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Stepping Up to the Plate

Featured Photo from Stepping Up to the Plate

The community rallies around legendary college baseball umpire Randy Harvey.

On a summer evening in June, before the Sanford River Rats took the field against the Seminole County Scorpions for a Florida Collegiate Summer League game at Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium, Sanford’s hometown umpire, Randy Harvey, was escorted in his wheelchair out to home plate. 

Surrounding Randy, who has recently dealt with severe health issues, were several members of the tight-knit umpire community who flew in from across the nation. They joined Florida League officials and members of Randy’s family. Emotional applause filled the stadium as Randy was honored with the first-ever Randolph Harvey Umpire of the Year award.

To understand the impact that Randy’s umpiring career has made in Central Florida and beyond is to know his story, one which involves 40 successful years of umpiring games from Little League to the College World Series (plus a few Major League Baseball games), and winning the respect and hearts of everyone he meets.

Randy, 58, a Sanford native, spent his childhood playing baseball and other sports in local leagues. Raised by his grandparents, Randy attended Goldsboro Elementary, Sanford Middle, and Crooms 9th Grade Center, and he graduated from Seminole High School in 1978. After graduation, he decided he wanted to become a baseball umpire.

Early into his career, Randy attended an umpire clinic and met Dennis McComb, a college-level umpire who would soon turn out to be one of Randy’s closest friends and a mentor in the umpiring world.

“We worked a lot of summer baseball together, so he would be my partner and get hands-on training,” says Dennis. “He got better and better, and I was able to advance him up to the junior college level and finally the Division I level.”

In fact, Randy and Dennis were accepted into the NCAA Southeastern Conference (SEC) umpiring division together and worked their first SEC series together. Eventually, Dennis says, Randy improved so much that his umpiring career superseded   his own. 

“He just got better, and he advanced further than I did,” says Dennis. “He got up to super regionals and umpired the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, in 2006, and I did the Division II World Series.” 

In the off-season, Dennis and Randy also worked a lot of summer-league games together, including many games for the Florida League.        

“We’ve made so many great memories together and have met a lot of good people,” says Dennis, who has now been off the field for four years.   

Dennis has been by Randy’s side through a lot in life, the good and the bad, on and off the field, and they continue to talk on the phone every single day. 

Randy’s umpire career started out at the Little League level, moved up through college, and even included a few Major League Baseball games during various MLB umpire strikes. Baseball took Randy to new places all over the world and introduced him to some of the most fascinating characters in sports. One of Randy’s favorite memories is making it to the Division I collegiate level, which he describes as “the top of the mountain.”

Today, Randy’s friends, family, and umpire community are supporting him through his recent health struggles. Three years ago, an infection hit Randy’s body and damaged both kidneys, forcing him into dialysis treatments. Randy battled through and still umpired. Last January, however, Randy’s umpire career came to an end due to a life-threatening infection that resulted in the amputation of both his legs.  

“It’s a heartbreaking thing,” says Stefano Foggi, Florida League president, who met Randy more than 10 years ago while playing baseball for Rollins College.

“Randy has given so much to the game of baseball, not only nationally, but locally,” says Stefano. “He’s the type of guy who is happy to be there, so passionate.”

In a speech dedicated to Randy, Stefano recalled that one of Randy’s favorite things is to share stories of past games, noting his impressive ability to remember specific details. Randy also always shared a true concern for the safety of his players, reflecting his genuine, caring heart.  

The Florida Collegiate Summer League is now in its 15th season, and Stefano says Randy’s contributions as an umpire since the league began have been a major part of its growth.

“Umpires are a big part of our games,” says Stefano. “Randy has been everything we could want in a professional, caring umpire. When this all happened with his health, it tugged on our hearts to help out.”

League leaders not only wanted to help Randy in his time of need by holding a special Randy Harvey fundraiser event, but they wanted to honor him in a special way. This summer, they created the Randolph Harvey Umpire of the Year award. Stefano says it’s named after the man who embodies everything it means to be a model umpire. Randy is the first recipient, and the award will be presented every year to an umpire who best reflects Randy’s passion for the game.

The night Randy was honored was made even more memorable, thanks to the many high-ranking baseball officials who made it a priority to attend, including the head of the umpire crews for the SEC and Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) as well as several other umpires from across the nation and Florida Collegiate Summer League founder Sarah Whiting. 

“It gave you chills and tears to see his lifelong friends by his side,” recalls Stefano. 

“It was real nice; guys flew in from all over,” says Randy. “I thought that was pretty cool because all those guys that flew in, I worked with every last one of them.”

The night Randy was honored, the community raised more than $2,000 to support his recovery. 

“The umpire family is pretty big and pretty tight-knit,” says Dennis. “Now that Randy needs our help, we are stepping up to the plate.”

Randy still lives in Sanford. He has two daughters, a son, and four grandchildren. During his career as an umpire, he was well-recognized by players from all over the world who remember him with respect and admiration. 

Randy says he ran a pretty tight ship as an umpire, which helped earn the players’ respect. But the true key to his success was his passion for what he does.

“I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything in the world,” says Randy. “God blessed me with something that I really love to do, and I got paid to do it.”

Since his amputation surgery, Randy has been fitted for prosthetics, and Dennis has been by his side for several doctors’ appointments as Randy slowly learns to walk again and regain his strength. 

“I call them his practice legs,” says Dennis. “The first walking practice wore him out. When I picked him up for the next week’s appointment, he told me he was going to walk from one end of the office to the other.” 

Randy is determined to walk normally again by January of next year, and the unending support he receives from friends like Dennis as well as his baseball and umpire family continues to lift his spirits each day.

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