By Dave Ongie
After 45 years as an umpire, John Mashburn was recently selected as the recipient of the 2017 Little League Southeastern Regional Golden Mask Award.
When Mashburn’s friends and family found out, a plot was hatched to get him down to Warner Robins, Georgia, on Aug. 10 without telling him about the honor. It was a tall task, but luckily for Carroll Mumpower, it’s never hard to talk Mashburn into going to a ballgame.
“I just had to tell him I was going for an award, and I’d like for him to see it,” said Mumpower, who called Little League games with Mashburn for over 20 years. “He didn’t argue with it. He wanted to go. He likes going out to ballgames.”
So Mashburn climbed into Mumpower’s car at 6 a.m. on the 10th under the impression he was going to South Georgia to take in a regional championship game and witness his good friend picking up an award. Unbeknownst to Mashburn, his wife Diana and his daughter Bridgit followed close behind in a separate vehicle so they could attend as well.
“They told me enough stories to get me there,” Mashburn said. “I’m ready to go to a ballgame. It was beautiful, and it worked out.”
Mashburn’s experience at the ballpark has changed drastically in recent years. Macular degeneration has slowly robbed Mashburn of an umpire’s greatest asset – his eyesight. Mashburn says he’s completely blind in his right eye, and the vision in his left is severely limited. But the ballpark still feels like home.
“If I can’t see it, I like to be around the people and hear the sounds at a ballgame,” he said. “I ain’t quitting yet. The sounds are still there.”
Mashburn could feel the electricity in the air as he walked the field with Mumpower prior to the regional title game, which was broadcast on ESPN. He spent some time in the umpire’s locker room prior to the first pitch, soaking in the big-game feel as he swapped stories with the umpires assigned to that day’s game.
The experience brought back memories of Mashburn’s time at the 2009 Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, where he called games on Little League’s biggest stage. But what happened next gave his time in Williamsport a run for its money.
Following the national anthem, Mashburn was standing on the field next to Mumpower, waiting for his friend’s name to be called. Instead, it was Mashburn’s name that was called, and he walked out to the pitcher’s mound to receive an award given each year to an umpire in the region who has displayed exemplary dedication to the game.
“They said it was always the highest honor for an umpire to call the World Series,” Mashburn said. “I think they topped it a little bit. This achievement award, it goes right there with it.”
When Mashburn returned to the stands, he was surprised to see his family waiting for him, but he was happy to share the award with them.
“All the awards should involve my family, because as they grew up, I was calling ball,” Mashburn said. “The family had to endure a lot when I was umpiring. It should be a family award.”
The award is a fitting end to Mashburn’s career, which spanned five decades. Despite the loss of his eyesight, Mashburn isn’t bitter about how his career ended. Instead, he’s grateful for the experiences he’s had over the years.
“I just enjoyed getting to know the kids, enjoying the people,” he said. “I know they’d get on you, but I just enjoyed the whole concept of Little League, the game itself.
“I’m blessed. God above has given me 70 years to be here. I’ve done things I never thought I’d do, and I’ve been blessed all my life.”