Skip to content

The view at home, from Burlington to the World Baseball Classic

Lisa Turbitt blazes a trail on the diamond - and in life
Lisa Turbitt calls a Pakistani runner out at the plate in the first inning of a World Baseball Classic qualifying game. Turbitt, who received the Baseball Canada lifetime achievement award, was the first female umpire to call a WBC game.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is part of a new BurlingtonToday series — 'THIS IS BURLINGTON' — that showcases the people, places, organizations and businesses that make our city so special. Click HERE to read every story in the series, which will run throughout the month of November.

The runner crossed first base and turned into foul territory. Seeing the ball had been missed by the fielder, the runner made a motion toward second, then stopped. As he walked back toward the base, the first baseman recovered the ball and applied the tag.

The young umpire raised his arm, signalling an out. The coach immediately came out to argue.

Watching from the stands Lisa Turbitt felt a tinge of pride in seeing the umpire make the right call. And stick by it.

“This kid made a great call and I think we were the only two in the park who knew the rule,” she said.

Turbitt has always been a bit of stickler for the rules. When her teachers would take her class out to play baseball, she’d get mad if they didn’t follow the rules. And she watched enough baseball to know them.

When she was growing up, her bedroom walls were covered with posters of Toronto Blue Jays and Montreal Expos players.

Burlington’s Lisa Turbitt became the first female umpire at a World Baseball Classic game, working behind the plate in a qualifying game between Pakistan and Argentina in Panama. Supplied photo

That she has gone on to become one of the country’s most decorated umpires shouldn’t come as a surprise. She has been an umpire or supervisor at 20 national championships, worked home plate in the gold medal game at the first Women’s World Cup and supervised international tournaments. Now she can add Baseball Canada’s lifetime achievement award to her long list of accomplishments.

But none of that might have happened if her brother’s T-ball game had not needed an umpire.

Turbitt was just 11 years old when her dad, who was coaching her brother’s team, volunteered her as a substitute umpire. When the opposing coach complimented her ability, Turbitt decided to continue through the rest of the season. Forty-four years later, she’s still going.

It hasn’t always been easy. There were comments like, "The softball field is over there." There were some tears in the car on the drive home – never on the field – but each time her dad asked if she was finished, her response was that she was going back the next day.

“That’s how much I loved it. Nothing could keep me from it,” she said. “I wasn’t giving up what I love because of them.”

Looking back at recorded games from when she was a teenager, even Turbitt wonders where she got the confidence to tell grown men what they could and couldn’t do. Now a Grade 7 teacher at Chris Hadfield Public School in Milton, Turbitt said umpiring taught her skills she uses in everyday life – situation management,
communication, conflict resolution.

Burlington’s Lisa Turbitt accepts her lifetime achievement award from Baseball Canada Umpires Committee Chair Jon Oko, left, and Baseball Canada CEO Jason Dickson, right. . Baseball Canada photo

Though she didn’t meet another female umpire until she was in her late 20s, Turbitt never saw herself as a trailblazer early in her career. Eventually the firsts began to mount – first female umpire to work a men’s senior nationals, part of the first all-female crew for an Intercounty Baseball League game, first
female recipient of Baseball Canada’s umpire of the year award.

It finally struck home when Turbitt was working at a development camp for girls’ baseball. One of the young players said, “You’re a girl. I didn’t know you were allowed to be an umpire.”

“That was really powerful,” she said. “I’d never really thought of how them seeing me allowed them to think it was possible.”

Turbitt has always tried to create opportunities for umpires, especially female umpires. She thinks back to the allies, both women and men, who helped her and wants to pay it forward.

“Everybody has barriers, but sometimes some people or groups have more,” she said. “There are people who want the opportunity despite the obstacles. Imagine what they can accomplish if we remove those barriers.”

During COVID, she started doing monthly calls with female umpires in Nova Scotia to provide everything from technical tips to career guidance. Those were eventually expanded to other provinces.

“I try to be a mentor for others,” said Turbitt, who has helped develop the curriculum for teaching umpires across the country.

All the while, she is still breaking new ground. In March 2020 she was in Arizona, set to become the first female umpire to work a World Baseball Classic game. Then the tournament was cancelled due to COVID-19.

“I was gutted,” she said. “I was thrilled to get the assignment. Then you just don’t know if that opportunity is going to come along again.”

It was eventually rescheduled to the fall of 2022 and Turbitt again got the call.

“It was awesome, the greatest experience of my life,” she said. “I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of cool things, and they all have special stories attached to them, but I never thought that would happen.”

Turbitt was nervous before the game, a qualifier between Pakistan and Argentina, but said it was more about the anticipation than fear of something going wrong. Once the game started, she settled into the job at hand. She rang up the first batter for a strikeout and then had a play at the plate to end the first inning.

Despite all she’s accomplished, the lifetime achievement award came as a complete surprise to Turbitt. She said umpiring is not a job you expect accolades and yet it has been very rewarding.

“I think of all the tremendous experiences I’ve had, the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met. It’s brought me so many gifts.”

Lisa Turbitt, who received the Baseball Canada lifetime achievement award, poses with the umpiring staff at the 2016 Women’s World Cup, where she served as umpiring director. Supplied photo


push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks