October 25, 2014

Waupaca’s Tomlinson chases umpiring dream (Video)

I’ve known Nathan (Nate) Tomlinson his entire life.  The 22-year old grew up in Waupaca where I started my radio career.  I was fortunate

Nate Tomlinson works home plate

Nate Tomlinson works home plate

enough to meet his parents (Jack & Denise) before Nate was born.  Jack (father) Tomlinson did some radio work with me at WDUX in Waupaca and Denise (mother) is a teacher and basketball coach at the high school.  Such friends we became that I asked Jack to be the best man in my wedding.

While our busy schedules with children haven’t allowed us to spend as much time together as we would like, it certainly hasn’t changed my admiration for the Tomlinson family.

Nate is the oldest of three Tomlinson children (Nicholas & Mandy).  I remember trying to change my first diaper when Nate was little.  At age 22, Nate isn’t so little any more (about 6’5).  But as Nate grew up, he was involved in many things.  He and his siblings shared a strength in academics and a desire to play sports.

Baseball was always a favorite for Nate.  When he wasn’t playing baseball, he would umpire as a summer job.  It was late in his high school years that Nate started thinking about taking up umpiring as more than just a part-time job.

When it came time to make a decision, Nate sought his parents input.  Jack and Denise didn’t squash his dream either.  Both parents have education backgrounds, yet they kept an open mind in this decision.  Nate said, “My mom and dad both said you can always go to school.  If you want to give umpiring a shot, go for it.”

So that’s what Nate did.  At the age of 19, he enrolled in the Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring.  There, Tomlinson would spend five weeks, 6 days a week, 8 to 10 hours a day, learning how to be a professional baseball umpire.  Learning the proper mechanics, positioning, and   the rule book from cover to cover.  Umpires learn on field execution and handling any number of situations that could come their way at any time.  Not everyone makes it.  In fact, only the top 20% of those umpiring hopefuls, actually graduate.  Nate Tomlinson was among the 20%.

The next step is a Minor League Baseball umpire evaluation camp.  It’s 12-days in March in which Minor League Baseball puts the umpiring hopefuls on the field and watches them closely in action.  It’s there that they decide if you’re good enough to be a Minor League Baseball umpire.

At 20-years of age, Nate Tomlinson was deemed good enough to make that next step.  He started in the Arizona rookie league, working from June to Labor Day, making $1900 a month with a $30 a day per diem, plus gas mileage.  You’re not getting rich, but it’s more than most college kids would make while home for the summer trying to save for college.

Things went well for Nate that first summer.  Well enough that his next assignment would be to work the Northwest League.  That means a slight bump in pay ($2000 a month) and the opportunity to chase his dream in the likes of Idaho, Oregon, Washington and even up to beautiful Vancouver.  Nate loves the outdoors and it’s beauty, so touring the upper Northwest was a big attraction.

Again, the summer of 2012 went well and Nate made the jump to the Class A Midwest League this season.  Again, a small bump in pay to $2100 a month (roughly $12,000 from spring to seasons end) with a $35 daily per diem.  Thanks to the new contract reached with Major League Baseball and its umpires, minor league umpires no longer need to drive their cars around the country and stacking up the mileage.  Now, they get a company car and a company gas card, avoiding the wear and tear on their own vehicles.

There’s other perks that come with the job.  Umpires get some of their meals from the clubs.  When teams feed the players after games, they include the umpires.  And some organizations have deals set up at area golf courses, which means Nate, and his umpiring partner Clint Vondrac (Reno, Nevada) get to play some free golf a couple of times a week.

As a minor league umpire, there’s no vacation time.  You work when the players play.  That usually means 14 to 18 straight nights before an off day.  Tomlinson isn’t complaining though.  He’s doing what he loves to do.

This past weekend was a rare treat for Nate and his family.  Tomlinson was in Appleton to work a 4-game series for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers at Fox Cities Stadium.  Naturally, the ballpark saw an increase in attendance with Jack and Denise and all of their friends that set up their tailgate party outside and then came to watch.  And with Waupaca being just over a half hour away, Nate was able to get home for a little home cooking and a nice visit.

Tomlinson said the track to the Major Leagues for an umpire is longer than a players path to the majors.  It takes umpires 8 to 10 years to make that journey and most won’t make it.  If things go well for Nate this summer, his likely next step would be either the Florida or Carolina League.

With each step along the way, the umpires are critiqued.  The same supervisors that start that process follow the umpires all the way up to Triple-A.  If an umpire is fortunate to make it that far, then Major League Baseball takes over the judging process.

Nate told me Double-A is the spot to get level a young umpire wants to get to.  That level gives you an idea that you have a real chance.

I asked Tomlinson Major League Baseball is looking for in umpires.  He said, “Major League Baseball is looking for any number of things, such as how you handle yourself in situations, how you handle confrontations with managers, as well as what you look like.  You’re representing Major League Baseball and your face will be on camera every night.  It’s all a part of the big product and you have to cast yourself in such a way that Major League Baseball feels you can help enhance that product.”

When Nate isn’t umpiring baseball, he coaches the Junior Varsity Basketball team at Waupaca High School, but even more importantly, he attends UW-Stevens Point and is working towards a broad field Social Sciences Major.  That would set him up to become a teacher in history, social studies and government.

Nate has always been the mature and responsible young man.  That trend continues today, at age 22.  Nathan has paid his way through college and while he has a few more semesters to go, his goal is to be debt free after he graduates.  I think there’s an enormous likelihood that will happen and I know his parents and friends couldn’t be more proud.

By the way, starting pay for a Major League Baseball umpire is in the ball park of $150,000.  The good ones who stick around and work all-star and playoff games make significantly more.

His parent’s advice from the start was, you can always go to school.  Nate Tomlinson used that support to chase his dream and go to school at the same time.

I hope Nate makes it.  It would make me proud to know that I watched him grow up from an infant to a mature adult, doing things the right way and being rewarded.  But if umpiring doesn’t take him all the way to the majors one day, I know that Nate Tomlinson’s star will be shining at what ever he decides to do and those around him will grow to appreciate what he is all about.