July 20, 2009
By David Driver
Used with permission
Miguel Abreu of the Bowie Baysox launched a long drive down the left field line with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning here last week, and young fans on hand for camp day began to cheer for the hometown All-Star.
The shot against Harrisburg (Pa.) Senators pitcher Jack Spradlin came in a tie game, but it wasn’t until Cedar Rapids resident Jason Arends pointed that the ball was indeed fair and raised his right arm above his head to signal a solo home run that Bowie’s 3-2 win was official.
Such is the authority of an umpire.
A former pitcher at Mount Mercy College, Arends was the third base umpire last Thursday in the Class AA Eastern League game between Orioles farm club Bowie and Nationals affiliate Harrisburg.
With a three-man crew, the field umpire sometimes has to run from third base to make a call at second, from first base to make a call at second or the home plate umpire will make a call at first or third.
“You run to your spot and make an educated guess,” said Arends, 31, sitting in the umpire’s dressing room behind the left field foul pole after the game.
Arends said the Eastern League is the best of three Class AA leagues, over the Southern and Te xas circuits, when it comes to travel and other factors such as a $45,000 van the crew uses to get around.
“It is just a lot more advanced here,” he said.
A 2002 graduate of Mount Mercy, Arends is in his second season in the 12-team Eastern League, which stretches north to Maine and New Hampshire, west to Akron, Ohio, and as far south as Bowie.
On a recent trip — while many Americans were enjoying a Fourth of July weekend cookout — Arends and his crew worked an Eastern League series in Manchester, N.H. After the July 6 game, they drove nearly 500 miles and arrived at their hotel in Annapolis the next morning.
They were at Prince George’s Stadium in Bowie about one hour before a night game July 7. Arends was behind the plate July 8, then had to turn around and be at the park around early July 9 for a day game.
Arends began his minor league career in the New York-Penn League in 2004, advanced to the full-season low Class A South Atlantic League the next year and worked in the high Class A Florida State League in 2006 and 2007.
Umpires advance via a ranking system, Arends said. One supervisor will grade him for six games and another will watch him for three games. Many times umpires do not know during which games they are being graded.
Unless an umpire is a “viable candidate” for advancement to the Major Leagues he could be let go by the Profess ional Baseball Umpire Corporation after three years in the same league, Arends said. That means 2010 will be a big year for the Tripoli High School graduate.
Arends, who attended the Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring in Florida, said he was ranked 16th of 45 umpires at the Class AA level as of June 15. He is paid $2,500 per month and gets a meal allowance of $30 per day. The home team in the Eastern League covers hotel costs.
Arends said the biggest challenge is the time away from his family.
“I miss some of the summer cookouts,” he said. “Every time there is a holiday people are going to the ballpark. We work those games.”
His wife, Miranda, is an English teacher at Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids. She is able to spend a few weeks on the road with her husband.
“I think the hardest part is I am married and I go home to an empty house,” she said. “I have to wait for the phone call to talk about my day. It is single girl stuff but you still have the ring on your finger. At the same time, when I do see him it is more special.”