Fallon's Brian Itskin, left, presented Richard Pitts with a Lifetime Achievement Award during the 2019 youth softball state tournament in Reno.
Photo by Thomas Ranson.
Like the thousands of batters he watched fighting off a two-strike count, Richard Pitts is battling to stay alive.
Pitts, who retired recently after a six-decade-plus officiating career, was admitted to Saint Mary’s Hospital in Reno last week as he’s fighting an unknown illness, according to longtime high school official Mike Evans.
“He’s had some health issues, mostly physical, for a while,” said Evans, who posted on social media last week about Pitts’ health condition. “He has left a huge impact in the lives of so many. But with his family elsewhere, he has had very few visitors since very few people know about Richard’s failing health.”
Pitts, 82, who was honored during 2019’s youth softball state tournament with a Lifetime Achievement Award, fell down stairs a month ago but was able to recover after a stint in rehab and was released on May 28. But then he was back in the hospital a week later.
“One day, his girlfriend said that all of a sudden, he just had this dazed look in his eyes,” Evans said. “They’re running tests, but they still don’t know.”
Evans, though, said the doctors hope to know more in the coming days but they suspect the issue may be intestinal. He encourages those who know Pitts to visit him in Room 484.
Despite the unknown, Evans said that Pitts, whom he met during the 1980s, is doing well mentally.
“He’s actually doing pretty well. He’s coherent as he can be and flirting with the nurses,” Evans said. “His mind is sharp. He just doesn’t have the mobility.”
Since posting the update on Pitts’ condition last week, Evans has been overwhelmed with responses. He said quite a few have been able to visit Pitts since he was admitted.
“It’s amazing. I don’t know anyone in the history of Northern Nevada sports who’s had a far-reaching impact,” Evans said.
Pitts, who began officiating in the 1950s, moved to Northern Nevada in the ‘70s and joined the local officiating chapters for baseball, softball and basketball. Pitts also coached football, serving as the head coach at the freshman and junior varsity levels while assisting with the varsity team at several programs.
Fallon’s Rob Helton met Pitts while playing slowpitch softball for Lahontan Valley Meats in the 1990s and 2000s. At one of his daughters’ fastpitch tournaments about 15 years later, Helton saw Pitts serving as the head umpire.
“When I walked up to him, he remembered me and in minutes, the old bantering was like it had been for 15 minutes,” Helton said.
Pitts’ last high school game was in 2016 for basketball and two years later, he hung it up on the diamond. Pitts is to be inducted into the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association Hall of Fame in September.
“He made athletics fun. He made the experience of athletics and being part of the game fun,” said Evans of Pitts, who officiated the youth leagues, including summer tournaments – both baseball and softball – before being awarded with the lifetime achievement honor two years ago. “He had people laughing. Even during tense moments, he made it fun. He did it because he thought the kids should have fun.”
With the fun, though, Pitts knew when it was time to be serious, which garnered respect from coaches and other officials.
“He was tough. He gave you that look that ‘OK, you had your say,’” Evans added. “That was it. He was very firm, and he made it fun for everyone.”
In addition to being an official and coach, Pitts was a strong recruiter and trainer.
“During the 70s, he was constantly training officials,” Evans said. “He constantly had them at his house and he would train them. He would go over rules and mechanics. He was a master of training. He didn’t care that they would possibly be better than him and take over his job. He loved training officials.”
Even though he retired from officiating, Pitts could still be seen at the fields.
“He does like to go games. More than anything, people just like to come up and see him,” Evans said.
For Clint Vondrak, who went to school in Carson City and is currently umpiring Triple A baseball on the East Coast, Pitts was one of his first mentors. When Vondrak umpired his first Major League game last summer, Pitts was on his mind.
“He is such a kind and loving man and one of my favorite fishing buddies,” Vondrak recalled. “I worked some of my first baseball games ever for him after a crash course on umpiring by the legend himself. Last year, I was fortunate enough to work in the big leagues for the first time and I can’t help but think where I’d be without Richard Pitts.”