Popular veteran umpire Lyons waging battle with cancer

SIDELINES

April 28, 1996|By Pat O'Malley | Pat O'Malley,SUN STAFF

Len Lyons, a longtime resident of Linthicum and a veteran umpire, is taking his battle with cancer into extra innings. His will to live matches the enthusiasm he had for putting on the blue.

The 72-year-old Lyons was umpiring softball just last summer after being diagnosed with bladder cancer. When spring arrived, he was not able to umpire for the first time in nearly 40 years.

It hurt.

"Ball was his life. He loved being out there with the kids," said his daughter, Kathy Mettee, who is taking care of her dad at her Catonsville home.

"He misses it, but has accepted his fate."

Mettee said her dad was in intensive care a couple of months ago, but insisted on taking the softball umpires qualifying test. With his 14-year-old grandson, Greg Mettee, reading the questions at bedside, Lyons answered each question and had it mailed to the softball scheduler.

"He had not given up hope that he would be out there again this spring, and when he realized he couldn't, it broke his heart," said Kathy Mettee. "He had to call and tell them to pull his schedule, and that was the toughest thing he ever had to do."

Lyons has spent more than half his life umpiring baseball and softball in Anne Arundel County and the metro area. He worked high school baseball games in the county and the old Maryland Scholastic Association, and was a football referee in youth football in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties.

After having a hip and knee replaced, Lyons had to give up baseball five years ago, but turned to softball to satisfy his thirst for kids and sports.

A graduate of Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, Lyons was employed by ADT Security Systems when he started umpiring.

"Len always found a way to get off work early enough so he could umpire," said Glen Burnie's Frank "Jocko" Svobda, a frequent sidekick of Lyons on the baseball field. "We worked a lot of games together, and I loved umpiring with him because he was very professional and had fun with the kids and coaches.

"Coaches and players respected his sincerity and caring way."

Baseball coaches and players appreciated the jovial attitude he brought to the baseball field. Lyons could joke, but when it came time to make the crucial call, he was as serious as the stone face types.

Lyons has a special trait not every umpire possesses. Coaches couldn't get mad or stay mad at Lyons on days when they disagreed with his judgments.

His wonderful personality and ability to laugh at himself, coupled with his hustle, have gained him enormous respect. There is not a vindictive bone in his body.

Lyons never knew what it was to hold a grudge. Each game was a fresh start, with whatever happened the game before forgotten.

As an umpire, Len Lyons loved people and relished being popular. He earned respect early and never lost it.

Just this past Wednesday night, he was still in charge, not calling balls and strikes, but calling his family and grandchildren together to say the rosary. It was a special moment.

"I think he felt that was going to be it and wanted everybody there," said his daughter.

Greg Mettee presented his grandfather a softball that Lyons had given to him at age 4 in 1986. It was the young man's first softball and he told his grandfather he wanted him to have it.

"It was pretty emotional, and it meant a lot to my dad," said Kathy Mettee.

Greg wrote on the ball, "To Pop, the first softball you gave me on 5-18-86. Love, Greg."

Pub Date: 4/28/96

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