How time flies.
It seemed like only yesterday that Clint Vondrak embarked on his professional umpiring career.
The 28-year-old Vondrak, a Carson High and University of Nevada graduate, just finished his sixth season in the professional ranks and his first at the Triple-A level. He started the season in Double-A, but was promoted five days after the season started.
“It went well,” said Vondrak, who’s awaiting his end-of-the-year evaluation. “It was nice flying around (to games) and not having to drive everywhere. The Pacific Coast League is the only league that flies. You have to be able to get from Tacoma to New Orleans or Nashville. It would be tough to drive that.
“Unfortunately, I only got to work one series in Reno, but my folks went to watch me in Sacramento and Fresno.”
You could say Vondrak is on the fast track. He’s one step away from realizing his dream of being a Major League umpire. He has soared up the ranks and has garnered several mid-year and post-season assignments.
He worked the Southern League All-Star game during the 2015 season and then worked the first round of the playoffs later that season. He worked two rounds of playoffs when he worked in the California League. He also worked championship rounds in the Midwest League and the Pioneer League.
The CHS grad knows, however, the next step is the biggest. He also knows it won’t come right away.
“The farther you move up the ladder the less jobs there are and there is a logjam,” Vondrak said. “Guys get into the majors and they don’t leave (for a long time). The goal is to get invited to Fall League (and spring training) and get a number and get on the call-up list. If you don’t get a fall league or spring training the writing is on the wall.
“Ninety-nine percent of the guys don’t get a job. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think I had a shot. I’m going to work hard and hopefully get called up. You never know (what’s going to happen). I like the way they do things now. They don’t tease you (and string you along).”
Vondrak said no first-year umpires were given fall assignments.
There were several young umpires called up in the last two years, so the logjam might be lengthier than normal. According to Vondrak, umpires are kept if the higher-ups believe they will eventually move up to MLB.
Vondrak got a taste of the big time during spring training when he worked the plate during a Colorado Rockies game.
“It was awesome,” he said. “Definitely a cool experience. It went well.”
Vondrak’s rise didn’t surprise Mike Evans, who assigns high school baseball in Northern Nevada and works a healthy schedule of junior college baseball. Vondrak has been working high school baseball and basketball ever since he got out of high school.
“He has some great qualities,” Evans said. “He has unbelievable humility. He is always working to make himself better. He has a great sense of confidence. He is very mature, and he has moxie that 40-year-olds have.
“Typically when coaches see a young kid they don’t give him a lot of respect. Right away he got respect.”
Another thing that’s working in Vondrak’s favor is at 6-foot-4 he’s one of the tallest umpires in professional baseball. He’s taller than most umpires currently on the Major League roster.
“He is tall and looks athletic,” Evans said. “The last 10 years, baseball is going after taller umpires.”
In the course of an argument, players and coaches are going to be looking up to Vondrak not the other way around. There’s no getting around it.
Presence means a lot on the baseball diamond, and Vondrak has that. He’s calm, yet decisive. And, he’s approachable. That goes a long way.