By STEVE KRAH
Fort Wayne’s Bob Rachlow was named 2021 Umpire of the Year by the National Amateur Baseball Federation at the 107th NABF Major/Unlimited Division World Series in Battle Creek, Mich.
Rachlow has made many calls from Little League to college to men’s wood bat league to professional over the years.
It was as a Little League coach that spark ignited his start as an umpire.
Guiding his son’s team in a district game, he did not see eye-to-eye with the men making the calls that day. He said as much to the tournament director.
“I’ll expect to see you at our classes next winter” was the reply.
“I went in not knowing anything,” says Rachlow. “How much I did not know was scary.”
Rachlow closely studied the rules, started at the youth level and soon got recruited for high school ball.
“You have to know the rules cold,” says Rachlow. “I thought I knew the rules as a coach.
“As umpires, we have to know all the rules — and not just fair/foul, ball/strike.”
There’s also game management.
“A lot of people can do 90 percent of it, but to move up you must have a feel for the game,” says Rachlow. “You can’t umpire by the book. You have to umpire with the book.
“Sometimes it’s the spirit of the rule.”
By 2009, he was working a college baseball schedule.
An owner for nearly 19 years with Luminary Wealth (formerly Capstone Advisors) — a financial investment firm in Fort Wayne — Rachlow has a partner that allows him the flexibility to work games in the NAIA-affiliated Crossroads League, NCAA Division III’s Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, occasional NCAA Division I or as a minor league fill-in for the the High-A Central League’s Fort Wayne TinCaps.
“It’s unbelievably a neat thing to do,” says Rachlow of the pro experience. “If I’m in front of 1,000 people that’s a big crowd for my usual games. There’s the sounds and the cheering (at Fort Wayne’s Parkview Field). You take that all in and it’s all directed at the field of play. As a fan you’re on the other side.
“I’m very grateful to be able to do that.”
Many of his assignments come through the College Baseball Umpires Association.
Each February, Rachlow escape the Indiana cold and goes to Port Charlotte, Fla., to umpire in the Snowbird Baseball Classic — a series of games involving NCAA D-I and D-III teams. The event is to include Indiana State University in 2022.
“I get some games under my belt before the Indiana season,” says Rachlow. “I also use it as a family vacation. My wife (Darlene) and dog come down. I get to umpire. She gets to go on the beach. It’s kind of a win-win.”
Bob and Darlene have two sons — Aaron (who turns 29 Sunday) and Nathan (26). Both played high school baseball.
Fort Wayne Black Christian School and Cedarville (Ohio) University graduate Aaron Rachlow began umpiring 10-year-old girls softball when he was 12 and is now a Cincinnati-based college umpire with a wife and a toddler.
Nathan Rachlow played in Fort Wayne’s Wildcat Baseball League and graduated from Lakewood Park Christian School and Indiana Tech.
Bob Rachlow hails from Itasca, Ill., a northwest suburb of Chicago. He played baseball at Lake Park High School, where he graduated in 1979. He earned an Actuarial Science degree from the University of Iowa and went from Louisville to southern California and wound up to Fort Wayne in 1990.
Rachlow keeps a spreadsheet tracking his umpire assignments. He worked 124 games in 2021 and 114 in 2019. There was a dip in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most of his spring games are of the college variety. In the summer, Rachlow umpires in the Fort Wayne Baseball Federation as well as the Indiana Summer Collegiate Summer Baseball League and Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League.
Rachlow recalls an unusual play in one of his collegiate games.
With a runner at first base, a batter hit a liner to shortstop, who guided the ball with his glove to the ground then picked it out of the dirt and threw to second second for a force and the second base relayed to first base for an apparent double play.
“I had read about this in the rule book but had never seen it happen in real life,” says Rachlow. “I was the base umpire, and when I turned to see the shortstop ‘drop the ball,’ I called time – called the batter-runner out and put the runner back on first base. Then I turned to the shortstop and said, ‘nice try!’ He just grinned and shrugged his shoulders.
“What I thought was interesting was when he got back to the dugout, the coach called him over and said, ‘that may work in Little League, but not here at the collegiate level. What you should have done instead was catch the ball and fire it over to first base to double off the runner as he was initially running when the ball was hit.’
“Good teaching moment!”