As the worldwide summit of Little League baseball begins today in Pennsylvania, it's hard to imagine a more devoted, not to mention enthusiastic, participant than one arbiter from Hurst.
Juan Garza is one of 16 umpires worldwide who will be calling the balls and strikes for the eight international and eight U.S. teams that have convened in South Williamsport, Pa., for the 66th Little League World Series.
If 16 have been selected since the beginning, that means Garza is one of 1,056 umpires to call a game in the Little League World Series.
"I've got goose bumps up both arms," said Garza, 58. "As soon as you open the [uniform] box and you see everything sewn on there, '2012 Little League World Series,' you just get really excited.
"It's going to be a lot of fun."
This version of the series will also include Uganda, the first team from Africa to compete in South Williamsport, which is hosting the event for the 54th season. The tournament will conclude with the championship game between an international team and one from the States on Aug. 26.
Selection to the umpiring crew turned out to be a five-year process for Garza, who has been umpiring as a volunteer throughout Tarrant and Parker counties for 13 years. He'll open the Series with two games today -- on the left-field line and at first base. On Friday, he'll be behind home plate.
Of the 16, Garza is the second-least tenured, he said. One of his peers has seven years' experience, but the others more than 20-plus, including one with more than 30 years.
The selection process includes evaluation and recommendation through a regular season and then an application to state. An evaluation and application process is required for work in the regional tournament in Waco.
The same process is required for the World Series. Garza's first regional tournament was in 2007.
"He's a Little League umpire extraordinaire," said Bob Batton, an umpiring colleague out of District 7 who has been calling games with Garza for just about all 13 of Garza's seasons. "We both had the same dream. He realized his maybe a little before mine.
"He is mechanically sound and knowledgeable. He has great interaction with the fans, coaches and players."
The World Series is as much a cultural event as competitive.
Garza, who has made three previous trips to South Williamsport to take in the games, has spoken to most of the other 15 umpires, including a man from Germany. He's also reached out to others who have been before him to see what to expect.
He's bringing some Texas-brewed Shiner Bock beer to his new friend from Germany.
"You get to meet people," said Garza, who was packing plenty of candy for Wednesday's parade. The umpires pass it out to the kids.
"I'm trying to learn how to count to four in Japanese and how to say 'safe' and 'out.'"
Before his arrival on Saturday, he was also learning how to say "ball" and "strike" in Japanese.
"When we actually announce the pitch, I can do that in Japanese," said Garza, who already speaks Spanish. "I want to give them something extra."
Garza began umpiring in 1999 when his son was playing in the 9-10 Minors in the Arlington Little League.
"We cut teeth together on the baseball field," said Batton. "He's really one of those umpires you want to call your game. He's balanced and he calls it the way he sees it by the book.
"We'll all be really proud to see him."
Garza's son has long graduated from Little League baseball and now lives in Colorado.
"I'm having a good time with it," said Garza, who will be keeping a journal so he can share his experiences with his fellow umpires back home. "As long as it's fun, I'm going to keep doing it."