August 16, 2009
By David Driver
For the The Bulletin
Used with permission
Photos by Robert Jones / Digital Diamond Images
BOWIE, Md. The budding law enforcement career of Brad Purdom appeared to be going well. He spent four years with the state police department in Oregon while going to college.
Purdom eventually graduated from Western Oregon Un iversity. But that was about five years ago, when state budget woes left him without a job.
So Purdom turned to another profession that needs authority figures: that of a professional baseball umpire. And he is doing very well. He worked the Double-A Eastern League playoffs in 2008, was one of the umpires in the 2009 Eastern League all-star game last month in Trenton, N.J., and is generally regarded as among the top umpires in all of Double-A baseball.
"It is something I have been able to draw on," Purdom, 28 and now a Bend resident, says of his former life in law enforcement. "At the Double-A level, I can't compare to Triple A or the big leagues. By the time guys have been around the Double-A level for a couple of years, it comes down to what are separators (between umpires). One of the keys is the ability to handle things on the field that are nonroutine stuff. That is where I have been able to draw on my career in law enforcement.
"Baseball is the only game where the manager is allowed to come on the field and argue," adds Purdom, who is a high school basketball referee back home in Central Oregon during the winter. "We don't have the technical foul (as in basketball) or an unsportsmanlike flag (as in football) to throw. We don't have a yellow card (as in soccer). Where is that line going to be drawn?"
And that means having to sometimes eje ct a player, coach or manager. In games through July this season, Purdom, a crew chief had made three ejections. His crew had made six.
"Throwing people out is the easy part," Purdom says. "The hard part is to know when, and how to keep them in the game."
For every ejection, the umpiring crew has to file paperwork with league headquarters in Portland, Maine.
"There are day-to-day issues that come up in my position, a lot of talking on the phone, a lot of paperwork," he explains.
The three-person umpire crews in the Eastern League travel together and stay at the same hotel. Rarely do they stay in the same city for more than six or seven games at a time.
After a recent weekend series in Binghamton, N.Y., Purdom and his crew arrived at their hotel in Erie, Pa., at about 2:30 a.m. on a Monday. Since there had been an ejection in the Sunday night game in New York, Purdom was up until close to 4 a.m. doing paperwork.
Fortunately, his crew had off that Monday before beginning a series between host Erie and New Britain.
Purdom and one his partners, Chris Hamner of Virginia, worked games in the Florida Instructional League in 2005. The other member of the crew, David Soucy of Massachusetts, attended the same umpiring school as Purdom.
Most Eastern League weekday games begin at 7 p.m. Umpires show up at th e ballpark an hour or so before the game, so that does give them some free time during the day.
"Some guys get up and go golfing," says Purdom. "Some guys get up and go to the gym. Some work taking online classes to get a degree."
Purdom adds that being away from his wife, Amie, is the biggest challenge during a season that runs from early April to early September.
Umpires advance through a ranking system. Unless an umpire is a viable candidate for advancement to the major leagues, he could be let go by the Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation after three years in the same league. Umpires in the Eastern League receive $2,500 per month in pay and $30 per diem. The home team covers hotel costs.
The Eastern League stretches north to New Hampshire and Maine, west to Ohio, and south to Bowie, which hosts a farm team of the Baltimore Orioles. Purdom recently worked a series here in Bowie, just a few miles east of the nation's capital. One of the pitchers in the Eastern League this season is Joe Patterson, a former Oregon State University pitcher from Corvallis who is now with a farm team of the San Francisco Giants in Connecticut.
The Eastern League may get more exposure than the Class AA Texas and Southern leagues, as the Eastern League includes three affiliates of major-market franchises: Portland (Red Sox), Trenton (Yankees) and Binghamton (Mets). And some of the to p prospects in the game have come through the Eastern League, including Central Oregon's Jacoby Ellsbury. Now in his second full season with the Boston Red Sox, Ellsbury played parts of the 2006 and 2007 seasons with the Eastern League's Portland (Maine) Sea Dogs.
Purdom grew up on the Oregon Coast in Toledo and graduated from Toledo High School in 1999. He is a big fan of Oregon State University football and tries to see the Beavers play in person once the baseball season is over.
His parents and his brother, Matthew, moved from Toledo to Bend several years ago for a change of scenery. So Purdom and his wife, who is attending Central Oregon Community College in Bend, followed his family from the coast to the High Desert nearly three years ago.
"We decided to move over there with them," he says.
Purdom began his pro career after he attended the Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring. He was assigned to the short-season Northwest League in 2005. He moved up to the Class A Midwest and Florida State leagues in 2006, then to the Class A California League the next year. Last season he was promoted to the Eastern League, one of only three Class AA circuits in the country.
Purdom started umpiring Babe Ruth League baseball when he was still in high school. He was doing high school games in Oregon before he was 18 and worked varsity games for the first time in 2000. He mo ved up to the college level and umpired games at Oregon State and the University of Portland, among others.
"When one door closes another opens," he says. "I figured the law enforcement would always be there. I got the itch, so to speak. I am where I am today because of what I was able to do in the state of Oregon."