By Anthony Balladares
KTSW Sports Contributor
Fathers pass on traditions to their sons. It’s not like one of the myriad unspoken rules in the game of baseball. It’s just what all dads do, whether they realize it or not. That’s not to say fathers don’t do the same for their daughters, but there is an undeniably heartfelt experience that takes place when a dad gives something of his own to a child that resembles him in a way only he can explain because the child is, in fact, a younger version of himself from a distant past.
However, traditions have no exact form. Thus, each is unique in its own way. For some fathers, it’s a letterman jacket that still is a bit big for their boy, but he’ll grow into it. Maybe it’s a recipe to a barbeque sauce that he has still yet to share with the boy’s mom. Heck, if his son is really lucky, it could even be in the form of car keys to the 1957 Chevy sitting in the garage that dad unveils only on special occasions or for fancy restaurants. But rarely does a father have the chance to pass on a profession to his son.
Rhett Williams is one of the lucky ones, and he has his father to thank. In a few days, it’ll be the weekend and with that comes the unknown — how many hours he’ll subject his body to the blistering Texas sun, the unfathomable amount of profanities that will be shouted in his direction and the possibility of an encounter with a human being who is both twice Rhett’s age and size. But everything will be okay. Rhett knows this because it’s exactly what his father, Randy, did, has done and continues to do even now. That being, suiting up as an umpire for whatever high school baseball diamond he is called to that is covered in dirt, grass and, quite likely, sunflower seed shells.
As Rhett put it, “I wouldn’t be [umpiring] if it wasn’t for him.”
Like his dad, Rhett started out umpiring for Little League games here and there while in high school. He’s now in college, with graduation day less than three months away, but the tradition his father bequeathed to him is still more prevalent than ever – there’s a school for umpiring that Rhett has his eye set on once he graduates in May.
You wouldn’t know it by looking at him, with his hair slicked back and parted so precisely that even Derek Zoolander would approve of it, but Rhett use to have hair that was so long that it rested on his shoulders. It wasn’t until a savvy veteran in the umpiring business told him how long hair probably wasn’t best suited for this kind of profession that Rhett decided to ditch the long locks for a neat and proper cut. That savvy veteran was, of course, his father. In Rhett’s own words, “being an umpire is 80% looking the part and 20% being out there and making the right calls.”
It’s only a matter of time before Rhett has to go to another small town – Wimberley, Dripping Springs, Buda – with another rabid fan base where another boy’s father wants to give him a talking to in the parking lot because of Rhett’s strike-zone which even he’ll admit is a tad heavy below-the-knee. But for now, Rhett is, unlike a typical baseball game, in a rush. He’s got plans to get from San Marcos, Texas, all the way to Dallas before nightfall. ACDC is performing at the American Airlines Center later tonight, no more than two hours away from his hometown of Lorena, just south of Waco, where Rhett got his first glimpse behind the plate when he played catcher for the Lorena High Leopards.
But before he gets to see Angus Young, Cliff Williams, Brian Johnson and company perform songs like Back in Black, Thunderstruck and You Shook Me All Night Long, he’ll have to drop by and greet his father. They won’t have time, just yet, to catch up on how school has been, why Kourtney (Rhett’s girlfriend since he was in the seventh grade) couldn’t make the trip with him or what the high school baseball scene is like in central Texas. They can talk about all that stuff while in the car on the way to the concert where they’ll both be rocking-out together because umpiring wasn’t the only tradition Randy passed on to Rhett.