UPDATE: Services for Sam will be August 10 at 11 a.m. at SS Peter and Paul
To many, Sam Borozan was known as “Mr. NAU.” To some, he was the “guy with the camera.” To countless young softball players, he was simply, “Sam.” Still, to my late father, Sam was as a fellow Marine and a friend. As a former father of softball players and a former coach of players, I knew him as a friendly umpire with the emphasis on the word “friend.”
Others have written about his tireless work at NAU, so I will leave that part of his life to the ones who knew that part of him the best.
I knew the man behind home plate.
Sam was the guy who carried an external chest protector while calling balls and strikes. While most of his colleagues were utilizing internal protection so they could use both hands to do their work, Sam was more comfortable holding the protector with one hand while using his other to call the game. He didn’t need two hands. He was never going to wildly ring someone up and overshadow the kid throwing the ball, the kid trying to hit the ball and the kid trying to catch the ball. Those were his kids.
I asked him about his use of “old technology” and he said he needed it due to an old stomach surgery suffered while in the Marines but he also felt it got him closer to his kids.
Sam knew who I was before I knew who he was.
While coaching my daughter Brittney at a game in Oro Valley when she was maybe 8 years old, Sam came up to me and asked me if my father was Hector Morales. He said I looked like him when they first met. My father was still alive at that time and he told me they were good friends. Marine friends. Political friends. Friends.
I knew who Sam’s brother George Borozan was. George passed away in 1999 but many Tucsonans remember him from his newscaster days, especially with the old “KZAZ” station because that was the station that carried the Arizona basketball games under Fred Snowden. But I did not know about Sam.
I don’t think I ever got a call that went against me after that day and I don’t think any of my own children did either. Then it hit me, all the other coaches and kids probably thought the same thing about them. Everyone was going to get a call in their favor they probably didn’t deserve. Everyone knew it was going to happen, much like getting away with something because your own parents looked the other way.
Was he the best umpire I ever saw? Probably not in the sense that most coaches and other umpires think. But, looking back on it from more mature eyes and a softened heart, yes. He was the best umpire the kids could have hoped for. They loved him.
Sam was 90 years old.
The loss of “Sam” came after the loss of “Chuck.”
Charles ‘Chuck’ Harkins died earlier this year at the age of 87. A Korean Veteran, Chuck had a whole other life umpiring professional baseball players and such before he found his calling, working softball for the younger players.
Like Sam, Chuck was fixture at youth softball tournaments.
Chuck and his colleague Herb Shindler (95 years old now) seemed to be everywhere the girls were. Lincoln Park, Sports Park and Golf Links. Probably even your own backyard if you asked them. They were both old men even when they weren’t old men because, they were old men.
They were ornery in a “we’re-gonna-get-this-game-done-as-quickly-as-possible-and-it-will-be-ok” kind of ornery way. And we liked it. We had no choice. Looking back on it with old man eyes, I loved it. I miss it.
I remember one tournament when we knew we had five minutes left and all of a sudden Chuck throws up his hands and yells, “game!” With any other umpire, I would have asked him about the remaining time but not with Chuck. Some 15 or so years later, did those five minutes really matter?
Chuck knew every kid and every coach.
All the “young ladies” and all the “young men” knew Chuck and he knew them. Kids knew they could walk out of a dugout knowing the guy behind the plate was going to ask about your day and he might even hum a few tunes to calm your nerves. They felt like they were in this together. And they were.
I can honestly say I never once saw a kid complain about Chuck. If they did it was but a second or two. The same from a coach. One might hear a, “give us break Chuck,” coming from the dugout now and then but then you realized the coaches were probably venting frustrations about themselves. Chuck knew that.
Losing friends like Sam and Chuck is like watching your youngest child hang up her cleats for good. What was once here is now gone. It’s true, you can never really go home again but you need to remember others are just starting out.
Like watching little kids at the beach or watching little kids on a playground, you remember a life where nothing mattered but the moment. Life is full of those moments. Those moments define life and they define us.
Losing Sam and Chuck hurts because it does. If their loss doesn’t hurt, then you missed out on life.
We need to celebrate the ones guiding our children today like legendary Little League umpire Bob Hall and legendary referees Cleo Robinson and Jim Fogltance.
We don’t need to be old men with softened hearts to look back on those who helped our kids. There’s nothing wrong with young men and young women embracing their moment as it’s happening.
Embrace it before it’s gone.
Andy Morales was recognized by the AIA as the top high school reporter in 2014 and he was awarded the Ray McNally Award in 2017 and he has been a youth, high school and college coach for over 30 years. His own children have won multiple state high school championships and were named to all-state teams. Competing in hockey, basketball, baseball and track & field in high school, his unique perspective can only be found here and on AZPreps365.com. Andy is the Southern Arizona voting member of the Ed Doherty Award, recognizing the top football player in Arizona, and he was named a Local Hero by the Tucson Weekly for 2016. Contact Andy Morales at firstname.lastname@example.org