STRATTANVILLE, Pa. – Justin Skiba had been building toward an opportunity like this.
The Strattanville native and graduate of Clarion-Limestone and Clarion University, recently umpired in the Little League Major Division regional tournaments in Bristol, Conn. – one step away from the Little League World Series.
This was Skiba’s fourth regional tournament (2012, 2016, 2019), but first at the age group that goes on to the Little League World Series in Williamsport.
“The experience was awesome,” Skiba said. “It was better than I expected. When you get to that level and do something like that it’s a privilege and an honor. I had the opportunity to work with a lot of good umpires. The umpire consultants were great. It was fun, I learned a lot and glad I was able to represent us back here, District 25.”
Skiba has been an umpire for a long time, 27 years to be exact, but even he’ll admit he was a little nervous when a schedule change put him in the biggest of spotlights.
“I really wasn’t nerved up my first two games,” Skiba said. “When I got my first plate game, I was nervous. The game was supposed to be ESPN 2 at 1 p.m. and ended up getting moved to ESPN at 7 because of rain. I remember being back at the hotel with my wife. That’s as nervous as I’ve been in 27 years of doing this. Once the game started, though, that went away.”
With the spotlight of being on national television, Skiba’s phone was lighting up all week from friends back home. There was even a watch party for one of his games at the Clarion Eagles Club.
“My phone blew up all week from basketball officials I know to Little League umpires,” Skiba said. “I got a phone call from Dave Katis (former Clarion University Athletic Director). I was pretty much getting texts and Facebook messages from everyone that knows me. It was nice to represent our area. They were all really happy for me.”
Umpires are under a close eye from the consultants, with video provided from ESPN.
“We would go through a pregame routine and then after the game we got critiqued,” Skiba said. “ESPN provided video and they (the umpire consultants) showed us things they thought we could do better at. We talked as umpires throughout the week, and there were a lot of the same feelings of nervousness.”
Skiba began his career in 1996, and getting to this level is something he didn’t necessarily think about, especially in the beginning.
“When I first started umpiring, would I dream of ever doing this? Probably not,” Skiba said. “This is the fourth different regional I’ve done, and it’s one I’ve always wanted to do. As I’ve got older and got more experience, it started to become a dream. This is the fourth different regional I’ve done, and it’s one I’ve always wanted to do. At some point, I’d love to umpire the Little League World Series.”
Doing that is definitely a dream for Skiba, and he could be finding out soon if that could become a reality.
“That’s the ultimate goal,” Skiba said. “That’s where I want to end up. I’m waiting to get my final evaluation back from the consultants up in Bristol. The evaluation would tell me if I’m ready to go to the World Series level or if I get back to work at regional level. There are other levels of Little League baseball I could do, World Series at another level. At some point before I hang it up, if I get a World Series recommendation, that would be a huge step.”