By BILL CAULEY
bcauley@ newspost. com
Tony Russo got a phone call from a faraway place last March. He seemed a bit puzzled, considering the origin of the call.
“I’m thinking: ‘Who is calling me from Hong Kong?’” Russo wondered. The call was from Little League Baseball officials at the Asia Pacific Regional office, informing Russo he had been selected as part of the umpiring crew for this year’s Japan division of the 1012 Asia Pacific Regional Tournament, which begins in late July at Ueda City, Japan.
Russo, of Jefferson, has been a Little League umpire for 32 years, starting in 1985 in Hawaii while stationed there. He’s done regional tournaments before, as wellas several Little League Junior and Intermediate World Series.
Two years ago, Russo, a government worker, umpired at a regional Little League tournamentin Poland. He is one of several District 2 Little League assistant district administrators.
This is the first time a North American has been chosen to umpire at a Japan regional, Russo said.
“This is kind of neat,” he said.
Russo leaves July 16 for a 14-hour flight to Tokyo. Then it’s on to Ueda City, which is more thana hour from Tokyo. He will meet up with Little League regional and international officials there to prepare for the 16team, single elimination tournament.
“Because Japan is a stand-alone region with so many teams, the format is single-elimination, one- and- done,” Russo said. Typically, Little League tournaments are either double-elimination or pool-play.
Gregg Quedeweit, District 2 Little League administrator, said Russo reached out to Asia Pacific regional officials, expressing a desire to umpire in one of their tournaments. With endorsements from the Eastern Regional office in Bristol, Connecticut, as well as international headquarters in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Russo was selected, Quedeweit said.
Japan has been a longtime participant in Little League Baseball, winning numerous World Series championships. Russo said he speaks some Japanese, having spent some five years stationed in Japan while serving in the U.S. Navy.
Russo will umpire about four games at the tournament. He expects to have at least one assignment behind the plate.
Russo will spend between 10 and 11 days in Japan. Following the tournament, his family will join him for a few days of sight-seeing. Russo also plans on getting in a few rounds of golf while in Japan.
“Tony has served us well,” Quedeweit said. “He’s very experienced.”