MISSOULA — What do you get an umpire for his 40th anniversary?
For Missoula’s Max E. Cannon Jr., it’s a field named in his honor by Mount Sentinel Little League.
Cannon, who’s beginning his 40th year as an umpire, will be recognized during Opening Day ceremonies at noon Saturday, when Field 10 at Playfair Park will be dedicated to him.
“It really hasn’t sunk in,” Cannon said on Thursday. “This is a great honor. I’m probably going to break down when I say as many thank yous as I can. I mean, it’s tremendous. I guess it’s a badge of honor. If nothing else, maybe it’ll help people realize to follow your passion. I think I developed my passion the minute I stepped on the ball field.”
The field that is being dedicated to Cannon, 59, is the same field on which he played his first-ever Little League baseball game. He joined the Mount Sentinel Little League for its inaugural season in 1970, playing six years before aging out.
A Sentinel grad, Cannon later returned to that field, coaching 9- and 10-year-olds there for 18 years. He was both a coach and an umpire for 30 of his first 40 years as a volunteer before he focused on being a full-time umpire the past 10 years.
“Field 10 was my baby because I helped reconstruct it. We rebuilt it,” Cannon said. “It was always my baby. All my games were scheduled on Field 10 when I was coaching only because I made the schedules and I just liked the field. It just had an atmosphere to it because I babied it so much. I think it’s perfect.”
Cannon helped Mount Sentinel Little League come up with the banner that’ll hang on the chain-link fence behind home plate of what’ll be called “Cannon Field” going forward. The sign features a pair of cannons shooting out a baseball as well as a bat and baseball lined up next to each other to resemble the number 10.
While Cannon relishes the praise he gets, he doesn’t like the spotlight being on him too much, preferring it instead be on Little League and the kids. He never had any children of his own, so he treats the players as his kids, teaching them the game but also using baseball as a way to convey life lessons.
“This is my family,” Cannon said. “Every child in this program is mine. I treat everyone as my child, so I know they’re going to be treated the same. If they weren’t here, I wouldn’t be here.”
Cannon’s reach as an umpire extends to the district, state and national level. But it all started in and comes backs to Missoula, and Shaun Shea, a former Mount Sentinel Little League coach, spoke highly of the impact Cannon has had locally.
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“He’s one of our pillars,” Shea said. “He’s a foundation of Little League in Missoula, which is one of the strongholds in the state. Little League is a shining star in the state, and Max is at the forefront every time. The way he handles himself with the kids and explaining and teaching the game to the kids is unparalleled, and the care with which he handles the kids is fantastic.
“The same goes for how he portrays himself in front of the coaches and parents, even when things get heated with youth baseball games. He’s collected and keeps his cool, and it settles you down as well. Max has always handled himself with poise and class.”
Cannon also umpires softball, football, basketball, soccer and Missoula Mavericks American Legion baseball games.
“As a person, he’s very thoughtful, a really nice man,” Mavs manager Brent Hathaway said. “And I don’t think I’ve ever seen him get upset.”
“He’s done a lot for Missoula baseball,” Mavs assistant coach Brian Moser interjected.
“He really has,” Hathaway said. “He’s a really, really good person.”
Cannon’s special season will include him getting to umpire his second World Series, adding to a collection that includes five Western Regionals. This year, he’ll be an umpire in the Little League Softball World Series in Portland, Oregon.
The important event will be even more meaningful for him because he’ll turn 60 years old on the day of the semifinals — or as he joked, he’ll be turning 12 years old for the 48th time as he continues his love affair with baseball.
“I’ll always do this,” said Cannon, who was presented with a lifetime achievement award from Montana Little League District 2 in December. “This is my home. I’ve slept in the concession stand getting ready for tournaments. This is it. This is my life away from work. This isn’t work. In 40 years, I haven’t made a penny. It’s all volunteer.
“I’ve gotten so much from it. When you see the gleam in the kids’ eyes, it’s so fun. I feel I need to be here with the kids. I’ll do this as long as I’m physically able to do it.”