All-Star umpire: Holcomb's Tichenor gets nod for MLB Summer Classic
By BRETT MARSHALL
By BRETT MARSHALL
It was Sunday, June 15. Father's Day 2014.
After a lengthy day of umpiring first base in Miami between the Marlins and the Pittsburgh Pirates, Todd Tichenor found himself sitting in Miami International Airport, waiting to catch a plane home late that night to spend a few hours with his wife, Kelly, and their three children — Kaden, 14; Kooper, 8; and Teagan, 2.
He was in the middle of a rigorous 42-day work schedule that provided only two days off.
Such is the life of Tichenor, who's now in the middle of his third season as a full-time Major League Baseball umpire, one of just 74 to have the good fortune to call balls and strikes, and to determine whether players are safe or out, or whether balls are fair or foul.
On this particular Father's Day night, Tichenor was sitting alone when his cell phone rang.
He looked at the caller I.D. and up came the name of Joe Torre.
Torre, a former standout catcher with the St. Louis Cardinals, and manager with the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers, is now the Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations for MLB.
"When Torre calls, you answer the phone," Tichenor said in a Thursday afternoon telephone interview. "It was a conversation I'll always remember."
Other than reuniting with his family, the call from Torre informing him that he had been selected as one of just six umpires to work the Tuesday MLB All-Star Game at Target Field in Minneapolis couldn't have provided a more uplifting moment.
"It was just great timing, sitting at the airport and then people wondering why I was jumping up and down," Tichenor said. "It's been a goal of mine, and it came sooner than I thought."
Tichenor plans to have his family, who reside in Holcomb, fly from Garden City to Dallas to Minneapolis and meet up with him on Sunday night. Tichenor himself will be flying to the Twin Cities from Tampa, Fla., where he will be completing a three-game weekend series between the Rays and Toronto Bluejays.
"I'm gone six and a half months out of the year for this and I want my family to have a great time at the All-Star game," Tichenor said. "I plan to have my boys take in everything so they can experience the entire event. And yet when it comes time on Tuesday, about 5 p.m., it will be time for me to go to work. I take this seriously, and yes it will be a fun experience, but the game itself will be one where you have to be focused."
Tichenor's assignment will be the left field foul line area as a member of the six-man crew, two more than is utilized during regular season games. He's not new, though, to a six-man crew, having worked minor league all-star games in the past.
"The biggest difference between the four and six-man crew is coverage," Tichenor said. "The long, deep fly balls are covered better, and you can do a better job on the fair/foul calls with the poles. The infield (umpires) guys don't have to worry about those calls and you can get into position quicker."
During the regular season, Tichenor is assigned to a regular four-man crew, consisting of chief Tim Welke (a 32-year veteran), Tim Timmons (16 years) and Bruce Dreckman. But Dreckman has been out on medical leave most of the season, thus the team utilizes a rotation of substitutes from Class Triple A, and for the last several weeks that has been Clint Fagan.
"We've got an amazing group, but I think that can be said for any of the crews," Tichenor said. "Everybody works hard in our business. We want to get it right, and we get it right almost all the time."
Tichenor said he did not know if there was a specific selection process for the All-Star game, but said umpires are continuously evaluated by supervisors and their bosses, like Torre.
"They have meetings weekly and review all of us," Tichenor said. "I'm sure there's a criteria for those who work, and I would guess they also try to pass it around. If I'm lucky, I would guess I might get to do a couple of these during my career."
Tichenor said the schedule would be fairly busy during the three days in Minneapolis, with a Monday morning check-in for the umpiring crew to get paper work, specific schedules and tickets for his family.
"I'm taking the boys to the Home Run Derby (Monday night), just because I want them to have a good time," Tichenor said. "We've got a Tuesday morning banquet for the teams, umpires, and guests."
He will get a few hours of down time early to mid-afternoon but by 5 p.m. it will be time to head to Target Field for the scheduled 7 o'clock game.
"We'll go over situations, the field and try to make sure we're all on the same page," Tichenor said. "We do this all the time."
The remaining five members of this year's umpiring crew consists of crew chief Gary Cederstrom (home plate), Jeff Nelson (first base), Bob Davidson (second base), Scott Barry (third base), and Vic Carapazza (right field).
"I've worked with all of them a ton through the years," Tichenor said. "All of them are most professional."
Cederstrom had been a member of the crew in 2003 when the two worked the Futures All-Star Game.
"It will be pretty neat to work this one with him, too," Tichenor said.
In a normal season, Tichenor and the other umpires work seven weeks straight and then get one week off. Included this year, however, was a seven-day stint in New York at MLB headquarters where he sat in a big room to handle the new instant replay challenges that are now afforded managers during games.
"I did that in late April," Tichenor said. "You sit in this big room with 10 large high definition televisions and you can see plays from every angle, use every slow motion possible. You've got everything you need to get the call right. It's changed our world."
Tichenor said he and his fellow umpires see the instant replay rule as a positive.
"We just wanna get it right," Tichenor said. "We strive to be 100 percent right and then improve!"
Tichenor said baseball, like many other sports, is one of angles.
"I can show you the same play, from different angles, and show you one time the ball looks fair and the next time it looks foul," Tichenor said. "But the ball has never moved. That's why it's important to get it right. It's so fast."
As part of a rigorous evaluation program, all MLB umpires receive a DVD of their most recent game. In it, there is an analysis of all the calls they've made at the three base positions as well as home plate.
"You look at it every day so you can see the calls that you may have missed," Tichenor said. "Every call gets tracked on this."
Tichenor said that first base is the busiest assignment of the three out in the field while home plate is a world all its own, with as many as 250-300 calls being made, with balls and strikes being the majority of those.
"It highlights every missed call on strikes," Tichenor said of the four infrared cameras that are utilized (2 for low calls, 2 for high calls). "So far when I've been on the bases, I've made about 1,500 calls and have just three missed ones."
Tichenor, now 37, spent 14 years going through the minor leagues and then working his way up to a substitute umpire where he filled in for regulars from 2008 to 2011 before joining the ranks of the full-time umpiring fraternity.
"It still feels the same, it's still exciting to go to the ballpark," Tichenor said. "Even on days when I feel like I'd like to be somewhere else, I remind myself that my worst day at work is at a baseball game. It's not a bad gig. It was a marathon to get here."
Tichenor said he credits his father, Fred, for developing a love for baseball. While also enjoying other sports and working as a football and basketball official for a number of years, too, it was baseball that was at the top of his list.
Tichenor likened baseball to a game of chess.
"There's a lot of strategy, it moves slowly, slower than the other sports but it's something to sit back and enjoy," Tichenor said.
When Tichenor and his crew take the steps from under the Target Field bleachers onto the playing surface Tuesday night, he will take a moment to know that his family will be watching, as will the rest of the baseball world.
"It's a thrill to be selected, and to have my family enjoy this special occasion," Tichenor said. "It's been a tough stretch lately, so I'm looking forward to the break."
Tichenor said he will get three days off following the All-Star break, meaning he will get to return home with his wife and three children for a much-welcomed down time.
"I get to go home, be a dad on those days, and that's the most precious thing for me," Tichenor said.
For a few hours on Tuesday night, though, Tichenor will have a birds-eye view of one of baseball's biggest showcase events.
Like the All-Star players selected to play in the game, Todd Tichenor can now consider himself an All-Star umpire.