Sport

Vale Russell Baldi

By Tyler Maher

A cursory glance at the scorecard from the November 10 Haisman Shield clash between Shepparton United and Tatura will reveal all of the usual highlights of a cricket match.

It will tell you United won the toss and chose to bat, that Chris Rendina top-scored with 32 for the home side at Princess Park and Michael Archer made 41 for Tatura in the chase.

It will also tell you when Matt Barclay bowled Jarred Panther it secured a 35-run win for United late in the one-day fixture.

But what will not immediately become clear to you is the last wicket of the game also signalled the final contribution one of Cricket Shepparton’s finest servants made out on the pitch.

Russell Baldi’s sudden death — not much more than a week after he last officiated a match as central umpire — came as a shock to the entire local cricketing community.

After almost 50 seasons of playing, coaching, umpiring, administrating, curating and simply working hard, Baldi died following complications from back surgery on November 18 at the age of 60.

His departure has already left a huge hole in the hearts and minds of many — a hole that is likely only to grow with the passing of time as the true mountain of work which Baldi completed on a week-to-week basis becomes clearer.

At the time of his death Baldi was the association’s umpires president and his endeavour to improve within the role and as an umpire himself always shone through for his daughter Alana.

‘‘Cricket is definitely going to miss him,’’ Alana said.

‘‘It was such a big shock, he was umpiring the weekend before.

‘‘Cricket was a huge part of his life, he was extremely passionate about it.

‘‘He took his role as umpires president so seriously, he always looked to improve his own umpiring or Cricket Shepparton itself.

‘‘He always tried to do what was best for the game of cricket and was always very passionate about two-day cricket as well, he was definitely a traditionalist.

‘‘He just wanted to make the game in Shepparton better.’’

Baldi’s life was celebrated where he always wanted it to be — his beloved Numurkah Youth Club Cricket Club — last Friday, with those in attendance telling stories of their fiercely passionate mate.

One such tale detailed how Baldi’s cricketing career began in the streets of Numurkah.

‘‘He was born in Mooroopna, but spent the majority of his life in Numurkah,’’ Alana said.

‘‘He was one of the original members when the youth club and cricket club amalgamated.

‘‘One of the stories was that him and ‘Sono’ (Ronald) Grandell used to play cricket in the middle of Tweddle S, but instead of stumps they used a kerosene can.

‘‘So it was always the Baldis against the Grandells in the middle of the road.

‘‘It was really humbling to have so much support, especially from Cricket Shepparton, the clubs and the umpires.

‘‘Dave D’Elia and Gary Wood were Dad’s best mates and they’ve been great support for me and the family.

‘‘His one wish was that he wanted to see Numurkah A-grade win a premiership before he passed away, he would have loved to see it happen last year, but it wasn’t to be.

‘‘I’m the fourth generation of my family to go through Numurkah Cricket Club and he instilled the history into us, not just the family history, but the club history as well.

‘‘His whole life was dedicated to that club and I think it was fitting on Friday prior to the service the immediate family did a lap of the showgrounds alongside the hearse and then it was a very nice gesture from the club to put on the wake for him at the clubrooms.’’

In recent years pain from a previous surgery had become hard to manage — but that never stopped Baldi from umpiring at every level, whether it be junior, senior or representative including country week and higher honours such as Australian Cricket Association and Premier Cricket matches.

The latest surgery came about in an effort to prolong his time in the middle of the ground, as well as with his growing family tree.

‘‘He went in to hospital in Albury on the Friday night and was having his fusion replaced,’’ Alana said.

‘‘He got it done about 15 years ago, but was getting lots of secondary pain from it. With new technology over the years they thought they could replace it and give him a much better quality of life.

‘‘He wanted to prolong how long he could umpire for and had five young grandkids he adored and wanted to spend more time with too.

‘‘Unfortunately he had an anaphylactic reaction to the anaesthetic, they managed to revive him and put him on life support, but the anaphylactic reaction had done too much damage.

‘‘He’d had 10-12 anaesthetic procedures before, so it wasn’t the first time for him or anything. The doctor said only about one in 200000 people have a reaction.

‘‘It doesn’t make it any easier, but it was just a freak accident.’’

Throughout Baldi’s cricketing career — first as a lightning-quick fast bowler and then as a straight-down-the-line officiator — it was certainly his passion for the game itself which will be remembered most.

Even if that passion sometimes spilled over during minor disagreements.

‘‘He was too passionate at times,’’ Alana said.

‘‘If he wanted to make himself heard he wasn’t shy about it.

‘‘He did have his differences at times with people, but it was just because of how dedicated he was and he always sorted those out.

‘‘He loved his umpire’s role and really took it upon himself to know the players as well.

‘‘He would always look at the scores and the captains’ reports and even give the captains a call if there was something he wanted to follow up.

‘‘He always wanted to know how to improve himself, other umpires and cricket in the region.

‘‘Everyone always knew that he loved a chat at square leg and a smoke between drinks breaks.

‘‘His dedication to the juniors was huge as well, he loved umpiring them and helping them. He was always looking to help the kids regardless of what club or association they were from.

‘‘Everyone knew he was such a stickler for the rules too, you never got an easy decision from him — if it wasn’t there it wasn’t there.

‘‘He was always looking to get younger umps involved as well, but I think overall his loyalty to the game of cricket (will be remembered most).’’

It remains uncertain exactly how far-reaching Baldi’s influence on cricket in this region was — and indeed will continue to be.

But one thing that is certainl is that the great Test match in the sky just secured another central umpire — one who will keep a firm eye on proceedings, but still sneak a glance down to check on his beloved Blues whenever he gets the chance.