Making a Difference – A Tribute to Jay Pierce

I was privileged to meet John “Jay” Raymond Pierce in 2006. I had just moved back to Georgia from Florida and had joined the Northeast Georgia Officials Association (NEGOA) as an umpire. I was continuing an avocation I started in 1975. Jay was a relatively new umpire but had attended professional umpire school. Even at his young age he had already become an excellent umpire.

Jay and I worked a lot of games together, mostly at the high school level, but we also worked some travel and recreation ball. Regardless of the level of play, Jay was the consummate umpire, always giving his best. He was professional and polished, the best of the best. He and I collaborated on the first Umpire Manual for NEGOA, our high school association. Jay said to me, “I’ll take care of the umpire stuff, you just put it in English so everyone will understand it.” And so, it was.

What I discovered about Jay very quickly was that he not only had the drive and desire to get better himself, but he also wanted to help others learn the craft. He wasn’t just interested in making others better umpires, he wanted to help them become better men. Jay’s rise to prominence in the umpire world is certainly no secret. He became one of the best instructors of umpiring mechanics, rules and professionalism that ever walked on the field.

If you think I am overstating the case there are multiple high school, college, and professional umpires that I could call on as witnesses. A summary of his umpiring accomplishments from his Obituary is noteworthy:

“Jay Pierce umpired professionally for seven years from 2006-2012 in the Gulf Coast, Appalachian, South Atlantic, Carolina, Eastern, and Southern Leagues. He was an instructor at the Harry Wendelstedt School for Umpires from 2010-2017 and has taught at umpiring camps and clinics across the country.

“He was hired by Minor League Baseball as a part-time supervisor in 2014 and was named to the full-time staff in 2018. In 2022, he joined Major League Baseball, where he continued working as a supervisor in the Minor Leagues. He cared deeply about the development of every umpire that he trained, whether they were an umpire striving to reach the Major Leagues or preparing to work their first Little League game.”

The story about Jay that I want to share could be repeated many times over in similar fashion by others. It is my desire to show you Jay’s heart, his love and concern for others, in the hope that it will inspire you to follow in his footsteps. It is a very emotional story for me making it difficult to relive some parts of it. But I am eternally grateful to God for Jay’s friendship.

My youngest son, Tim, had proved to be a very good baseball player in high school. An injury during the playoffs in his senior year ended his playing career and prevented him from moving up to the next level. Unfortunately, this event served to send him on a downward spiral and he became very troubled. Knowing his love for the game I felt that getting him into umpiring might give him something to strive for, keep him involved in the game, and help him overcome his troubles.

Having shared Tim’s situation with Jay over several years he was aware of Tim’s problems. He assured me of his prayers for Tim and offered to do anything he could. Tim was in Florida so there wasn’t a way, at that time, for Jay to get personally involved.

In 2012 I called Jay and told him that I wanted to send Tim to umpire school, where Jay was an instructor. It was the dead of winter, early December as I recall, and the school started in January. “Are you sure?” Jay asked. I could tell from his tone that since he knew of Tim’s troubles, he was doubtful that Tim could handle the school. Before I could even plead my case on Tim’s behalf, Jay said, “Can you get Tim up here so I can work with him?”

Tim was coming up to visit for Christmas. Time for an umpire working the kind of schedule Jay had would certainly have been precious. But Jay was always willing to give his time if it meant helping someone else. We met Jay at Criswell Park and he worked with Tim for hours, telling him what would be expected of him at school and giving him personal instruction on how he could excel during his time at the school. His instruction was professional, personal, and passionate. He encouraged Tim and talked to him about the importance of getting his life on track if he wanted to succeed as an umpire.

Of course, Jay was one of his instructors at the school in 2013. While Tim did not get selected for the professional route out of school, he did very well, graduated and came out of the school as a confident and highly competent umpire. I attribute much of his success to Jay’s involvement.

Tim moved to Texas, got a good job, began to get his life straightened out, and continued his progress in umpiring. Working at all levels to get better, he worked hundreds of games a year. By 2020 he was assigning the lower-level games for two associations, was on the training staff of his local high school association, and working his way up the college ranks.

Jay’s influence was unknown to many but not to me. I last spoke to Tim on a Thursday in March of 2021. He was headed to work a top ten 7A high school matchup on the plate. Tim had taken up the Jay Pierce model and was trying to help others improve their umpiring skills. He told me that several of the young guys he was working with were coming out to watch him work the big high school game. I have a video they shared with me of him make a ring up behind the dish.

Tim had college games that Friday and Saturday. On the way home from a college double-header on Saturday Tim was killed in a car accident. At Tim’s memorial I heard a lot of things from young umpires that we heard about Jay at his memorial. He was investing in the lives of other young umpires, doing what he could to help them get better. In addition, Tim had recently received a big promotion at work, he was becoming a fine husband and father. Sadly, his life was cut short.

Jay Pierce made a difference in Tim’s life. He made a difference in my life. Why? He cared. I doubt that Jay knew just how much his personal example of helping others impacted my son. Tim was a lot like Jay in many ways. He was always a young man who wanted to help those less fortunate than himself. Over a short few years Tim went from needing a lot of instruction to being an instructor. Like Jay, and due in large part to Jay’s influence, he cared about others.

Thanks Jay, you made a difference! Your friendship and faithfulness will not be forgotten. Rest in peace dear Brother, you are loved and greatly missed.

“Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.” Revelation 14:13 (NKJV)

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