Through baseball and foster care, Lake Point resident Mike Soderborg has found a way to serve his community. For over 30 years, he has been calling strikes from behind home plate.
The year after high school, a friend approached him about umpiring youth baseball.
“I went out and fell in love with it!” Soderborg said. “I played baseball my whole life, and have always wanted to be close to the game. Umpiring has kept me attached to the sport. I like the intensity and making decisions in a split second.”
A St. Louis Cardinals fan, Soderborg, 45, played catcher while growing up in Taylorsville, Utah.
Recently, Soderborg has enjoyed umpiring local games, especially in Grantsville.
“The fence is so close to you that you can hear everything the kids say and everything the parents say,” he said. “Some of the most fun, intense games have been there. That is the hometown feeling I enjoy.”
For Soderborg, umpiring is a hobby although sometimes the hours add up to a full-time job. This year, he’ll umpire in St. George on two consecutive weekends in March.
Soderborg compares umpiring to life: sometimes you make mistakes and have to make split- second decisions. A few times he has had to explain to coaches that he saw things from a different angle.
“The worst is when you make a call at the plate and you’ve cost them the game,” he said. “That’s a heartbreaker. That’s something you lose sleep over.”
As he got older, Soderborg realized he couldn’t still play baseball, but by umpiring he could still enjoy the camaraderie of the kids and the competitive spirit of the game.
Beginning in 2007, Soderborg served as president of Cal Ripken Little League in Stansbury Park for seven years.
“I loved giving what I had to the game and to the community,” he said.
The hardest part of that role was trying to find volunteers. But he grew from the experience.
“If you can learn to be a volunteer and talk people into volunteering at the same time, it helps you become a better leader,” he said.
During that time not only was he a father to a six-year-old, umpiring and the acting president of a little league, Soderborg and his wife, Serena, also decided to become foster care parents.
The Soderborgs knew they had the skills to offer children a safe place. One of their foster kids, Zayden, came to them the day after Christmas.
After taking care of Zayden for two years they were able to adopt him. In 2014, Zayden’s younger sister, Lucy, was also adopted by the couple.
“Lucy and Zayden love watching their older brother, Logan, play baseball,” Soderborg said.
Logan now plays on the Stansbury High School baseball team where they cheer him on. They’ve also gotten used to watching their dad umpire, which they don’t seem to mind.
A few times Soderborg has had to umpire while his son was playing.
The Utah High School Activities Association asks umpires to keep their equipment in their car in case an umpire doesn’t show up and another one has to fill-in. One of these fill-in moments happened to be when Logan was pitching at Cottonwood High School in Salt Lake.
“I’ve always thought Logan would succeed on his own,” Soderborg said. “We have an understanding it’s no longer Dad, it’s the Blue. It’s hard though because every pitcher wants every ball to be a strike.”
The UHSAA is aware of the conflict of interest, so Soderborg often misses Logan’s games when he’s scheduled to umpire at a different ball field.
Soderborg’s list of places he has umpired is lengthy, but at the top is umpiring at spring training camp in Surprise, Arizona.
Another opportunity was in 2012 when the World Series for the Babe Ruth Association was held in Murray, Utah, and he was invited to umpire there.
Last year, Soderborg umpired at Salt Lake Community College for the 2A high school state tournament championship.
One of the biggest highlights for any umpire and youth baseball player is going to Cooperstown, New York. It’s what many call the Disneyland of baseball. Twelve-year-olds are invited to a week of baseball, playing against teams from across the country.
Each team that plays has to bring an umpire. Soderborg has twice been sponsored by a team to umpire there.
“It’s a larger than life experience,” he said. “You stay in dorms with other umpires, get up, eat breakfast, then umpire all day.”
Occasionally, Soderborg attends a Major League game, but finds himself paying more attention to the umpires than the players.
“I’ll find myself watching the umpires instead of the game. I’ll watch their rotations,” he said. He even has a favorite umpire — Joe West.
Soderborg has had his fair share of parents following him to his car and yelling.
“A lot of parents are getting too intense,” Soderborg said. “I’d like parents to understand this isn’t a full-time job for us. We dedicate our second life to umpiring. Having parents call us names and want to fight us deters the younger umpires. Trust me — if I make a mistake nobody is going to be harder on me than myself.”
Soderborg plans on umpiring until someone tells him he no longer can.
“Quitting isn’t in my blood. I just love the game so much and umpiring is a way to stay close to it,” he said.