BY MATT MENCARINI | STAFF WRITER
If you’re like me, when you think of minor league baseball you think of Crash Davis, Nuke LaLoosh and breaking curses with live chickens.
Minor league ball, despite its oddities, not only grooms the players of tomorrow, but also the umpires that will call them safe, out and undoubtedly throw them out of a couple games.
“The only difference is, you know, we don’t have someone driving us (to games),” said Hunter Wendelstedt, a 16-year Major League Umpire. “On each (minor league) crew there is a driver, using their own personal car.”
Just like players, umpires have aspirations of reaching the big leagues, the top of their professional pyramids. And just like players, they’re under constant scrutiny.
“There are supervisors that travel all around the country,” Wendelstedt said. “Sometimes you know (they’re at a game). Sometimes you don’t know.
“(But) by the time you get to Triple-A, almost all those games are on TV now, so you’re getting judged every night. There are evaluators who write up things. In the big leagues, we get judged every night by 21 high-definition cameras.”
Wendelstedt tells his friends and family if they ever see a clip of him in “SportsCenter,” turn the channel, because ESPN doesn’t lead with correct calls.
But it’s not just the media that’s critical of umpires.
“For some reason, players and managers, especially, even more than fans, sometimes, think that we just kind of pop up out of the ground,” said Brent Rice, a Double-A umpire. “(They think) that we don’t have families, like we’re these cyborgs that just kind of show up to do the game.”
Rice said players, managers and fans also think umpires are unathletic and don’t know the game. But he said almost all of the students and umpires at the Harry Wendelstedt Umpire School have played baseball at the high school or college level, and he said the school has even had former pros.
“It’s true, if I could have played professional baseball, I would’ve loved it,” Rice said. “Sure I would’ve loved to have done it. I can’t. But this is the best way to be a part of it.
“It doesn’t mean that I don’t know about it. And in fact, umpires oftentimes know more than managers and players because not only have we played it … but we have a perspective they don’t.”