Softball umpire rewarded for service with OAM

Leigh Evans, who received OAM. (Damjan Janevski) 411800_02

Eddie Russell

Hillside resident Leigh Evans is ‘ecstatic’ to receive a Medal of the Order of Australia for his service to softball through umpiring.

But it was never part of his grand plan.

“It’s great to have that recognition for something you do that you’re passionate about … but it’s not something you set out to achieve,” Mr Evans said.

“Achieving your Australian senior levels, international accreditation and attending world championships are all things you set goals for.”

Mr Evans has an extensive resume. An umpire since 1989, he has progressed from local leagues all the way through to the international stage.

Coming from a cricket and football background, Mr Evans wasn’t always involved with softball. He said the journey began when he met his now wife.

“She was very involved with softball at a state level so I went along to watch … then we later had children and they started playing tee-ball and junior ball,” Mr Evans said.

It was a ‘never-ending shortage’ of umpires at his kids’ games that drove Mr Evans to begin umpiring, and he has never looked back since.

“I got on to those junior games to help the kids play and along the way people kept giving me games at senior level and pushing me on to achieve something even more.”

Mr Evans has since become both a Hall of Fame inductee (2015) and a Life Member of Softball Australia (2021).

He has been a national umpire examiner for Softball Australia since 2004 and member of the umpiring committee for Softball Victoria since 1994.

“It takes up a lot of hours when you are involved in all those committees and there are a lot of politics but it’s for the betterment of the sport,” he said.

It’s not just in Australia where Mr Evans has made a difference. He is also umpiring director for Oceania, umpire in chief, umpires’ commissioner, and a member of the rules committee for the World Baseball and Softball Federation.

Outside of governance, he has officiated as chief umpire and deputy umpire for men’s and women’s world championships, Olympic qualifiers, Canada Cup and Japan Cup.

Mr Evans’ invaluable service is driven not only by a love for the game, but the human element of it as well.

“I just enjoy the game itself, but particularly all the philosophies and understandings of where coaches and players come from,” he said.

“They have their own goals to achieve and what stands between them and winning can sometimes be an umpire’s call.”

When it comes to the softball diamond, invisibility is an umpire’s best friend.

“It’s great when you come off a big game and you’ve managed to really not be in the spectators mind, they are just thinking it was a great game,” Mr Evans said.

But that isn’t always easy when the game is played at breakneck speeds, and calls have to be made in the blink of an eye.

“There’s a lot of assertiveness and aggression particularly in the men’s game when they are pitching at 135 km/h underarm.”