial to developing his mental skills. Cordova intends on pressing ahead with umpiring, undeterred by last year's incident. He wants to try to branch out to potentially call games for 11-year-olds. Soon, he'll continue his umpire education with classes back home, so by the time he turns 15, he can call more games during the weekend when he's not on the field himself.
Throughout the process, he's thought about developing a signature strikeout call behind the dish. And although it'll be years before he has to decide about returning to the academy when he turns 18, Cordova said he's definitely considering the possibility.
In all of this, his father is proud of the maturity and resolve from his son during what was a uniquely complicated situation for a 13-year-old.
"You're given these types of experiences in life, but you can't just give up on something, you know?" Josh Sr. said. "And that's kind of what we've always told Josh since he was young. He's been playing sports his whole life, and if some adversity or something like that happened, you just power through it and keep going. And that's kind of how we've always approached it. ... It speaks volumes on his end [about] just gathering mental toughness and pushing through it."
Andrew Battifarano is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter, @AndrewAtBatt.