It can take eight to ten years for an aspiring professional umpire to make it to the big leagues. So things are right on time for 29-year-old Waupaca, Wisconsin native Nathan (Nate) Tomlinson.
After graduating from Waupaca High School in 2009, Tomlinson went right to professional umpires school in Florida. That is when the long grind of trying to make it to the big leagues started.
Fast forward a decade and Tomlinson will make his Major League debut on Friday night. He is scheduled to work the entire three-game series between the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington, TX.
“It’s obviously an honor and a privilege,” said Tomlinson. “It’s something that I’ve worked toward for the last, this is my tenth season, so it sort of feels like it’s all become worth it now. Not that it wasn’t before, but this is sort of a little cherry on top. Now the goal I guess is to stick, to stay.”
Tomlinson’s first assignment after umpiring school came in the Northwoods League, a summer collegiate wood bat league that has a number of teams based in Wisconsin. From there, he went to rookie league ball, followed by a stint in
the Midwest League. In all, Tomlinson’s journey, all the way to Triple (A) meant spending time in eight different leagues for the last nine years.
This year, Tomlinson has been working the Texas Rangers alternate training site in Arlington.
Tomlinson has never given up, despite the sacrifices he’s had to make along the way.
“You know it’s not just me out here. I lived at home quite a while during my Minor League career during the off-season. A lot of it was financial support to get through those early years. It made it a little easier on me, not having to worry so much about money and living situations and stuff like that. It was always about baseball, and it still is.
“You sacrifice a lot to be an umpire. You miss birthdays, graduations and grandma and grandpa’s 50th anniversary and all of the things where the rest of your family is getting together. We go (on a family fishing trip) to Canada every year in late July or early August. I haven’t been to Canada in 10 years. So now, hopefully this becomes, you know if I can stick around, maybe this becomes our family thing, going to baseball games and traveling.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic, Tomlinson’s day includes going the ball park for work, undergoing COVID testing under MLB’s protocols, then back to the hotel for a meal, rest and do it all over again the next day.
“If you are sick, you can’t work,” said Tomlinson. “So the plan is to stay safe and be ready when the phone rings.”
The unfortunate part of Nate’s promotion is that his parents, Jack and Denise, won’t be able to be there to watch their oldest son work the biggest games of his professional life. Normally, they would jump on a plane and be there to take it in.
“Yes, for sure…that is certainly unfortunate. It’s supposed to be a fun thing with family and friends and all that kind of stuff and unfortunately you can’t really do that. Even if they did come down here, I can’t really be around them, unless they are tested to the standards that we are. But that’s just the way it is and everybody just has to kind of roll with it.”
There’s been a lot of exciting highlights along the way for Tomlinson. Prior to making the jump to Triple (A), he was assigned home plate in the 2017 All-Star Futures game at Marlins Park in Miami.
Tomlinson made the call to his parents on Monday evening, informing them of his promotion. He said they were both thrilled and excited and even his mom (Denise) shed a few tears.
Between now and then, Jack said he’s scrambling to find out how he can dial up the Rangers games for the weekend series. His son is in the big show and mom and dad couldn’t be more proud.
AUDIO: Nate Tomlinson on making his Major League Umpiring debut this weekend :19
AUDIO: Nate Tomlinson is asked if nerves will come into play :23