When Gunnar Guttormsen umpired his first local game at Longview’s John Null Park in the late 1970s, he had some experience behind the plate. When he steps onto David Story Field for this summer’s Babe Ruth World Series, he’ll be the wiley veteran staring down a fast approaching 50th year of umpiring.
Guttormsen, 68, is one of a handful of officials in the Lower Columbia region who have spent a good portion of their long lives serving the youth sports community in what’s become the most thankless job in sports. The ways he’s served, though, sets him apart from many.
“I was a two-sport athlete in college, and football was my main focus,” Guttormsen said. “I wanted to play baseball in spring but my grades started to suffer, and my performance wasn’t good enough.”
Two weeks after walking away from baseball, during the spring of 1969, a 19-year-old Guttormsen decided he wanted to remain involved in the game of baseball. Three weeks after making that decision, he was umpiring.
“I was so young there was a pretty good acceptance, where people said ‘Hey this is a young kid just getting started,’” Guttormsen said. “It became a full blown thing very quickly.”
Guttormsen graduated from Salem’s Willamette University in 1972, got married and had two children.
When his son, Gunnar Jr., was 11 and playing Babe Ruth ball in 1978, Guttormsen got right back into the swing of things.
“There was a need for an umpire and when I got behind the plate they could tell I had some experience,” Guttormsen said of his slow return. “When I came up here I didn’t have time to commit to more than working a game at John Null for hamburgers, and that was what we got paid with.”
No, really, Guttormsen would receive lunch from the snack shack and call it a day.
He took a break to coach Babe Ruth youth baseball, and later, coached varsity baseball at R.A. Long, Mark Morris and Kelso.
Guttormsen’s favorite moment of his long career in local baseball, though, was coaching his son in the Babe Ruth World Series. This summer, Guttormsen plans to umpire the Babe Ruth World series.
“The community really embraced the whole situation to begin with,” Guttormsen said. “There’s a lot of ceremony, a lot of circumstances. But you get to work with a lot of people from outside of the area. There’s a lot of people who are committed to the game of baseball.”
Guttormsen loved the experience, though coaching took a toll.
“Coaching is all-in and I was running a business,” Guttormsen said. “I was totally committed to it but I wasn’t getting home until 10 at night.”
The strain on his home and work life coaching through the 1990s and early 2000s, Guttormsen swapped his stirrups for stripes.
He’s been a staple in the baseball and softball community since then, umpiring several games per week.
He’s seen some changes in the community and way officiating is handled, such as umpires being proactively using body language to deescalate disagreements, and increased use of technology.
“The beauty of the internet is you can watch any play you want over and over again,” Guttormsen said. “And we do that.”
He’s now someone who officials from the Lower Columbia region can contact to discuss rule implementation, interpretation and anything else a younger official might need help with.
“To be an active part, an integral part of that sporting event, is amazing,” Guttormsen said. “They can’t do it without you and they make a difference.”
Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series on the nationwide officiating shortage that the Lower Columbia area, too, is grappling with. The final part will run in Sunday’s paper. Part 1 appeared in Friday’s edition.