On a ballfield anywhere across the midwest, most who come to games as players, coaches or fans get to know each other well.
Some of those who are part of that environment are more recognizable for their voices, and, in fact, some may recall an individual based on that sound. When they hear the call of “strike” for the first time they know who is standing behind the plate.
For more than three decades Wayne Cook of Redwood Falls has been one of those familiar voices.
Cook, who grew up in Sleepy Eye, was involved in sports as a high-school student, but life changed for him dramatically the first time he stood on the field of play as an umpire.
Cook, who said he has likely served as an umpire for more than 5,000 games in his career, including more than 1,700 for fastpitch softball, was recently recognized with an award that celebrates his accomplishments as well as consistency as an umpire.
This past October, Cook was honored with the National Indicator Fraternity Award by the South Dakota Fastpitch Softball Association.
“This is the highest award that an amateur umpire can get,” said Cook, adding it is in many ways the equivalent of being named to the Hall of Fame.
Cook started umpiring fastpitch softball in 1990, and over the years he has been able to serve in that role at the local, regional, state and national level.
In fact, it was in Sioux Falls, S.D. where Cook called his first national fastpitch softball game.
Cook, who is an ASA/USA Softball certified fastpitch softball umpire, has seen a lot of great athletes over the time, adding one he always knew was going to be a success was a young kid from Ruthton named Todd Bouman.
“He was a good football player, but I think he was an even better fastpitch softball player,” said Cook, adding over the years he has been able to keep in contact with the Bouman family.
While being connected to sports is part of the enjoyment Cook has experienced as an umpire, what has been just as, if not more, valuable is the connections he has made.
“There are people I have met who have become lifetime friends,” said Cook, adding he truly appreciates the fact that he has been recognized by his peers with this award.
Cook said he started out as an umpire when he was in his 20s and admitted he never would have imagined he would still be doing it in his late 60s.
Yes, Cook continues to serve as an umpire, adding he plans to do it at least until he reaches age 70. However, he also kept the door open, adding he will know when the time to step away from the field for the last time will come.
Cook expressed his thanks to all of the people who have supported him, maintained connections with him and worked with him in his umpiring role.
“This has been quite a ride,” he said.
Cook did play a bit of men’s fastpitch softball in his younger days, including with teams from New Ulm, Marshall and Milroy.
One of his fondest memories was traveling to Florida along with a men’s fastpitch softball team from Vesta that had qualified for the national tournament in 1997.
“I can still remember most of the players from that team,” said Cook.
Receiving this award is the ultimate for an umpire, said Cook, adding he truly appreciates the fact that others have recognized his passion for umpiring.
For some people, fastpitch softball is a religion, said Cook, adding he is just glad that he has been able to experience some of the great moments of this sport.