By Greg Gulas
Over the last few summers, John Mang Jr. sat in the Eastwood Field stands with his father, John Sr., discussing calls that umpires made on a variety of plays involving the Mahoning Valley Scrappers.
He’d always challenge his father as to whether the right call was, in fact, made.
With his well-known local official and assigner father serving as his role model, the Austintown Fitch graduate often mentioned he felt he could do the same type job, if just given the opportunity.
When his father encouraged him to pursue his umpiring dream after last season, there was no looking back and after attending Harry Wendlestedt’s Umpiring School this past January, he became one of just 30 campers (of 275) selected to pursue his dream.
Mang was assigned to the New York-Penn League and will make his first Eastwood Field appearance when he works first base today during the opening game of the Mahoning Valley-Tri-City ValleyCats’ three-game series.
He’ll also work the Scrappers’ weekend series — Saturday through Monday — with the Vermont Lake Monsters.
“I worked so many odd jobs after graduating from Mercyhurst College and they all had such great opportunities, but I wanted to get back on the baseball diamond. I wanted back on the field,” Mang said. “Just hearing the National Anthem every night still gives me the goose bumps.”
A pitcher, Mang played football and baseball scholastically for Austintown Fitch, earning seven letters for the same school that has produced Major League Baseball arbiters Wally Bell and Brian O’Nora.
He credits his baseball coach, Wally Ford, as the one who instilled in him an appreciation of the game.
“Coach Ford not only taught us the game, but he taught us about life as well and how to appreciate the game. There are four area umpires, Wally [Bell], Brian [O’Nora], John Hirschbeck and Jerry Meals currently working in the big leagues so that tells you something about the quality of umpires produced from this area,” Mang added.
“While everyone’s ultimate goal is to hopefully make it to the majors, I just want to have a good first season and keep getting better each time I hit the field.”
As a youngster, Wally Bell’s mother, Marty or ‘Ma Bell’ as she was known to Mang, served as his nanny and babysitter, which afforded him a first-hand look into the life of an umpire.
“I was bit by the umpiring bug early, between my father and Wally [Bell] so to be able to learn my craft on the local Class ‘B’ and ‘AA’ sandlots and then do it professionally is truly a dream come true for me,” Mang stated.
Bell thinks that he has more than a realistic chance at moving up through the ranks, simply because of his knowledge of the game.
“John did very well at Harry Wendelstedt’s Umpiring School because he works hard is always looking to improve. Umpiring is something that he really enjoys and I hope he sticks to it,” Bell said. “Perhaps he can become the third Austintown Fitch graduate to make it to the big leagues.”
Hirschbeck added that hard work and a commitment to the game is necessary if one expects to move up in the ranks.
“Everything that I have heard about John thus far has been very, very positive. His willingness to learn while listening to constructive criticism from his supervisors is also a key,” Hirschbeck said.
Having seen the game from a variety of angles has also been an advantage, according to Mang.
“I’ve played the game, served as a coach after graduating from college and now as an umpire I can draw on all three areas to be the best that I can be,” he added. “It will be nice to return to Eastwood Field, but even nicer to sleep in my own bed for a day and enjoy my mother, Cindy’s, home cooking.
Prior to his arrival at Eastwood Field, Mang was to work the home-and-home series between the Jamestown Jammers and Batavia Muckdogs.