Getting the call: White moved up to high-A
Nate White’s dream is to umpire in Major League Baseball, and right now he is ahead of schedule.
White, a Carson High graduate, recently got promoted from the Midwest League, considered a low-A league, to the Florida State League, one of two high-A leagues in professional baseball.
Not bad for a guy who’s been in professional baseball less than three full seasons.
“It’s been extremely fast, let’s put it that way,” White said last week as he prepared to work a game in Dunedin, Fla. “I’ve been in parts of three years and I have a chance to go to Double A next year.
“There are four levels, and to be on pace I would be in high-A next year. To be at high-A now, it’s good, definitely. It means I’m on the right track.”
His rise was not unexpected, according to a couple of local umpires who have worked with him.
“I’m not surprised at all,” said Harry Burchfield, who mentored White in his early years as an umpire. “In my personal opinion, they are fast-tracking him. It seems to me he’s doing everything right. I think he’s doing a good job.”
Gary Nichols came to Nevada about five or six years ago, and White was one of the first guys he ever worked with.
“The last time I worked with Nate was three years ago, and he hadn’t gone to pro school yet,” Nichols said. “I thought he was quiet, thought he was pretty good. He didn’t let a lot bother him.
“He had a lot of stamina and poise. I always thought he was going to do a little better (than other guys in the area). You always have a feeling when you’ve worked with a guy.”
The mid-season promotion meant that White had fared well in the mid-season evaluations. In fact, White was second on the promotion list. He and the No. 1 guy are now both in new jobs.
“I have a ton of work (to do),” White said when asked about his evaluation. “They give you information to make you better. They don’t throw everything at you at once. They give you a little bit at a time.”
Normally an umpire learns that he’s been promoted from the president of the league he is working in. Not so with White.
“I heard the news from another guy (umpire),” White said. “I was in Lansing (Michigan) and I get a call from one of my buddies congratulating me on my promotion. When I was kind of silent, he said, ‘Oops, I thought you knew.’
“The next day, the league president called to let me know. I’ve put a lot of hard work on and off the field.”
The only negative about the promotion is that White had done so well that he had been picked to work home plate in the Midwest League All-Star game. He was promoted two days before the game, and thus missed the chance to work it.
“That was a bummer,” White said.
White loves his new assignment. He said it’s better baseball and the travel schedule is much less strenuous.
The Midwest League was a 16-team league in seven states, and White said the average drive was six hours. The longest drive in the FSL is three hours.
Three teams – the Tampa Yankees, the Clearwater Phillies and the Dunedin Blue Jays – are within 10-15 minutes of each other, so if the schedule works out, an umpiring crew can spend a whole week in the same place, which is real rarity in umpiring.
“You actually get to unpack and relax a little bit,” White said.
White said the biggest difference between the MWL and the FSL is defense.
“They track the ball a lot better here,” White said. “They get to some balls here (in Florida) that I didn’t think they could. Here is where you start to see top-10 plays on Sports Center. Every night you see a Derek Jeter-type play.
“The pitching here is a little more consistent and the defense is a lot better. You see guys throw 96 or 97 (mph). They have great location and off-speed.”
Go to any Single-A game and you routinely see pitchers throwing in the low- to mid-90s. The secret is movement and location, and as pitchers climb higher in the farm system, those two things should get better and better.
So what’s ahead for White? Much will depend on his end-of-the-season evaluation.
“I could get promoted; I don’t know,” White said. “I try not to worry about promotions.”
White did say that he will put in for a transfer to the California League for next season. He said umpires often are assigned closer to the region where they live. It would give friends and family an opportunity to watch him work in San Jose, Stockton and Modesto.
“The Florida State league is great, the travel is great and the league president is great,” White said. “The ball is pretty good, too.”
Translation: White is happy where he is, but being closer to home and having a chance to see a friendly face once in a while would certainly make things easier.
White did say the next step would be the most critical.
“Double-A is make or break,” he said. “It’s where they decide if you have the ability to be a Major League umpire.”
Things also change in the Double-A. That’s when umpires start working in three-man crews.
“You have rotations that you have to learn,” White said. “In two-man, they teach you to get to the best spot to make a call.”
White is in a pretty good spot now, and with a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work, he’ll keep moving up the ladder.