“When they were on the field, those were his kids too. My dad had hundreds of children.”
Many umpires and referees can be despised by the community. They can be seen as incompetent, biased and simply wrong.
But that was not the case with Nick Bolton.
Bolton was a softball umpire for the city of Greenbrier and spent hours upon hours calling balls and strikes and dealing with players and parents at Louis Martin City Park on Field 1.
A group of people gathered on that very field Friday night to remember him after he passed away at the age of 62 on Jan. 21.
Family and friends stood on the diamond. Umpires showed up in their uniform. His umpire pads and jersey were hung on the fence, and a slideshow of Bolton’s life played.
Bolton cared deeply about the rules of the game, according to his daughter Katie Altice, who graduated from Greenbrier High School in 2014.
He was constantly studying the game up until his final days. When the family picked up his bag from the hospital, they found the softball rulebook.
Bolton did not simply feign impartiality; he proved it in a move some parents would not even think of.
He threw his own daughter out of a game.
Altice said his consistency and pursuit of fairness was something treasured by players, coaches and parents.
“People respected him just like I did,” Altice said. “It really showed - how he had thrown me out of the game - that he respected the rules of the game. People really liked that about him. He was never partial to one team or the other. He would tell you when you were wrong, and he would admit he was wrong when you were right.
“People genuinely like that. He was not proud. He would admit his wrongs. I really respected that about him. I think everybody else did to.”
Further than the black and white of the rulebook, Altice said players were drawn to him. Bolton showed his love for them while they were on the field.
“He had a connection with those players, and that’s why the parents loved him so much,” Altice said.
Bolton also coached little league as a pitch coach. One of his players was his son Colby. That father-son connection was irreplaceable on the field.
“I’ve always felt a lot more comfortable,” Colby Bolton said. “All my coaches growing up wanted us to think of them as a good figure to follow. I love my coaches, and when they would pitch to me, it’s awesome, but you get that comfortable feeling when your dad is pitching for you in a game.
“When you’re out in the backyard just hitting with him, he says, ‘Alright, it’s just me and you.’ Some parents, they say from the bleachers, ‘It’s just you and the catcher.’ It’s a different feeling when it’s your dad pitching to you, and it’s literally just you and him and this is what you’ve been working on.”
Nick Bolton also spent time playing slow-pitch softball himself. He and the family would travel to tournaments in different states, and they would get a nice beach vacation out of it to watch him play.
Colby picked up the game about two years ago, and his dad continued to work with him. Both Katie and Colby said that their dad’s coaching did not stop once he stopped being their official coach.
“Whenever I started slow-pitch softball, he was there for most of my practices making sure I was swinging it right, making sure my form was good and my technique,” Colby Bolton said. “He was always making sure we knew what we were doing, so we could excel in it.”
The field that he spent so many innings on will now be known as the Nick Bolton Field. People in the community really pushed for the tribute to take place, and Altice said it did not go unnoticed.
“It just showed more love that people had for him because they were fighting so hard for that field to be named after him even through their own grief of losing him,” Altice said. “We were just amazed that people would do that for my dad, but also they were doing that for us. I really can’t thank them enough.”
Since his passing, people from all over Greenbrier have sent the family love in many ways. Altice said her old softball team that she used to coach filled her car up with food during the service, but so many more people have simply shared memories with them.
“We’ve been flooded on social media,” Altice said. “So many people have brought food over here for us. The pictures that people have been sending me that they had with my dad that I had never seen before, I think that was our favorite.”
While Nick Bolton may not be able to call balls and strikes anymore, his presence will be felt on the field that now bears his name, not only on a sign, but in the hearts of all who knew him.