Behind the Mask

Left | Cody Oakes, Center | Grant Conrad, Right | Jose Matamoros

by: Ryan Cameron  @RyanCameron22

When you think of the game of baseball, you think of the greats like Hank Aaron, you think of the hot dogs and brats, and for some of us, you think of the beer! 

The one thing most people don’t consider is the people you spend most of the game disagreeing with, the umpires.

Umpires in the major leagues, for the most part, have an easy go of it. The money is great, the cities are beautiful, and most importantly your job is very secure. The tough part is getting there. It takes many grueling years of long drives, sleepless nights, and no time off.

I wanted to know for myself, from the source, what it was like to be a minor league umpire. I spoke with three Double-A umpires from the Texas League - Cody Oakes, Grant Conrad, and Jose Matamoros.

Ryan: How long are you guys on the road every year?

Grant: Road life usually begins when the season opens around April 5th every year and ends around September 4th. Before every season starts we go to Spring Training for 2 or 2 ½ weeks so all around about 5 ½ to 6 months straight.

Ryan: Does the same crew stay together for the entire year?

Cody: Yeah, so the way it works is they kind of go off tiers, I’m in my third year and the crew chief, Grant, is in his second year. Jose is in his first year in the Texas League. They try to break it up where you have an experienced guy, a returning guy, and a first-year guy. It doesn’t always work out that way but that’s what they try, and we spend the whole year together.

Ryan: Jose, it’s your first year in Double-A - what have you noticed since being called up?

Jose: It’s different, it’s my first year of working with a crew of three guys so adapting to different personalities and getting the crew gelling was hard at first. It’s a lot of fun and this is definitely the most travel I’ve ever done.

Ryan: Now, being in the minors and only having three umpires on the field, does it make it more challenging or do you adapt quickly?

Cody: They do a really good job of putting us in an instructional league before we get called up to Double-A and it gives us about 20-25 days where we get to work on three-man crews. We have supervisors that help us and have classes every night and that gives us a good base of working on three-man crews. That also goes back to why and how they break up the crews.

Ryan: Is it an advantage or disadvantage working in a small league like the Texas League where you only have eight teams?

Grant: For me, I think its an advantage because the way you handle a league with maybe 12-15 teams is different than the way you handle a league with eight teams. You have to find different ways to defuse situations and handle yourself and other people. It’s helped me out a lot with just thinking outside the box and being able to create different ways and avenues to handle different things in a small league like the Texas League.

Ryan: Jose, what is your favorite spot on the field?

Jose: I’ve always enjoyed being behind the plate because you’re the most involved. Every pitch you're making a decision. When you're out in the field you have a pitch that goes in and its either a ball or strike and you don’t have to do anything, so I just like being involved in everything that goes on.

Ryan: What is the most difficult thing about being a Minor League umpire?

Cody: As far as being a minor league umpire, the most difficult thing is being away from your family. I’ve got a wife and a kid, and they came down yesterday. Being in Missouri it’s about a 6-hour drive for my wife, so they were able to drive down for one day and I won’t see them again for about another month. I had about 18 people come down because we found out we were having another kid, so we did our gender reveal, we were having another boy. It was an exciting and amazing moment but then everyone goes home because they all have jobs where they have to work on Monday. So that’s the most challenging part about the job.

Ryan: How is it that you guys advance up to the Triple-A Games?

Cody: We have a rankings system that our supervisors put out. There are 45 umpires in Double-A and we have a system that our umpire development system ranks, as a Triple-A spot opens up, the highest-ranking Double-A umpire moves up.

These men are sacrificing everything for just a shot to umpire at the Major League level. 

Every call they make is not only being watched by you but also a supervisor who will determine whether they will advance to the next level one day. So, no matter what you might think, these guys are way harder on themselves then you could ever be on them. The next time you see an umpire, instead of yelling at them, give them a thank you for all they sacrifice and for all their hard work.

Thank you to Cody Oakes, Grant Conrad, and Jose Matamoros for taking the time to talk to me and thank you to all the umpires out there for all you do!

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