No one expects the umpire to leave the game in the 7th inning. On April 19, 2016, that is what happened. Just 44 days before his 58th birthday, Dan Pedersen died unexpectedly. With the average life expectancy of an American male at 78.7 years, it’s as if Dan was only in the 7th inning of his life that should have had at least 9 innings, if not more. It’s as if the teams were on the field after the 7th inning stretch, ready to play on, and the umpire did not return. Yet the game still goes on.
Although I did not know Dan that well, I went to the memorial service with my son Caleb, who played Pop Warner football with his son, Brady, and with my wife Leah, who worked with Dan’s wife Melissa on countless sports events. I remember of few conversations over the years with Dan as we talked about our love for college sports. And Dan really was an umpire. In fact, he was a leader of umpires, serving for years as Coordinator of Umpires and Officials for the Pac-12 and Western Athletic (WAC) conferences. I was not expecting to be so shaken up by the stories of Dan. He was from the tail end of the baby-boomer generation. Me too. He had to seek advice to understand a teen-aged daugher. I can relate. He and his son loved fishing. Check. His wife never missed an opportunity to support her kids in sports or school. Sounds familiar. His involvement in his church was central to his life, as is mine. He watched lots of Fox News; well I don’t really have that in common with him, but we both loved got heated with politics.
Maybe it was all of the parallels that shook me up, and realizing that here was a guy about my age and experiencing so many similar things, and in an instant, his life as we knew it was over. Since they played some of his favorite Jimmy Buffet songs, I went home that evening and all I wanted to do was sit with my family on our deck by the fire with Buffet in the background and reflect on the stories told by bosses, fellow employees, best-friends, brothers, children, and his loving wife, Melissa. They all made me wish I’d known him better, because “Umpire Dan” left us a powerful example of one who embodied the principles of servant leadership. In the field of executive coaching, I’m privileged to talk to many leaders about being a servant-leader, but “Umpire Dan” lived these principles in everything he did.
Here are a few of examples of how Umpire Dan lived these principles and behaviors.
Dan Demonstrated Courage
Jeff Hurd, Commissioner of the Western Athletic Conference, spoke about his many years with Dan as an umpire. I mean, who praises the umpire, the least popular person in the ball park? It takes some intestinal fortitude not to waiver when making a call behind home plate, knowing that one call can decide the outcome of the game. Back in 1991, Dan was suspended by the Pan American Baseball Confederation in Havana, for a game that got out of hand between two passionate teams. The next day, Dan was reinstated and cleared of any wrong-doing; he just called it as he saw it regardless of the pressure around him. This is how he lived his life and we can all learn from Dan about what it means to be courageous, decisive leaders.
Dan Added Value to Others
At the service, so many stories were shared about Dan with his children, Brady and Alyssa. On one camping/fishing trip, as Brady and his Dad hung out at the campsite, Brady yells out, “Dad, this is the best day of my life!” Is there anything more a Dad loves to hear? Other stories included one about how he and Melissa would discuss challenges, where Dan would often say, “Just do the right thing.” Dan gave of himself to others. He was fiercely loyal to his family and those he had made a commitment to, including his employers.
Dan Lived His Values
Dan valued his relationships, and was fiercely loyal. He had integrity. He may not agree with you politically, but he knew where he stood and was not afraid to share it. He was an open-book, which might cause some to dismiss based on politics, religion, gender, age, or race. To do so would be counter to everything espoused by his friends to the left of his own views. Yet Dan could still call it fair and how he saw it, not only in baseball but in life. He went to went to work every day, paid his taxes on time, remained fully present with those he loved, and shared his convictions with confidence. He knew his values and he lived them.
Dan Knew How to Lighten Up
The last image we saw of Dan at the memorial was from a video his daughter Allysa made with a friend some time ago. Dan comes down the staircase “photo-bombing” the video with similar gestures in the background. We all laughed. It reminded us of the words of Jesus, who said, “Unless you become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” I think Jesus was telling those present that day that we must become like children; being innocent, spontaneous, laughing often, trying new things, extending trust, and not taking ourselves so seriously. Dan had fun and could become like a child.
To Melissa, Brady, and Allysa: Surely, the days ahead will be difficult, as you remember the joys and challenges with your husband and your father. The game of your lives continues. The dogs he loved so well will still need to be greeted in the morning and someone will have to love them! In your sorrow, may you be comforted in knowing that he left a very powerful legacy. He modeled the way for us to be better people. May his legacy continue to provide a compass for each of you and may you be comforted in knowing that God’s plan for his life here on earth were fulfilled. You were not ready for him to go. Your game of life continues, and our thoughts and prayers are with you in the days ahead.
Thank you, Dan. We will miss you, although there are more innings we have to play!
Dan Pedersen Family Memorial Fund: