Varsity sports official Jim Trentin could not be denied his dream job

Umpire Jim Trentin stands by home plate.
Plate umpire Jim Trentin waits for the next batter during a game at Savanna High.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

As Jim Trentin grew older, the bullies did too.

When the now-high-school sports official was young and uncoordinated, he’d always be the last one picked for teams at recess. Peers would laugh at him. The more cruel ones would beat him up.

Schoolyard games turned with the years into referee politics. Twenty years ago, Trentin walked into a meeting for a basketball referee association that he’d been told he was too late to sign up for. The group “literally chased him away,” friend Tony Mannara said.

“Here’s our vice president yelling at this guy, ‘Get away from here, we don’t want you here!’ ” said Mannara, who was an association member then. “Like chasing away a stray dog.”

He was known as the “crazy guy,” Mannara said.

“Crazy,” of course, was coded language for Trentin’s actual condition — autism.

Umpire Jim Trentin lifts his arms during a game.
Plate umpire Jim Trentin makes the safe call during a game at Savanna High.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Now 61, Trentin has been a varsity official for 15 years. He has manned numerous Southern Section playoff games, shows up early, and is widely praised for his work ethic.

At the same time as he has rounded into a dependable referee while associations around the area have seen a precipitous drop in their numbers. Suddenly, after years of feeling pushed away, Trentin is accepted.

“I’ve been a fighter all my life,” he said.

In the first meeting each year for most umpire’s associations, almost every group asks the new officials to stand up for a round of applause, according to CIF baseball rules interpreter Ken Allan.

“I’ve always said, ‘Those aren’t the guys that deserve the hands,’ ” Allan said. “The guys that deserve the applause are the guys that come back for a second year.”

Sean Miltmore, president of the Orange County Baseball Officials Assn. (OCBOA), said his organization had 200 umpires four years ago. Now, it’s down to 140, a trend plaguing organizations across the region.

“COVID exacerbated things,” said Gary Gilman, an umpire assigner for the OCBOA. “Guys found out there are more to life than going out and earning a very small amount.”


New umpires in baseball, Allan said, aren’t used to handling the stress of angry parents and coaches who disagree with a call. Trentin, however, is used to the heat.

“Jimmie has been able to overcome all of that,” said Allan, who has known Trentin for a decade.

Ask most any coach or official about Trentin and you’ll get the same response: He’s professional. Conscientious. Terry Torline, a former president of the OCBOA, said Trentin is consistently in the top 5% of his umpire class on test scores.

“Jim learned early that he was going to have to know the rules better than everyone else because of his perceived difference,” said Jeff Roberts, the president of the Orange County Officials Assn.

Umpire Jim Trentin raises one fist during a baseball game.
Plate umpire Jim Trentin calls a batter out on strikes during a game at Savanna High.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

It hasn’t been easy. Trentin thought about quitting more than once, but he has a love for the game that has persisted for decades.

In 2006, when he got the call he’d be calling his first Friday night football playoff game, Trentin asked the assigner if he were drunk. Then he phoned Roberts.

“Now I can tell my sons,” Trentin said, per Roberts, “I’m a CIF playoff referee.”

“It told me right then and there how much football meant to Jim,” Roberts said. “How it normalized his life and his interactions.”

Sitting in a booth at a Denny’s restaurant in Anaheim, the 61-year-old Trentin’s fingers twist and untwist the wrapper to a plastic straw. His voice, slightly lisped, pinballs from story to story, often landing back at the place he started.

“I’m not a great first-impression guy … sometimes, I repeat myself sometimes,” Trentin said. “I get on people’s nerves sometimes.”

Trentin once called somebody 78 times in a single day, Mannara remembers.

“Turns out he’s a nice guy — he’s just kind of a pain in the ass,” joked Mannara, who calls himself Trentin’s best friend.

Jim Trentin cleans his umpire gear.
Jim Trentin sits behind his car to remove and clean his umpiring gear after a game at Savanna High.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Trentin stuck tight to a dream of becoming an umpire since he was a kid. After retiring from the postal service, he began pursuing officiating in his 40s, building a wide network from working local schools’ scrimmages solely to improve his skills.

After he was chased from the basketball meeting 20 years earlier, Trentin never went back. He was too embarrassed. Ever since, he has fought for a fair shot.

In 2017, after a decade as a varsity umpire, the OCBOA suddenly demoted Trentin. In fact, lawyer Bill Kirsten said the organization had put Trentin into his own category of rank, calling it a “sham” rooted in discrimination.

“Absolutely never once was there a hint of [discrimination],” then-president Torline said. “It had nothing to do with his abilities, disabilities, none. That was just completely far removed from that.”

In an appeal to the OCBOA, Trentin surveyed his network of coaches and officials. A total of 146 voted in favor of him staying a varsity umpire. One voted against.

“I know he’s had some difficulties with the Orange County Assn.,” said Spud O’Neil, the head baseball coach at Lakewood, “and there’s a whole lot of coaches that really like him and think he got a raw deal over there.”

When even that appeal was denied by the board, Trentin didn’t throw in the towel.

“I said, ‘Hey, I’m going to stick around,’ ” Trentin said. “‘They’re going to have to chase me out.”

He and an advocate came to a meeting to read a statement that accused the OCBOA of discrimination. The next day, he was reinstated to varsity.

Now, after that conclusion and turnover on the board, Trentin is happily working a full schedule.

He just wants to show people he can make it. Show himself, too.