Correction to This Article
The essay about Jay Youngquist, one of eight people who died in 2010 who were profiled, misstated the name of the Reston firm for which he worked in the early 1980s. It was Wyatt Co., not Watson Co. Since early 2010, the company has been known as Towers Watson.
Lives Remembered

Jay Youngquist (1947-2010): As he ran the bases of his life, the game was always there

Jay Youngquist pitches at the University of Minnesota, circa 1968 or 1969.
Jay Youngquist pitches at the University of Minnesota, circa 1968 or 1969. (Courtesy Kathryn Youngquist)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 26, 2010

When Reston resident Jay Youngquist retired from his job as a senior manager at benefits consulting firm Watson Wyatt, he went to Florida -- not to check out real estate or take a cruise, but to take a grinding five-week course in becoming a professional baseball umpire.

Most of the students were in their 20s, equipped with the young knees required to endure a doubleheader while crouching over home plate. Youngquist was in his late 50s. He knew he was too old for the big leagues, but he had an incurable affection for baseball. Umpiring was a way back into the game. And he was good at it.

"Had he started 15 or 20 years earlier, Jay could have easily been in the majors," said John Porter, who assigns umpires to college games across the mid-Atlantic.

After finishing the course in Florida, Youngquist rose quickly through the umpire ranks, from Little League to high school and college games. He had a natural eye for discerning balls from strikes. He had an uncommon ability to stay cool when coaches screamed at him. And he had drive, working six days a week during the height of the season.

"He had something in him that said, 'I need to do this, and I need to do it well,'" Porter said.

Youngquist had been that way since he was young. His trademark was intensity in every facet of life -- as a business executive and a father, a church volunteer and a small-plane pilot. And particularly as a baseball player.

He taught himself to pitch when he was a kid, starting with a whiffle ball and using his home in South Minneapolis as a backstop. By the time he graduated to a baseball, he'd spent so many hours in the yard that he'd worn a bald spot in the lawn.

He wasn't big or particularly powerful. But he hated to lose, and he had a wicked curveball.

"He could really make that ball bend," said his younger brother, Chuck, who played catcher.

Youngquist might have made it in professional baseball. He was a starting pitcher in the late 1960s for the University of Minnesota, a national powerhouse ranked No. 1 during his junior year.

But then he hurt himself shagging fly balls during practice, and by his senior year, he had lost his starting slot.

In 1969 -- the same year one of his teammates was drafted by the Boston Red Sox -- Youngquist graduated from college with a degree in math. He put his signature intensity to work crafting a life outside the diamond.

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