Little League District 6 umpire Jaimie Erskine of Cape Elizabeth with the rest of the umpire crew on July 15 in Westbrook. Courtesy Grace Erskine

CAPE ELIZABETH — Jaimie Erskine has been volunteering as an umpire for Maine District 6 Little League for nearly 20 years.

This year he returned to the field as one of the first umpires approved to officiate from a wheelchair.

Players applaud after umpire Jaimie Erskine threw the ceremonial first pitch July 15 at the Little League District 6 11/12 Championship in Westbrook. Courtesy Grace Erskine

In August 2015, Erskine, now 51, was diagnosed with polyarteritis nodosa, or PAN, a rare disease that robs the major organs of oxygen and blood supply. Erskine lost movement in his legs and now must use a wheelchair to get around.

“When I was no longer able to umpire, I was devastated,” Erskine said last week. “I love doing it.”

“We’ve been through a lot,” Belinda Erskine, Jaimie’s wife, added. “He almost died four times. There’s a lot of stuff that comes with the disease.”

But this season, Erskine was back on the field.

In May, Erskine received approval from Little League International to umpire at first base in foul territory in his wheelchair.

“We’re trying to get the point across to everybody that just because you have a disability doesn’t mean that it’s a life sentence,” Erskine said. “You can do anything if you put your mind to it.”

Bill Finley, District 6 administrator and former district umpire-in-chief, reached out to Little League International for permission for Erskine to umpire. It was a surprise to Erskine.

“I got this letter in the mail from Little League International saying that I was approved to umpire,” Erskine said. “I was like, ‘What the heck is this? I hadn’t heard.’”

In June, Erskine umpired his first game in several years.

“I was bouncing off the walls just to even think that I could get out there for a game,” he said. “Baseball has been part of my life forever.”

Erskine recounted a bed frame from his childhood home that his parents made. “The headboard and footboard are all made out of broken bats from various Boston Red Sox – Rick Burleson, Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk, Rich Gedman, Dwight Evans. It’s part of my family’s history.”

Eventually, Erskine began renting a specially equipped van to travel to games – at a cost of almost $250 per weekend.

But the District 6 Little League staff came to the rescue. They created a GoFundMe page to raise money to purchase a wheelchair-accessible van for Erskine. In less than a month the page has raised more than $7,500 of its $40,000 goal from more than 70 donors.

Jaimie and Belinda Erskine at home in Cape Elizabeth. Jenny Ibsen / For The Forecaster

One of the co-founders of the GoFundMe page is Portland attorney Stephen Schwartz, who is also a District 6 umpire. When they met in 2010, Schwartz was new to the Little League world and Erskine had been umpiring for several years.

“He was a mentor to me,” Schwartz said. “We really just all felt that Jaimie needs to get mobile. He’s got a very serious disease and has had to give up his career.”

The $40,000 goal will cover the purchase of the van for Erskine, along with insurance, according to Schwartz.

“We’re grateful for any support of the community,” Schwartz said. “Jaimie has been a tireless volunteer for the youth of our community for over two decades. He is in need and we would like to help. We hope others would feel the same way.”

Mike Ames, information officer for District 6, said helping to create the GoFundMe campaign was “the least I could do. This is a great opportunity for parents and coaches to show how much they do appreciate what the umpires do.”

Purchasing a van for Jaimie is a crucial step for Erskine to continue umpiring in games, while at home he relies on help from his wife, their three children, and his daily caretaker.

“(Jaimie) was always present in all the kids’ stuff, sports, performances, concerts,” Belinda Erskine said. “But in the last three years he hasn’t been able to go. We’re working on getting him back on his feet.”

After months of physical therapy, Erskine is now able to move his legs, and he and his family remain hopeful for future recovery.

“I am ecstatic that I am able to get back on the field,” Erskine said. “I can’t thank Bill (Finley) and Steve (Schwartz) enough for doing what they’ve done to get me back on the field. … All of the sudden everything changed.”

Erskine’s daughter, Grace, who is in high school, has also shown interest in umpiring during future seasons.

“If we are able to raise enough money from the van, I’ll be able to go to the umpire clinic and take my daughter so that she can learn the rules and ask questions,” Erskine said.

On July 15, Erskine threw the first pitch for the Little League Baseball 11/12 championship game at the Westbrook Little League complex, which drew a close to Erskine’s 2019 season.

“I had one little boy say, ‘You know I really think it’s cool that you’re out here in a wheelchair because it’s showing everybody that disabilities don’t matter,’” Erskine said. “I was like, ‘That’s absolutely right. They don’t. If you’re able to do it, do it.”