Longtime Baseball Umpire Ronald Braga Calls it a Career
By: Chris Kazarian, June 28, 2013
With the score tied 4-4, two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning and the bases loaded, Jack Doyle of DMC Plumbing and Heating stepped up to the plate in the championship game of Falmouth Babe Ruth at the Sandwich Road athletic field last night.
It represented a dream scenario for any teenager and the right to be called a hero with a game-winning hit. “No pressure. Relax. Have fun,” his coach yelled from the third base line.
The first pitch from Red Sox ace Jake Campbell was a ball. The second came right over the plate and Jack took a swing, hitting it over the second basemen’s head, a walk off single to win the game.
As his teammates lifted Jack up—“Put him down,” one yelled to laughter—home plate umpire Ronald J. Braga of East Falmouth walked slowly down the first base line and quietly exited the field. And with that he said good-bye to a 36-year career as a baseball umpire for youth sports across the Cape.
In the parking lot just a few feet from last night’s thrilling finish, friends and family, including his sister Darlene J. Braga, waited to congratulate him on his contributions to local athletics with a cake that read “36 Years Later You Are Outta Here!”
The 1975 Falmouth High School graduate, a longtime fixture in Falmouth athletics, first umpired a game on a whim when his boss Buddy Ferreira, the recently retired Falmouth High School boys’ hockey coach, was unable to do so. “George Gaspa called his service station and said he needed an umpire. Buddy couldn’t do it so I told George I’ll do it,” the gregarious Mr. Braga said. “I was a pretty good baseball player in my day so I went and umpired. The first three innings nobody could hear me. I talk loud as it is and by the third inning I was getting into it and you could hear me clear across town calling strikes, outs and safe.”
Since then Mr. Braga’s booming voice has been heard by thousands of local ballplayers, from children to teenagers, playing America’s sport. “The only thing he said to me is ‘Strike three. You’re out,” author T.M. Murphy of Falmouth Heights said with a laugh earlier this week. “I heard it too many times. I can still hear it in my head.”
“His voice is as big as his belly,” joked Steven K. Moulton of Tasina Drive, Waquoit, a coach for Falmouth Youth Baseball. “You could always hear Ronnie Braga from the other side of the youth baseball complex.”
Fair and Dedicated Umpire
As many who have had Mr. Braga umpire their games, Mr. Moulton said, he has always been fair and a dedicated contributor to youth sports. Along with umpiring baseball, Mr. Braga has served as a hockey official as well as a coach for youth hockey and baseball. He is also on the board of Falmouth Babe Ruth and current vice president of the Cape Cod Baseball Umpires Association.
Simply put, Mr. Moulton said, “we need more people like Ron Braga... Someone who continues to put in the time that he has should be well recognized.”
Mr. Murphy agreed, saying that his more than three and a half decades as an umpire “tells you how much he loves the sport of baseball and also loves his community because you can’t run these types of leagues without the umpires.”
We need more people like Ron Braga... Someone who continues to put in the time that he has should be well recognized.
Last night Mr. Braga said part of his motivation for not only continuing to work as an umpire, but striving to always improve his skill set was born out of a stinging comment he received from a referee he had a disagreement with when coaching a local hockey team in his early 20s. “We had an argument at the end of the game at the ice arena and he said to me, ‘You’ll never amount to anything’,” Mr. Braga said. “I took that as motivation to try and prove people wrong.”
Twice in the 1980s Mr. Braga looked to take the next step in his career, attending the Harry Wendelstedt School of Umpiring in Daytona Beach, Florida. In a March 1983 interview, he was hopeful that he would get the call up to the major leagues. “Hopefully, someday I’ll stroll out onto Fenway Park,” he said at the time.
While that never happened, Mr. Braga has coached every level, from Little league to high school to the Cape Cod Baseball League to the New York-Penn League.
Among his highlights was being selected twice to umpire the Babe Ruth World Series, the first time in 2005 in Quincy and then again in 2009 in Jamestown, New York.
He also counts working Cape Cod Baseball League games as another thrill. His first one was in Falmouth in 1984. “I was working home plate and there was a big argument on an interference call and my career was launched,” he said. “I was a bat boy for the Commodores when I was a kid and for years I ran the concession stand there. I have a lot of close ties to the Commodores so that day I had a lot of friends in the stands and they saw a pretty good argument.”
His days as an umpire for the summer league featured some of college’s biggest stars who later went on to have major league careers —Mo Vaughn, Robin Ventura and John Marzano were some of the names in the league when he worked.
Braga's Affable Nature
He has such fond memories of his time there that he still has his first Cape league sweater. “I had it framed because it doesn’t fit me anymore,” he said, exhibiting his ability to laugh at himself. “I like to say when umpiring season starts my winter body has to squeeze into my summer outfit.”
His demeanor, K.J. Kozens said, has made games interesting. The coach of the freshman team at Bourne High School recalled one game Mr. Braga umpired this spring. “I asked him what the count was and he said, ‘I don’t know,’ ” Mr. Kozens laughed. “It was classic... He is a good egg. He knows the game and he understands what coaches put into it.”
I have a T-shirt that says umpires have the best seat in the house, but they have to stand.
His affability, combined with his experience, have given him the skills to defuse a situation before it gets out of hand. Last night that was on display in the sixth inning when DMC Plumbing coach Jeffery Jensen yelled out to his pitcher, “If he bunts, throw it at his head,” with runners on first and third and only one out and the game knotted at 3-3.
That led Red Sox coach Philip Campbell to shoot back at Mr. Jensen for making such a comment before Mr. Braga stepped in, brought the two coaches together and settled them down. “That is what an umpire does,” Mr. Braga said, before coming to Mr. Jensen’s defense. “He didn’t mean to say what he said. They just get a little excited.”
After the incident John Silvia of Falmouth joked that “it’s time for Ronnie to get out of the game. He is making all the wrong choices.”
Mr. Silvia was one of more than a dozen people attending yesterday’s game to thank Mr. Braga for what he has brought to local sports. In his possession he had a framed picture of a 1976 team he played on that happened to be the first Mr. Braga coached. “This is my $7 contribution to Ronnie,” he laughed, before later looking at the picture and remarking, “I know he got thrown out of more games that first year than he coached. He coached more games that year from the parking lot.”
These types of friendly jabs were rampant last night, evidence of their fondness for one who has given so much to the sport.
“He does this because he loves the game,” his sister said.
While that love is still there, the 56-year-old Mr. Braga acknowledged that “it just doesn’t feel the same anymore. I want to do other things, but I’m really going to miss it.”
He will continue to train the next generation of umpires, which he considers just as rewarding as calling a game, and is considering a possible appearance or two at the high school level next year.
But for the most part, his large stature and booming voice echoing across Falmouth fields will be a thing of the past. “I have a T-shirt that says umpires have the best seat in the house, but they have to stand,” he said. “That excitement is always there and is no different when you have a player and it’s the bottom of the ninth and they’re down by three runs and they hit a grand slam. This year I worked a no-hitter at a varsity high school game. It is as exciting to be a part of that as an umpire as it is as a player.”
CORRECTION: This article has been amended from a previous version which incorrectly reported that Red Sox coach Philip Campbell had directed his pitcher to throw at the opposing batter's head. Those comments were actually made by DMC Plumbing coach Jeffery Jensen. We apologize for the error. (7/1/2013)