Softball and baseball’s favorite newspaper since 1987


Safe at home: Tim Tschida

  

By Gordy Jones

 

Part 1

I have always loved watching a major-league baseball game when a native Minnesotan is playing. Not too long ago, I loved watching Dave Winfield, Jack Morris, Paul Molitor, and Kent Hrbek do their stuff — and I currently love watching Joe Mauer make his magic on the field. Call me a hopeless homer, but I even like watching native-son umpires do their work. It was cool having the very first regular-season game at Target Field officiated by three Minnesota guys. They were Mark Wegner, Jeff Nelson, and Tim Tschida.

The first week of July, Jeff Nelson and Tim Tschida returned to Minnesota to work a four-game series at Target Field. I had the opportunity to visit with my friend Tim Tschida before a game, in the umpires’ lounge at Target Field.

Tim grew up in St. Paul and played baseball all the way through junior-varsity at Cretin. He also played hockey on the rinks of St. Paul, but baseball was his love. He is the youngest of six children, and on many summer evenings, they were all playing ball games somewhere around town, as did Tim’s dad. Tim was a self-described “playground rat” for most of his youth. He said that while hanging around the playground, his umpiring days began unexpectedly one afternoon when an umpire was a no-show. He explained to me: “That’s how most umps get their start. Usually they’re forced into it.” He continued: “That’s literally the first game I ever umpired. A guy didn’t show up. It was 4 o’clock and I was at Edgcumb in St. Paul. I was in the eighth grade. It was near game time and an umpire hadn’t shown up yet.” A couple of park and recreation directors approached Tim and persuaded him to take the job. He did a little negotiating and received a few perks for the task, including couple of cans of pop and a Nook burger. “That was the beginning of my career,” he told me.

Tim said that from day one, people are either really drawn to umpiring, or they run from it. He continued to explain: “The first games you are involved with usually involve people that you know. People that you know are clinging to the backstop, and they’re yelling at you. They’re not nicely saying: ‘C’mon Tim!’ They’re yelling at you! They don’t care who you are. It’s an interesting challenge, not something you can anticipate. The job itself can be very attractive. But to be really good at this is tough. It’s a challenge. I would never be so arrogant to say that umpiring is tougher than playing, though. It’s not. But, umpiring has its own specific levels of challenges that many great players could not meet. I can’t play as well as those guys can play, but they can’t umpire as well as I can, either. It’s something to be proud of!”

I asked Tim what the long road to the majors is like. “It’s tough. I wouldn’t trade jobs with anyone, but there are times I’m not sure I’d recommend umpiring to anyone, either. It’s unique. When you pursue it, there are no guarantees. It’s not like when students commit to law school, or medical school. They study and pass all of their tests, and then they suddenly become lawyers or doctors. You can hang around baseball umpiring in the minors for a long time, and one day they might come and tell you: ‘I’m sorry, but you’re not what we’re looking for at the major-league level.’ There’s not much of a resume’ there. You pack and go home, apply with a company, and you tell them you’ve been a minor-league umpire for 14 years. It’s an accomplishment, but it’s not going to pay the bills, either.”

All professional umpires have grueling travel schedules, but their near constant travels do afford major-league umpires certain luxuries – including the chance to try the greatest eateries in the country. From diners to lavish steakhouses, most umpires could write a book about the great American restaurants. They are away from their families for so long, they frequently dine with one another over a steak, and they grow a tight bond.

But Tim says that one of his favorite restaurants in the country is in St. Paul, and owned by family friends, and operated by one of his closest friends, Pat Mancini. It is Mancini’s Char House on West Seventh Street. “Yeah, Pat and I went to Cretin together,” he said. They also shared a couple of years at St. Thomas, until Tschida left for umpiring school. For years, Tschida tried to persuade Pat to visit him in Fort Myers during spring training. Tim has a home there, and he umpires many of the Twins and Red Sox exhibition games. Pat had always declined the offer until a couple of years ago, and now he’s hooked. This year, Pat was bugging Tim to set up a trip for him. Tschida received a call from a mutual friend explaining that several hundred people were going to be at a surprise 50th-birthday party for Mancini the week he was insisting that he visit Tim. Tim had to fib, and tell his pal he wasn’t going to be around. Tim is a stand-up guy, and although he did it, it was tough for him to twist the truth. On and off the field, you see, Tim calls ‘em like he sees ‘em!

