Ohio Valley Unsung Hero: Softball season is Gabel’s favorite time of the year

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — It’s about that time.

About that time for the call of ‘Play, Ball!’ to be heard time and time throughout the baseball and softball diamonds of the Ohio Valley.

Prep softball action has already begun in West Virginia, and first pitch for Ohio squads is next week.

For Bob Gabel, it’s a busy time of year.

Gabel, a St. Clairsville resident, is charged with assigning umpires for the OVAC, as well as for the J.B. Chambers I-470 Youth Sports Complex in Elm Grove.

”I’m the one they call, up and down the river,” he said.

In years past, softball was simply a sport played from late March through May. Not anymore, Gable said.

”In the last 10 years or so, it’s grown astronomically,” he said. ”It’s almost year round. It goes almost to October now.”

Pretty much, if the weather allows games on a field, then they’ll be played. Especially at the I-470 complex, which, for most of the year, seems to packed almost every weekend with all sorts of events and all sorts of teams from ear and far.

”Put it this way, they were supposed to start the spring league up there last weekend,” Gabel said. ”Now, we’ll go all the way through October with leagues and everything.”

That’s a lot of games to schedule, and a lot of games to officiate, which Gabel loves to do.

”Umpiring came on later for me,” he explained. ”I liked sports and I wanted to try it.”

He never thought, though, he’d end up on the administrative side of things.

”I was just wanting to help in any way I could,” Gabel said. ”It gave me a challenge.”

Gabel began his officiating career with football after deciding to take up training class after seeing it offered in the paper. That was about 20 years ago.

He started at the lower levels and eventually moved his way p to umpire on varsity crews.

Along the way, Gabel started in basketball and soon made his way to softball.

Starting next year, he’ll be the assigner for ”lower-level” officials, which are those ninth-grade and below.

”I think that’s one thing some people don’t understand is that there a lot of people doing things at the lower levels, and there’s a lot of work behind it.”

Unlike the other sports, Gabel said softball is ”doing good” when it comes to having enough folks to fill umpiring roles, although you can never have too many.

”We have a good training class going,” he said. ”There’s an opportunity to work every night if you want to work.”

If you know of someone in sports in the Ohio Valley whom I could feature as an Ohio Valley Unsung Hero, drop me a line at rthorp@timesleaderonline.com or via Twitter @RickThorp1