It is four in the afternoon on yet another humid day. Most volunteers have been at Union Field since 8 a.m. and will be lucky if they get home by 10 p.m. This will be their life until the tournament ends Wednesday.
So why do the volunteers of the Senior League Eastern Regional tournament do it?
“It’s been a quiet tournament so far,” says umpire Brian Hoffman, though he expects the crowds to get rowdier and the games to get more exciting as the tournament progresses.
Hoffman has umped in three games so far. After being an umpire in West Deptford for three years, this is Hoffman’s first year volunteering in the Senior Eastern Regional Tournamen, and he already set to come back next year.
“It’s a lot of fun,” says Hoffman, “and it’s good baseball.”
Yet apart from the umpires, the best seat in the house goes to Mike Hirschman, who works almost all day in the Union Field press box updating scores, pitch counts, stats and a live game feed broadcast over the internet.
Hirschman, who lives in Greensboro, NC, takes a week off of work every year to come up District 15, which is in charge of the tournament. Out of the 22 tournaments hosted in West Deptford, he has only missed five.
Hirschman, a native of Cherry Hill, grew up in Little League, playing until he turned 16. At that point, he turned his attention to coaching and umpping for Cherry Hill, a decision that brought him to West Deptford many years ago.
Among Hirschman’s fondest memories is the running joke of no-hitters. Hirschman explains at one point the tournament had gone 300 games—20 years—without a no-hitter. Volunteers even kept a running count of games without a no-hitter up on a sign overlooking the field.
(For those of you wondering, that streak's been snapped—there have been three no-nos since 2009, including one just days ago.)
“We have a great group of people here,” says Hirschman, “We have a lot of fun.”
Hirschman also reminisces of the many times he came back to the press box wet and muddy after bailing out the field. He explains that it is all-hands-on-deck when it’s time to dry out the field after a rainstorm.
Regardless of duties, all volunteers help to get the field back to playing condition, a camaraderie that Hirschman refers to as “the spirit of Little League.”
On average there are anywhere from 50 to 60 volunteers who help make the Senior Eastern Regional Tournament possible. At the helm is Dan Finocchi, the assistant tournament director, who has been with the tournament since Taylor Bell brought it to West Deptford 22 years ago.
“Twenty-two years is an advantage,” says Finocchi, who along with 19 other administrators helps to plan the tournament every year.
He says the most challenging aspect of this year’s tournament has been the $22,000 budget, which, thanks to a down economy, has dropped from its high at one point when it topped out at $30,000.
Financial challenges aside, Finocchi comes back every year for the ballplayers. He says that it is not about watching the kids win, it is about kids from seven different states coming together for six days in the summer.
“It’s about the experience these kids have,” says Mike Walsh, another longtime staff member.
For some, it is also a family affair. Dana Hurlburt and her daughter Hilary Hurlburt have ran the concession stand for seven years. There are an average of 10 girls ranging in age from 12 to 21 working the concession stand each day. Most of them play softball or have a brother in Little League, and volunteer about eight to 10 hours of their time every day.
“The kids are a great help," says Dana Hurlburt. “Without the kids, I couldn’t do it.”
Hilary Hurlburt says the best part of volunteering for the tournament is meeting new people. She says with the help of Facebook, she has been able to maintain long-distance friendships with the people she has meet over the years.