Dan Capps first called balls and strikes as a 16-year-old at the request of R.L. Godsey, a football coach at Abbeville High during the 1960s.
“My mother ran a Tastee Freeze there and he came by and said, ‘Dan, I need you to be down at the ballpark at 4 o’clock,’” Capps remembers. “I got down there and he said, ‘Put that on and go call strikes and outs.’ I said, ‘Yes sir’ and started from there.”
Capps served as an umpire on countless fields throughout the southeast over the years and was recently inducted into the Dixie Boys Baseball Hall of Fame during a ceremony in Sterlington, La., where he was serving as Umpire-in-Chief for the World Series.
Capps stood on the baseball field believing he was taking part in a planned recognition of players who had hit home runs during the tournament. Instead, Capps was named one of the hall of fame inductees.
“I was shocked,” Capps said. “In fact, I almost cried.”
Though he no longer calls games on the field, Capps oversees and evaluates umpires in southeast Alabama for the Alabama High School Athletic Association along with serving as an Umpire-in-Chief for Alabama Dixie Boys Baseball.
“In umpiring I had two goals – to call in the high school finals in Montgomery, and I’ve been very blessed and fortunate that I’ve been able to do that four times, and to call in a Dixie World Series. I’ve been extremely blessed with that. I’ve had the opportunity to work all over the state of Alabama and it’s very satisfying.”
Capps underwent a heart transplant in 2007, yet was back on the field umpiring the following spring.
“Have you ever seen a picture of an old farmer going down the road with a mule pulling his wagon and have a stick between the mule’s ears and a carrot hanging in front of it?” Capps said. “Baseball is my carrot. I wanted to get back on the baseball field as soon as possible.”
Calling behind the plate was Capps’ favorite part of umpiring.
“Seeing the pitcher and the players and having a good catcher in front of you working is a great teaching thing,” Capps said. “Baseball, like a lot of sports, can teach so many things that are useful in life. Never give up. It’s never over with. Things like that.”
It’s all been a labor of love for Capps, who was also a coach and teacher at his alma mater of Abbeville High School.
“I still get chill bumps now,” Capps said of the hall of fame induction. “I never expected anything other than folks fussing at you for being an umpire and this, that and the other. I truly enjoy the game of baseball.”
Keeping a level head in the heat of the action is something the mild-mannered Capps was able to do as well when fans and coaches displayed their frustrations.
“It’s just part of the game,” Capps said. “I grew up playing baseball and hopefully I understand it a little bit. Coaches are able to argue up to a point, as long as they’re making a valid point.
“And the yelling behind the fence – as long as they paid to get in and stay behind the fence – that’s not a problem. Very selective hearing, I guess.”
Dixie Boys Baseball commissioner Sandy Jones, who was also an inductee this year into the Dixie hall, notes, “I have met many great people through the game of baseball and without a doubt Dan Capps is truly a special person.
“His passion is found in serving others and anyone that comes in contact with Dan recognizes that he is compassionate. He is very deserving of this recognition.”
Capps is proud of being able to go into the same class with Jones, a Eufaula native and now Dothan resident who he considers a dear friend.
“He’s a great classmate,” Capps said. “I knew him when he was in Eufaula and he was still playing and I was umpiring, and then through Dixie. He does a tremendous job.”