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For Umpires, Every Game Is On The Road

By Jacelle Ramon-Sauberan • jramonsaub@stcloudtimes.com • Published August 2, 2009 St. Cloud Times

Photo: April Gregory, acgregory@stcloudtimes.com

Strike! Foul ball! You’re out of here!

All three are phrases Rick Brennan and Ron Brooks hope will lead them to an umpiring career in Major League Baseball.

“It’s a tough goal to reach, but it would be amazing,” Brooks said.

Brennan, 24, and Brooks, 22, are umpires this summer in the Northwoods League. Both are former baseball players who wanted to find a way to stay in the game. Brennan is from Hammond, Ind., and graduated from Franklin College in Franklin, Ind., in December 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in history.

He began umpiring his junior year in high school with his dad, Glenn Brennan, but didn’t became serious about it until college.

“I didn’t enjoy umpiring (at first) but my freshman year of college it didn’t feel like a job anymore — I was having fun,” Brennan said.

Brooks is from Murphysboro, Ill., and is a junior at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Ill. He is studying to get a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He started umpiring as a way to make money during the summer and umpired with his dad, Ron Brooks. After attending an umpire clinic in central Illinois, he decided umpiring was something he wanted to purse.

“Umpiring is the closest thing I can get to still being in the game and I don’t want to be a coach,” Brooks said.

Brennan and Brooks have been on the road for seven weeks now and have three weeks left in the season. They spend 2-4 hours on average traveling from game to game every other day, except for the times when they work a two-game series, as they did this week when the Duluth Huskies visited St. Cloud to take on the River Bats.

Both say it’s tough being away from home and not seeing their family, friends and girlfriends.

Brennan has seen his dad twice since he started, and Brooks is hoping his family will be able to make it to a game before the season is over.

“Living out of a suitcase isn’t all that fun but you do what you can,” Brooks said. “It’s all part of the process in being an umpire.”

For their 10 weeks of service, they get paid about $3,000 plus travel, food and lodging expenses. Brennan and Brooks don’t have any complaints about the pay.

“Obviously, I’m not getting paid very much for this job,” Brennan said. “But I feel like it’s a steppingstone to better jobs in the future possibly, hopefully working in the major leagues at one point. I know those guys are making big money, up to $300,000 a year.”

According to Northwoods League umpiring supervisor Winston Wood, 38 of the 220 minor-league umpires previously worked in this league.

The Northwoods League can boast five umpires in Class AA, five in Class AAA, and one — Delfin Colon — who has reached the majors. Colon served in the Northwoods League in 2000 and made his major-league debut last season. Colon bounces back and forth between the big leagues and Class AAA, filling in for the full-time major league umpires when they are on vacation or injured.

Some local umpires, including Bats official scorer Bob Kremer, have worked Northwoods League games on an emergency basis. There has never been a full-time Northwoods League umpire from Central Minnesota.

In their spare time Brooks and Brennan play Guitar Hero and Ultimate Fighting Championship on Brennan’s PlayStation. Brooks said he also likes to read and has read “Angels and Demons” and “The Da Vinci Code” since he’s been on the road.

Brennan said he does not regret taking on the 10-week umpiring job and looks at it as a “learning experience.” He has never umpired before at this level — summer-college baseball — but said he wants to get better. Brooks said the one thing he loves about umpiring is meeting different people.

“I like meeting people from different teams, towns, backgrounds — and all the other umpires,” said Brooks.

When they have bad days on the field, their main goals are to stay focused and confident.

Brennan said if they are not confident then coaches and players will walk all over them. Brooks said that every umpire misses a call, even major league umpires. He admits that being the bad guy on the field at times is the only downfall to umpiring.

“They say your only friend out there is your partner. We try to be as perfect as we can,” Brennan said.

After the season is over, Brennan said he will find another job to pass the time until next season starts. He plans to attend umpiring school again in January. Brooks plans to continue umpiring back home. He will umpire baseball in the fall spring and summer and in the winter he will referee basketball.

Brooks wants to go as far as he can in umpiring. If it doesn’t work out, he said, he always has his degree to fall back on. His short-term goal is to umpire in the minor leagues. It would be his first step in reaching his ultimate goal.

“This is something I want to do for 10-15 years or more if possible,” Brooks said.