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Colin Kapitan (left) reffed countless high school and college football and basketball games.
Colin Kapitan (left) reffed countless high school and college football and basketball games.

This Isn’t Yankee Stadium

Editor’s Note: Colin "Kap" Kapitan, a fixture on the South Dakota sports scene for six decades, died Dec. 28. Kap was a fun-loving character and a man who could both tell a story in the bar or hammer it out on a keyboard. He was a sportswriter and editor for the
Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan. But he will be best remembered as a dedicated sports official who reffed countless high school and college football and basketball games. He also umpired one baseball game in his hometown of Yankton, and he wrote about the experience in our May/June 1994 issue.

People often ask me why baseball umpiring is not part of my summer activity since I’ve officiated and reffed high school and college football games for years and years. Actually, I did don the umpire blue for three seasons. How clearly I remember my last stint behind the plate. That day, I decided shin guards, chest protectors and face masks were not conductive to me having fun. Here’s the background story.

Baseball umpiring was a tradeoff for me. In 1962, I was looking for a basketball referee partner. A friend, Darrell, was seeking a baseball-umpiring sidekick. We compromised. Darrell would work basketball with me. Together, we would work college baseball six weeks in the spring.

I worked a lot of games. Southern State, Yankton, Wayne, Morningside and the University of South Dakota. Three, sometimes four doubleheaders a week. For three years. Three long years.

I don’t know why, but I couldn’t get into balls and strikes. Certainly it wasn’t that I didn't love the game. Or that I didn't know the game.

Maybe it was those doubleheaders. Start at noon and go 'til dark. No daylight savings time then. Maybe it was the dreary weather. Wind and rain. More wind. More rain. I wore more clothes on the diamond than when shoveling snow.

My last afternoon was a day much like just described. Riverside diamond in Yankton. The wind was whipping off the river, bringing slow and steady precipitation. The temperature was in the mid-30s. Your regular college baseball doubleheader. The Yankton College Greyhounds were entertaining John F. Kennedy College of Wahoo, Neb. Both schools are now defunct.

I was behind the plate for the first game and should have suspected this would be worse than your ordinary game when the JFK catcher came out for the bottom of the first. Despite the weather, he wore a t-shirt. Maybe he figured all those tattoos would keep him warm. He looked 35 and sounded like a Marine drill sergeant. Jose was his name.

Jose didn't like most of my decisions. His coach agreed with him. The coach? Bob Cerv. Not a name that rings a bell with your average baseball fan, but Bob Cerv was a good player on the New York Yankee teams of the mid-1950s. He played with Mickey Mantle. He had several World Series championship rings. This day he was as big as a house. Three hundred and fifty pounds, plus. Over a 6-foot-4 frame. With a growly voice and a vocabulary that put his foulmouthed catcher to shame. He visited me often during the first game.

I struggled through the contest. Actually the seven innings went pretty fast. I figured I had it made. Just seven more innings on the bases, collect my $30 and get home to a hot bath.

It wasn't that easy. I forgot Murphy's Law.

First play of the second game. A bang bang at first base. My call went against JFK. Here came Cerv across the diamond as fast as a 350-pounder can make it.

I made up my mind right there. Before the ex-big leaguer could utter a word, I had my say! To my surprise, Bob Cerv grinned. He left the diamond, never to return that afternoon.

Darrell could hardly wait to get to me after the game. "What happened?" he asked. "What transpired that Cerv never again left the dugout?"

As Cerv approached in that first inning, I chose my words carefully. "Excuse me, Mr. Cerv, but this isn't Yankee Stadium. Don't think you'll make it there as a manager nor I as an umpire. But I will tell you one thing. If you leave me alone the rest of the afternoon, I promise you that I'll never umpire another baseball game so long as I live."

The lumbering giant stopped. He looked dazed for a moment, then gathered himself and smiled. "You got it, kid."

He kept his word. And I have kept mine.


12:05 pm - Mon, December 31 2018
Dave Carlsrud said:
Yup. That'd be Kappy.

He was a great mentor and partner for me; Thank you.

Dave Carlsrud
03:10 pm - Mon, December 31 2018
David Portillo said:
First off, my condolences to Kap and all who knew him. Great story and how I felt each time I wore the uniform of an umpire. My best was doing a Sunday morning men’s league with a team who believed they were a pro club and my partner went nuts ejecting everyone who spoke with his final words being “you’re not professionals but men playing baseball in a men’s league on Sunday morning in Tempe, Arizona!” Guys like Kap and my partner (who retired after this game) keep life real and simple. Thanks for sharing and again, my condolences.

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