 

Part 2

When I talked with St. Paul native and crew-chief umpire Tim Tschida during his recent visit to Target Field, I asked him about his thoughts on replays and reviews. He gave me a long, thoughtful answer: “You know, replays are an interesting topic. There is part of you, as an umpire, that would like to see professional sports maintain its purest form. It’s hard to convince the public these days, but umpiring in the major leagues is better today than it’s ever been. What has increased is the coverage. There are 15 games a night. Each night, some play, somewhere, in some game is going to be errored by an official. When you look at ‘SportsCenter’ at the end of the night, you’ll see it. They’ll show it and show it, over and over again. And then the next night, there will be another error somewhere. By the end of the week, if you’ve watched ‘SportsCenter’ every night, you’ve seen seven umpires’ errors. It’s really an unfair presentation; our accuracy level is extremely high.”

“Unfortunately, the only thing that gets covered about umpires is our mistakes. We can live with that…I’m not crying the blues over that. I knew that when I signed up. We don’t get curtain calls. We don’t get highlights. There’s a “web gem” (highlight of a great play) every night. Somewhere an umpire had to react properly, and had to get himself in position and also make the correct call, to help make that play a “web gem”.”

“There is no standing curtain call for that guy. In fact it’s expected. And again, we know that. But the biggest obstacle we encounter right now is bad publicity. We don’t want to have to come out and have to defend ourselves every night. But there’s high definition, more angles, and more coverage. When we were kids and we watched a Twins game, the radio and TV guys were splitting time, running back and forth. And at the end of the game, Joe Boyle and Frank Buetel had a 10-minute wrap-up show. Look at a Twins local telecast now. How many people do they have working there? How many different guys with microphones do they have — just the microphone guys? Now the production! The pregame show…how long is that? Then the postgame show…how long is that? Look how sophisticated it is. Now, if you have a controversial situation during the game that night, it’s going to be played. It will also be on the MLB network, it’s going to be on ESPN, it’s going to be on CNN — it’s the instant-information age that we live in today. The best way to describe it: Jimmy Joyce was crucified in Detroit before he even got off of the field. The word was spread throughout the world. An error had been committed by an umpire — an error had caused a player to lose a perfect game.”

“The uniformed personnel in the game really do understand the level of difficulty of our job. I was kind of surprised, but they are overwhelmingly opposed to the expanded use of replay.”

“My personal opinion on it is…it’s more of a security issue to me than anything else. When you’re an umpire or referee and have a call like that, you have a family at home. Your kids are going to school while dad’s getting hammered and raked over the coals about something that happened at work the night before. Not everybody’s parents are faced with that. I’ve had death threats against me before, too. You never know how to take these things – do you take them seriously or not? Right now, there is so much electronic technology out there that everyone else has exposure to, it’s kind of an empty feeling to be out there on the field in the fourth inning, knowing you missed a play in the third inning, and you’re on the hook until the game’s over. It’s the same feeling a shortstop has when he didn’t turn the double-play, and now he’s sitting out there hoping that guy doesn’t score. We feel the same way. When Jimmy Joyce bared it all to everyone in that interview, I can assure you, that’s how we all feel every time we miss one. We are harder on ourselves than anyone else could ever be.”

I asked Tim his thoughts on Target Field. “It’s a really beautiful place that’s going to be here for a long, long, time. They did a really good job. I’m a little bit proud that they consulted me for the design of the umpires’ dressing room, and they actually listened. I have Billy Smith and Dave St. Peter to thank for that. They listened to our recommendations to what we needed, and then they accommodated us.”

He spoke highly of fellow St. Paulite and Cretin alumnus, Joe Mauer and his family. We talked of the Mauer family’s commercials, Bill’s Chevy dealership, and their overall success. Tim said: “Yeah, its fun to see. I coached with Jake, and also umpired some of his games. The first time I saw Joe play, I umpired behind him.”

It was Tschida who recommended Ron Shapiro to the Mauers as an agent for Joe. The Mauers were overwhelmed by scouts and potential agents. Tim told them to contact Ron, because in the “agent” world, he’s a breath of fresh air. The rest is history. Who knows…if it weren’t for Tim, Joe might not be a Twin today.

 

Fans! If you have any Twins related questions, email Gordy at gejones1@aol.com

 

Check out Gordy’s book at http://www.baseballguy.org. Gordy can be reached at gejones1@aol.com.