Share This Page

MLB umpires make the right call at Children's

Three-year-old Emily Berger of Shaler was having a tough day at Children's Hospital in Lawrenceville. She had undergone surgery the day before, and her throat hurt.

Then a nice man handed her a stuffed monkey, and everything got a little better.

"This is what life's about, right here," umpire Jerry Meals said. "You really feel for these children."

Meals, besieged with critics since his blown call in the 19th inning of the Pirates' 4-3 loss at Atlanta last month, was among four Major League umpires who took time to visit sick kids Tuesday morning.

"Rarely do people yell at us here," crew chief Dale Scott said, smiling. "That's kind of nice."

Meals, Scott, CB Bucknor and Dan Iassogna — in town for the Cardinals series — hosted a Build-A-Bear workshop for dozens of children coping with cancer, illness and injury. They spent another 45 minutes or so in the oncology department with the most seriously ill.

"It's good to see kids smile who are going through a lot more than we are going through," said Bucknor, who worked for five years as a child life therapist at Cornell Medical Center before going to umpire school. "You never really understand what your situation is until you see somebody else's problem."

Indeed, the hospital provided perspective. One night after getting booed by thousands of Pirates fans for a questionable seventh-inning ball-strike call on Albert Pujols, Scott was reminded what's really important.

"It gives us a chance to see that baseball is a game," Scott said. "It's a fun game, and it's a lot of passion and a lot of fans. All that stuff. But there is a lot more to life than baseball."

At one point, Scott, 52, of Portland, Ore., handed a stuffed animal to 2-year-old Matthew Concannon of Millvale. The child, diagnosed with leukemia in May, clutched with delight the Pirate uniform-wearing bear. Matthew, far removed from the daily treatments and his nights and days on the ninth floor, tossed a foam baseball across the tile floor and held his tiny Pirates hat in one hand. Erin Concannon beamed as she watched her son.

"It's a nice day for everybody," she said.

The event, the 60th children's hospital visit by MLB umpires and the first-ever in Pittsburgh, was planned months ago. Meals, 49, was born in Butler and moved to Ohio when he was 7. He also visited a hospital last year in St. Louis.

"This is a wonderful event," Meals said. "I'm just glad to be a part of it."

Meals, who received death threats after his botched call, initially was reluctant to talk to reporters because he wanted the focus to be on the Children's Hospital event, not a missed call at home plate.

For sure, little Emily Berger didn't care about some baseball game three weeks ago in Atlanta. She only knew that Meals — who took three-plus hours before work to visit with kids — made her day a lot better with a choice of three stuffed animals: a monkey, dog or bear.

"Last night, we knew it was happening," said Emily's mom, Lisa. "As soon as she woke up this morning, she said, 'I want to go and make my bear today.' She had remembered. She knew."

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.