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Bolton Alum and Field umpire Lance Sanders calls Alexandria Aces’ Trever Dimick out during a game against the Bay Area Toros Thursday night at Bringhurst Field. Sanders is also a groundskeepr at Bringhurst.

Photo Courtesy of The Town Talk
Dirty job: Sanders pulls double duty as groundskeeper, umpire

By Bob Tompkins • btompkins@thetowntalk.com • July 17, 2009

After calling a game, an umpire's job is usually done. Not so for Lance Sanders.

After calling Alexandria Aces games at Bringhurst Field, umpire Lance Sanders not only changes his clothes, but he changes jobs, again becoming an assistant to groundskeeper John Hickman.

The dirt that angry managers kick on him is the same dirt he rakes before and after a game.

"It's a hard job he's got," says Aces manager Dan Shwam, who has been ejected from a game by Sanders. "He's got to keep the field neat and then switch gears and get his mind right and umpire a game. I tease him and say he's the best of the worst.

"Most umpires," Shwam says, "take a day to get fresh. By the time a game starts, Lance has put in a full day's work."

This is the first year that Sanders, a former tight end for Bolton High School and deep-snapper for McNeese State University, has juggled the two jobs in the same season.

Sanders has been an umpire for 18 years, which is about how long he has been a math teacher and coach. A math teacher for 15 years at Alexandria Senior High and an assistant football coach for the Trojans for all but three of those years, Sanders started helping Hickman as a clubhouse manager in the 1990s, when they would umpire two Dixie Majors games a night at Bringhurst Field while the Aces were on the road.

"John has been an umpire for 30-plus years, and he's helped me a lot as far as umpiring goes," Sanders says.

The Hickman-Sanders groundskeeping tandem has also earned praise from Aces general manager Andrew Aguilar.

"He and Hickman have both done a tremendous job getting the field in the shape it's in," Aguilar says. "It wasn't in good shape after the high school season, but with a lot of hard work, they've got it looking very good.

"For him to come out and call a game as well. I know that's been very hard. I think he's done a great job at that, too. He'll be the first to tell you he misses calls, but all he wants to do is do his best and walk off the field and not have anybody say too much to him. Unlike some officials we've had in the past, who think the game is all about them, he doesn't want to be the spotlight of the game."

Sanders, who occasionally served as an emergency substitute official in Aces home games in previous years, has become a regular umpire this year because the Continental Baseball League, as a cost-cutting measure, has its teams provide local umpires, rather than hire professional umpires. That eliminates expenses for room and board and gas, leaving only the $110 per game check for each of the two umpires.

The CBL asked John Speaker, who schedules umpiring crews for Louisiana College and LSUA, to provide the names of some reputable officials who could do the job, "and Lance was the first one he mentioned," Aguilar says.

The desire for extra income is part of his motivation to work both summer jobs, Sanders says. He'll also get $4,500 from the Aces -- same as Hickman -- for his grounds crew work over the course of the season.

"I don't like to sit around, either," Sanders says. "It's not my nature, I guess."

It's not his nature to be quick to eject a manager, coach or player, but he'll only take so much.

Sanders recalls calling a player out at first base that stirred the wrath of the victim, who complained enough to get ejected -- only to find out later from his teammates that Sanders had made the right call.

"He came up to me after the game and wanted to apologize," Sanders says. "I told him the game was over and that (call) is gone and it's time to move on.

"One thing you've got to learn in officiating is when that game's over, it's over. You can't hold a grudge."