Roy Kendal would like to be a professional baseball umpire, but U.S. immigration law is keeping him out of the business.
His fight against the law has produced suggestions of compromise, and of the possibility that American umpires in at least one minor league won’t be able to work in Canada.
There are only about 210 professional umpires in North America, Kendal, 21, said in a telephone interview Wednesday from his home in Surrey, British Columbia.
He took a big step toward joining the club by graduating seventh in a class of 58 at a school conducted by National League umpire John McSherry in 1983.
Last year and again this year he applied to be an umpire in the Class A Pioneer League, which has seven teams in the western United States and one in Medicine Hat, which is in the province of Alberta.
But U.S. immigration rules have kept Canadians out of the umpiring business for the last 11 years and Kendal has hit the same legal wall.
U.S. law says foreigners can get a work visa only if the job they want to do can not be filled by a qualified U.S. citizen. Athletes are classed as having special skills and are exempt, but umpires are not.
When the law went into effect in 1974, two Canadian minor league umpires, Abe Shapiro and Jim Cressman, lost their jobs. Another Canadian, Jim McKean, was allowed to stay in baseball because he had made it into the major leagues.
“The U.S. immigration has to change its policy,” Kendal said.
“Now the umpires are grouped with laborers, but with only 210 pro umpires we are unique. The problem is they (U.S. immigration officials) can’t distinguish between amateur umpires, of which there are tens of thousands, and pros.”
Kendal has taken his case to the Department of Employment and Immigration, which plans to apply pressure. If Kendal can’t work in the United States, then the Pioneer League’s American umpires may not be allowed to work in Medicine Hat when the league starts play June 20.
Kendal tried to enter the Pioneer League last year but was denied a work visa by the U.S. Department of Immigration and Naturalization.
The subsequent flap was quelled just before the season opening last June when Barney Deary, the person in charge of hiring umpires for professional baseball, wrote a letter saying he hoped Canadians would be allowed to umpire.
Kendal said Wednesday that was just a ploy to prevent disruption of Pioneer League operations and this year he and federal officials have called Deary’s bluff.
Pioneer League President Ralph Nelles said the league hopes to straighten out the situation within 10 days.
“We have the State Department and (Baseball Commissioner) Peter Ueberroth and his attorney working on it,” Nelles said in a telephone interview from Billings, Mont. “We just can’t move any faster.”