Cheri “CJ” Webb arrived an hour prior to the first pitch of the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Intramural Softball game between the 62nd Air Maintenance Squadron and the Air National Guard June 26 at St. Helen’s Field on McChord Field.
Dressed in the usual blue-umpire attire, she looked through the fence down the first base line and noticed within seconds that something wasn’t right.
“That running lane is only two and a half feet,” Webb said, noting the running lane designated for runners leaving the batting box is supposed to be at least three feet wide.
While her observation skills can be partially credited to her keen eye one would develop after 22 years in the Army, she said observing field hazards comes natural to one who has been a softball umpire since 1982.
Being a softball umpire locally and for the JBLM Intramural leagues is a win-win situation that allows her to give back to both the softball community and the local military where she served.
“I get to come out and do a sport I love with people I understand and relate to,” Webb said.
Webb didn’t get a chance to play softball until 1977 at her first duty station at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. While growing up in Oregon, there were no high school softball programs until after she graduated.
Since then, Webb has played for every installation softball team during her military career, including Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and Fort Meade, S.D., and assisted as a player and coach for multiple clubs on JBLM like the “Mud Puppies;” a team comprised of those stationed at Madigan Army Medical Center.
Upon retiring in 1998, Webb stopped playing and pursued umpiring local high school games, select club tournaments and adult recreational leagues in the Puget Sound sanctioned by the Amateur Softball Association and United States Specialty Sports Association.
“I decided to stay here because I’m originally from Oregon, and it’s just far enough away from my family that if I have to go home for an emergency I can, but I don’t have to look at them every day, which is quite advantageous,” Webb said.
Over the years, she has built a reputation among intramural and league softball both on the installation and around the region as one of the area’s highly-respected officials who calls a good, fair game where the rules are implied correctly.
In fact, Webb recalls only having to eject someone during a game on McChord Field where a runner crashed into another player to break up a double play, which brought out an angry coach who was subsequently tossed as well.
Webb said game management is her strong suit by using subtle hints to inform players calmly about rules like the rights to base or batters having to run to the orange bag for the safety of all players.
She credits not only her experience in the Army, but also her time working as a Human Resources Consultant for the Workplace Investigative Services at the Department of Corrections Headquarters in Tumwater.
“In all my years, knock on wood, I’ve never had to use force,” Webb said. “I used verbal tactics to defuse the situation. I went in walking like I owned it.”
While Webb said she enjoys calling games both on and off base, she has built a rapport with many JBLM service members who are regulars with their unit teams. She said this is especially true for teams from McChord Field who have players who have known her for years because the Air Force doesn’t have Permanent Change of Station orders as often as the Army.
And because of that rapport, Webb is able to be looser and have fun with players on the field with joking statements that the only reason she is there “is because you cheat and if you didn’t, I wouldn’t be here.”
Then there are moments during a game where she must put jokes aside – like earlier this season when a player hit a ball off the end of his bat.
“In his second at-bat, there happened to be a big pile of chalk, and I asked for his bat saying ‘If you’re going to use it like a pool cue, you need to treat it like a pool cue,’” Webb said.