Carson City ump chasing big-league dreams
Like many other red-blooded male, Nate White grew up playing baseball. He liked the game, but that’s not where his passion was.
His true love was umpiring. It burned in his belly constantly. When he was 13, he was umpiring local Little League games, and a year later started working Babe Ruth Prep Division games. At 16, he worked the 14-15-year-old division of Babe Ruth.
And for his senior project, he wrote about what it took to become a high school umpire, and got involved in high school umpiring with the help of Harry Burchfield and Bruce Jackson, two veteran umpires from Carson City.
“He (Burchfield) was huge,” White said. “He and Bruce got me going. They were always around to give me advice.”
White has risen quickly through the high school and junior college ranks, and after attending the Jim Evans Umpiring Academy during the winter, he landed a job in the Coastal Plain League, a wood-bat collegiate league on the East Coast which draws many of the top players from East Coast schools. It may be the second-best wood bat league in the country behind the prestigious Cape Cod League.
Burchfield shrugs off White’s compliments, but he is like a proud papa. Burchfield equates watching White move up the ladder to watching one of your own children graduate college and get on with their life.
“All I did is light a fire under Nate,” Burchfield said. “He took it from there. His family has helped a lot; sending him to school. His dad officiates and so does his little brother.
“Nate had tremendous instincts, but he was a marginal player. He was a JV catcher and I think he saw the handwriting on the wall. He wasn’t going anywhere and that’s when he focused on umpiring.”
Chris Healy, the Nevada Interscholastic Athletics Association baseball commissioner, isn’t surprised at what White has accomplished in the six years he’s worked with him.
“I remember he did JV games that first year he worked for us,” Healy said. “He wasn’t the first high school kid to work games before he graduated. Bruce Jackson’s son (Brandon) did ball before he graduated. It’s a tribute to the nice little program they had in Carson.
“I really think Nate has a good chance to advance. What I like about him is that he doesn’t have a lot of ups and downs emotionally. He doesn’t seem to get too agitated. That’s the key to surviving a pro ball season. I like his steadiness. I hope they really take the time to observe him. They will see a lot of maturity for his age.”
“He has a very good attitude for the game,” Burchfield said. “He’s very cool. He’s a good people person. We used to call him ‘Silk’.
Umpiring is more than balls and strikes and safes and outs. It’s handling tough situations that set umpires apart from their peers.
White points to his time in the Golden Baseball League as a turning point. Even though he had some ups and downs, he learned a lot that helped him once he got to umpire’s school.
“It was hard. Baptism by fire,” White said. “It taught me game management and how to deal with professional athletes. By the end of the third year, I didn’t have problems dealing with professional athletes. It’s a learning process. Three years of adapting to that level of baseball got me to where I’m at now.”
THE GRIND OF UMPIRE SCHOOL
Going to one of the baseball umpiring schools (Jim Evans or Harry Wendelstedt) is like going through the PGA Qualifying School to get your Tour card. There are usually more than 120 guys (at each school) going for an undetermined amount of jobs. It’s a rigorous, highly mental and physical experience for five weeks. Only the strong survive.
And, if you are one of the chosen few, a second 10-day school (Professional Baseball Umpires Corp.) to determine whether you landed a job or are sent home with nothing.
“It’s a combination of physical and mental stress,” White said. “The first two weeks of camp there are a lot of drills. They set up situations and you run continuous drills.”
A typical day in camp starts around 7 a.m. with breakfast. At 8 a.m., the umpires endure four hours of classroom work. After lunch, it’s four to five hours of field work.
“It’s physically demanding,” White said. “You don’t get a break. You have to keep pushing through rolled ankles, etc.”
After dinner, it’s back to the dorm/apartment for relaxing and to the very serious, more studying. Not every umpire there is trying for a professional job. Some go just to become better umpires and to learn how to do things the right way.
“At the end of the day, you always wonder whether you have done enough,” White said.
White said he averaged 97 percent on the tests. He claims he was never a big rule book guy, but that changed once he started doing professional ball in the Golden Baseball League and when he knew he was going to Evans’ academy.
White said being at the academy with 120 other people was good because he could develop relationships, but he added that also made it difficult when graduation came.
“One of the hardest days was when I was told that I had graduated and would be going to PBUC,” White said. “I had built so many relationships with people, and to see their faces knowing they weren’t going with me. It was tough.”
Once White went to PBUC, his focus was on himself. He worked some games and went through some more classroom work with 53 other candidates.
“The games I had were not very good; they were unevenly matched,” White said. “There was never a situation that happened where I could stand out.”
There turned out to be just nine professional jobs, which was about 14 fewer than the previous year. White estimates he finished somewhere between 10 and 23, hence the offer to do the Coastal Plain League.
All told, of the 54 at PBUC, 30 went home on the reserve list without a job.
LIFE ON THE ROAD
White left Carson City last week and went through a couple of days of meetings before starting his season on Memorial Day weekend.
“I’m having a blast,” said White from his car where he was driving toward his next assignment in South Carolina. “We’ve done three games so far and everything has gone well. It’s a great league and it gives me a great opportunity to get better.
“The only difficult thing is that we’re traveling everyday. We are at a different site everyday. We have to travel up to four hours sometimes to get to our next assignment.”
White said that was done to save money. The league found it more economical to keep umpires traveling to a new place instead of keeping them in one place for three or four days or them having a home base. So it’s living out of a suitcase for three months, which is ideal for a single guy like White. Umpires stay in assigned hotels in every city and home teams provide meal vouchers for them.
Coastal Plain umpires make $1,500 a month, and when you consider you don’t have to pay for housing and very few meals, it’s not bad. The way of life has changed White’s perspective of umpiring.
“In the past, I’ve umpired to support myself, pay my bills,” he said. “Now, I don’t worry about the money. I’m just working my butt off, trying to get better and to get promoted.
“I’m concentrating on umpiring. There is nothing else to do. I know I’m going to get a plate every other day and that helps me get into a rhythm. In high school, you might get a three-game series and then be off four or five days.”
It will be a pressure-packed summer for White. While he may be having a blast, he’ll also be under the watchful eye of PBUC . If he wants a job in organized professional baseball next year, he’s got to impress the big brass.
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