The Boys and Girls Club's baseball season is in full swing for the summer with a familiar face working as an umpire for our area players.
"I think I'm still doing a decent job. As long as I think that, someone will have to come and take me out of the saddle I guess."
Mel Freund has been an umpire for 56 years. He stumbled into it by accident.
"I was playing ball and the umpires didn't show up," Freund says. "The other catcher and I, we umpired. When the umpires did show up, they talked us into coming and joining because they thought we did a good job."
He served in the Marine Corps for four years and moved to Rockford in 1976. He's developed relationships with countless players and coaches. His latest assignment - passing the torch to a new generation that knows Freund well.
"I remember when I was growing up here, playing here, he was umpiring my games," says Boys & Girls Club umpire Justin Studler. "Now being able to come out here and talk to him and pick his brain a little bit about aspects of the game, talking to him about memories that I've had from the past 12 or so years here...being able to communicate with a guy who's been around for so long and knows so much about it is really awesome."
Freund stays active playing senior softball when he doesn't have the mask on. What keeps him coming back every year?
"Crack of the bat. Watch the kids run. Big smiles. You gotta love it."
His colleagues at the Boys and Girls Club are grateful to have Freund in their corner, and behind their plate.
"We need more people in this world and in this community like Mel, to be completely honest," says Boys & Girls Club baseball site director Josh Keener. "He treats the players with respect whether their nine years old or fourteen years old. Coaches can approach him. He's what baseball needs, he's what communities need."
The dog days of summer have arrived in the Stateline. That means peanuts, cracker jacks, and the crack of the bat from our young local athletes, all under the watchful eye of an umpire who loves our country's pastime, and serving our community.