“Any day of the week is a good day to be on a baseball field,” says Kelly Elliott Dine, B.S.N. 1991. Thursday, Aug. 15, was a particularly good day. She was stationed behind second base on opening day of the 2019 Little League Baseball World Series (LLBWS)— one of only 16 elite umpires selected for the annual 10-day tournament, and the only female umpire among them.
Like the young players on the field, Dine worked her way to the international championship by excelling at the local, state, and regional level. The umpire selection process is long and rigorous. After earning a coveted World Series recommendation, Dine waited and modestly hoped for what the umpires call the “Golden Ticket.”
That letter came in January. “Everyone was home for Christmas break. I went out to get the mail, and was standing in the driveway when I saw the letter, which was so thin I initially assumed it was a rejection. I opened it in the kitchen and saw the word ‘congratulations.’ I jumped up and down, I yelled. I cried. I remember my husband gently pulling the letter out of my hand.”
Dine’s path to South Williamsport, Pa., began a decade ago. She had been a Little League coach for two years when she and her son had just wrapped up a game and were walking through the park on their way home in Hudson, Ohio. They came upon two teams and their coaches standing around on the diamond. “They didn’t have an umpire due to a mistake in scheduling. I offered to give it a try. I pulled a mask out of the utility box and got the game started. I went home and told my husband and the boys, ‘I don’t know if I was any good, but I loved it.’”
Dine set out to learn everything she could by attending clinics and camps, and, as she puts it, “keeping my nose in the rule book.” She has now been a Little League Baseball umpire for 10 years. She spent some time during those years as a softball umpire before deciding to dedicate all her focus on baseball. In addition to Little League, she has also worked college and high school baseball. It is believed she is the first female umpire to officiate at a Division I NCAA baseball game. She is the only woman among the 1,200 members of the College Baseball Umpires Association.
“I’m definitely aware that eyes are on me. I feel a need to be outstanding,” says Dine. “I don’t ever want anyone to look at me and say ‘That’s why we don’t have female umpires in baseball.’” Dine is only one of six female umpires to officiate during the LLBWS’ 72-year history.
That trailblazing attitude began in childhood. A Pittsburgh Pirates fan who cherishes memories of childhood trips to Three Rivers Stadium, Dine says, “We were an athletic family. My parents did not treat me any different from my brother. We all played baseball and football together and I came in just as dirty and bruised as my brother.”
Dine was a high school athlete in Erie, Pa., earning 12 varsity letters in four sports, and was an All-American in swimming. She threw the javelin at Catholic University, where she was a nursing ROTC student. As a commissioned officer, she was a member of the National U.S. Navy Track and Field Team. She was seeded first at the Armed Forces Championships, having already thrown the qualifying distance for the U.S. Olympic Trials in practice, when she ruptured her ACL in her knee, ending her javelin career.
Dine is quick to share her latest accomplishment with her husband Jeff and her three sons Steven, 22; Alex, 20; and Aiden, 14. Her family sat proudly in the stands on opening day. Life is not exactly easy for the Dines. Jeff is battling metastatic cancer and Aiden has lived with Type I diabetes since he was 15 months old.
“We are a resilient, positive bunch,” Dine says. “We make a choice to try to live each day with positivity and joy, and not to be held back by our health struggles. Jeff and the boys are my #1 supporters. I wouldn’t have achieved any of this if it hadn’t been for them.”
Umpiring, says Dine, is therapeutic for her. “When I’m working a game, I’m focused solely on the tasks at hand; it’s a place where cancer or diabetes or life’s day-to-day worries don’t intrude for a short period of time.”
Umpiring is also a world of fun for her. “I love baseball; I always have. And now, I’ve got the best seat in the house to the best game in town.”
The Little League Baseball World Series takes place through August 25 in South Williamsport, Pa. It is broadcast on ESPN and ABC.
—Ellen Woods, director of creative services and managing editor. Woods can be reached at email@example.com.