Too often we are consumed with seeing how players move up the ranks in college and professional sports that we forget about the other sides involved.
Coaches go through similar growing pains, as do those wanting to pursue the front office option. Unpaid internships, long hours every day and living paycheck to paycheck aren’t uncommon when you’re out in the field trying to pursue that dream job. Whether it’s becoming the next John Wooden and winning many championships or going the sports agent route and wanting to get your client the highest deal in the game, you have to start at ground level and work your way up.
Officiating sports is no different.
Two local baseball umpires who began working Little League games for free before joining the high school umpire chapter are in the minor leagues this season after both were promoted during the offseason. Carson grad Nate White has been in the system since 2010 and after working the Venezuelan league last winter, he was promoted to Triple-A and had made two stops in Reno this season. Fellow Carson grad Clint Vondrak is now working Double-A after attending pro school a couple years ago.
Make no mistake, but you’re about to see not just one, but two umpires from Northern Nevada working the Major Leagues in a few years.
And it’s a credit to not only Carson’s Little League program and the high school chapter, but a pair of Carson residents who lived and breathed America’s favorite pastime.
“Everybody who was a member of that chapter who got to work with these young guys, lugging them up, loves to say you had a part in it,” said Don Marchand, who works for ESPN radio in Reno and has umpired high school baseball since 1980. “Bruce and Harry were part of the board at the time so there was a lot of influence there for those guys and because they all came from the same area, they probably saw Nate probably more than anybody and helped him along more than anybody.”
Harry Burchfield and Bruce Jackson, who retired from umpiring last decade, were involved with umpire development in Carson and even during the high school season as both served on the board. They helped White and Vondrak, as well as many in the area, including Fallon.
Nearly every February or March before the Cal Ripken season, Jackson would travel to Fallon and hold a rules clinic for anyone who wanted to understand the game better. It wasn’t just for umpires but for coaches and anyone who had a passion and thirst of knowledge for baseball.
During the spring, Jackson, who was the state umpire consultant for Babe Ruth, held annual umpire field clinics at the old Don Mello complex in Sparks. Burchfield was with him, as were several of the area’s most experienced umpires.
That same instruction and guidance are also found with the Northern Nevada Baseball Umpires Association, which is overseen by Chris Healy and a board of experienced umpires, some who do college every year in addition to their high school duties.
Healy has always had the mindset that if you’re good enough to umpire varsity games, then there’s nothing to stop you. Unlike other associations where you tend to see requirements must be met, like be in the group for three years before you can do low-level varsity games. Healy is proud that the baseball chapter can offer one of the first steps to beginning a professional, or collegiate, officiating career.
“We have a chance with those guys,” Healy said of the Carson pair reaching The Show. “Being a young umpire with talent, you get your chance to umpire the best we have to offer and what you’re capable of doing. There are no artificial barriers here. That’s what I’m most proud of. We don’t do that.”
Whether you’re starting your umpire career with Cal Ripken or Little League games, help is available because the local umpire organizations want to see you succeed. And while most are not cut out to umpire Pac-12 baseball or work up the ladder in Major League Baseball, Burchfield and Jackson helped a pair of Carson umpires get a head start. The high school chapter provided an opportunity to see quality baseball as several members helped prepare White and Vondrak for the next leg of the journey.
And for the first time in the high school chapter, an umpire has made it to the Triple-A level with White being assigned to the Pacific Coast League this season. But both White and Vondrak have a shot to reach the highest platform thanks to their strong upbringing from Carson’s Burchfield and Jackson and the mentorship from Healy and his umpires.
Thomas Ranson can be contacted at email@example.com.