The 2019 World Series between the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals is now two games in, and with a 12-3 victory Wednesday, the Nationals have taken a decided 2-0 edge in the seven-game series.
A World Series title would be the first in the history of the Washington Nationals franchise since its inception as the Montreal Expos in 1969. The Houston Astros won their only World Series in 2017. Many of the players taking part in baseball’s Fall Classic have never been so close to a world title.
Perhaps overshadowed in the excitement is that four umpires are also making their debuts on baseball’s biggest stage: Doug Eddings, James Hoye, Alan Porter and Lance Barksdale.
“It’s exciting for me,” Barksdale told the Baptist Press. “It’s exciting for me to be able to share it with my family. My wife has put up with this for a long time, me being gone.”
The opportunity to umpire a World Series game has been years in the making for Barksdale. He got his first taste of big-league umpiring in 2000 before being promoted to full-time in 2006.
But really, Barksdale’s story begins long before, when he was a 13-year-old pitcher in Jackson, Miss.
Barksdale wasn’t happy with the balls-and-strikes calls from the man behind the plate, and he made his displeasure known by audible complaints as he stomped around the mound. The exchange came to a head when the umpire pulled Barksdale around the corner of the dugout and delivered a stern warning to quit his antics.
That umpire was Bill “Moose” Perry, who would later introduce Barksdale to the idea of umpiring school.
Barksdale and Perry crossed paths again a few years after their heated exchange, this time at a Bible study led by Perry at a local church. With a relationship centered on a shared love for Christ and baseball, the two became friends.
While Barksdale was studying business and playing baseball at Mississippi College, Perry told him about umpiring school. Barksdale listened, went through the school, began as a minor-league umpire and eventually ended up in the majors.
Barksdale has now made it to baseball’s biggest show — the World Series — but he hasn’t forgotten about Perry. The two are still in contact all these years later.
Barksdale is not alone in his faith among MLB umpires. For the past four years, he has served on the same umpire crew as Ted Barrett, once a guest on the Sports Spectrum Podcast.
“God showed me that you’ve got to go all in,” Barrett said. “‘You’re either going to follow Me or you’re not. You can’t have one foot in the umpire world and one foot in My world. It’s got to be all Me’…. And finally I surrendered.”
Barrett is one of the leaders of the Calling for Christ umpire ministry. Barrett, Barksdale and other umpires who are believers share a conference call every Friday for a time of prayer and Bible study.
— Calling For Christ (@Calling4Christ) June 8, 2016
“It’s just a blessing to all of us, because he’s very open and genuine,” Barrett said about Barksdale sometimes teaching the group. “He’s got a sincere love for the guys he works with.”
Chris Guccione, another MLB umpire, also joined the Sports Spectrum Podcast in 2018. He fondly remembered the moment he became born-again.
“I went to church by myself and I just got down on my knees after the church service,” Guccione said. “I sat there and said, ‘Jesus, I’m sorry. I’m a sinner and I want you in my life.’ I walked out of church and … I know the angels were singing in Heaven.”
A selfless act of kindness might be what Guccione is most known for. He made national headlines this season when he extended an offer to attend a major-league game to a 13-year-old umpire caught in the middle of a brawl at a youth-league game.
Guccione worked his first World Series in 2016, and Barrett worked the fourth of his career last season. While Barksdale is enjoying his first, knows he’s surrounded by other umpires who will never stop pointing him back to Jesus.
The Astros and Nationals will suit up again for Game 3 of the World Series on Friday in Washington.
– NEW PODCAST: Chris Guccione, MLB Umpire
– MLB umpire Chris Guccione invited 13-year-old umpire to Rockies-Dodgers game
– NEW PODCAST: Ted Barrett, MLB Umpire
– World Series umpire Ted Barrett finds worth in Jesus behind the plate
– Clay Martin’s faith and the challenging job of an NFL referee