(AP) — Jordan Baker admits he has to pinch himself now and then.
Baker, a 2000 Enid High graduate, has been umpiring the past two weeks in the major leagues as a fill-in for vacationing colleagues.
“It’s been pretty surreal,’’ said Baker from his hotel room where he’s doing the Boston at Oakland series. “Every day I have to remind myself where I’m at and what got me there. It’s the same game.’’
Baker, who normally umpires in the Pacific Coast League, did a full slate of major league games in spring training. He was one of 19 umpires on the call-up list as temporary replacements.
“It’s been a blessing,’’ Baker said.
Baker feels lucky to be where he’s at, being only in his second year at AAA. There are only 68 major league umpires.
“This is a dog-eat-dog business,’’ Baker said. “Do the math. I’m getting a chance. I have to take care of business. I have my work cut out for me.’’
Baker had what appeared to the average fan to be a bang-bang play at the home in his first game behind the plate in a game between the Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros.
“I wouldn’t say it was bang-bang,’’ he said. “Maybe it was to the fans.’’
Baker said he has gotten “good feedback,’’ so far from his peers and supervisors.
“I’ve been staying off Sports Center,’’ he said with a chuckle. “Knock on wood. If you go unnoticed, you know you’re doing your job OK. That’s the way we like it.’’
Baker is not a fan of replays. even though they show the umpire was right most of the time.
“I like where it is right now, it’s where it should be,’’ Baker said. “Sometimes it might take seven or eight times in slow motion to decide if we got it right or not. We have a split second.’’
Baker heads to Phoenix for the Diamondbacks-Dodgers series after the Boston-Oakland series. He will return to the PCL after the All-Star game.
“Hopefully, everything will go well and I can get another handful of games after the All-Star break,’’ Baker said. “As long as everything goes well, I should be OK.’’
He’s found the majors a little different from the PCL, just as AAA was different from AA and A.
“It’s a lot faster and a lot cleaner,’’ Baker said. “It’s the best of the best athletic wise. You would like to think it was going to be like that.’’
Baker paid his dues working in the New York-Penn, Southern Atlantic, Hawaiian Winter, Florida State, Southern, Dominican Winter leagues and the International League in previous years.
“Some would say I’ve paid my dues, and some would argue the other way,’’ Baker said. “I don’t know how I would put it. This is what I’ve always dreamed of. The dream is coming true. It’s fun. It’s what I’ve worked for the last eight years.’’
He remembers the 10 to 12 hour overnight road trips where he and his umpire partners wouldn’t reach their destination until 10 a.m. for a 6 p.m. game.
“It makes you appreciate what you have here,’’ Baker said.
Baker, as a major leaguer, gets to travel first class now, which is especially nice for someone 6-foot-7.The umpires at the AAA level are paid anywhere from $2,600 to $3,500 a month. The range for major league umpires is from $84,0000 to $300,0000.
“You get paid quite a bit more and the per diems are much higher,’’ he said.
Baker said his 6-foot-7 frame can be an advantage on the job. He called it a “good question’’ when asked what was behind his success.
“I really don’t know,’’ Baker said. “I’ve been blessed throughout my career. I have had great partners. I’ve been in the right place at the right time. You could say it’s just been a blessing from the Lord.’’
Umpiring is a Catch 22 profession, especially in the minors. Partners have to watch each others’ backs, but know they are competing against each other to move up.
“It’s kind of a brotherhood,’’ Baker said. “Everybody is rooting for everybody in the end. Everybody wants that major league contract, but you root for each other.
“It’s part of the dynamic of working together as a crew and having each other’s back for six months.’’
Baker, so far, hasn’t been intimidated by his new setting.
“You have to be able to communicate up here, it’s a big factor,’’ he said. “Players arguing calls is part of the game. I’ve been around long enough to know that. Hopefully, it doesn’t get nasty and personal. They’ve got to do their job and we have to do ours. Every day is a new day.’’
However, unlike the players, there are no home games for the umpires.
“The most difficult part of the job is the lifestyle,’’ Baker said. “You go from hotel to hotel. You don’t get to see your families like the players do. I try to eat as healthy as I can, but it can be pretty taxing.’’
Baker is engaged to Dustie Butner, who works at Seminole State College. They will be married at the end of the season.
He will get to see her some since his first series after the break is in Oklahoma City. Baker makes his home in Shawnee now.
“We’ll get some wedding stuff planned,’’ he said.
Baker’s parents, Cindy and Wendell, still live in Enid.
He tries to make it home as much as possible and still enjoys “home cooking.’’
His biggest thrill so far was to have most of his family at his major league debut. He got the call two weeks ahead of time so he had time to plan.
“To have everyone there to share the experience with me was awesome,’’ Baker said.
(AP) — Jordan Baker admits he has to pinch himself now and then.
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