sports 3 days ago

Lucky number eight

Norwalk Reflector, Ohio — Don Hohler Norwalk Reflector, Ohio


The boys of summer are back on the field and that includes the umpires -- notably Wakeman's man in blue, Chad


The 1989 Western Reserve graduate is starting his 21st year as a professional umpire, including his eighth in Major League Baseball.

"The seasons fly by faster every year,"

Fairchild said. The 47-year-old who lives just east of downtown Bradenton, Fla. with his wife and two children, one of them Tanner, a high school freshman who has definite designs on a baseball career.

Fairchild is part of a new umpiring crew this year, which includes Paul Emmel, also a Bradenton resident. He broke into the majors in 1999. Also from Florida is Boynton Beach resident, Mike Estabrook, the latter starting his fifth year in the majors. The senior member of the foursome is Iowa native Bruce Dreckman, a 20-year veteran.

"Another re-rack of the crew," Fairchild said. "That is many times the case, although there have been times I have worked back-to-back seasons with the same threesome. It takes time to get used to new crew members, but each of us has our on-field responsibilities and we are all professionals."

The Bluffton College graduate well remembers coming up through the ranks, starting 1997 in the Florida Gulf Coast League.

"Those games will never be forgotten," Fairchild said. "They close golf courses down there because of the heat, but they still play baseball in the middle of the day. Every game started was at 1 p.m., the hottest part of the day. The umpire that carried the baseballs in the ball bag did so for just one inning. After that, perspiration seeped through the uniform and through the ball bag, making the baseballs unusable. New balls were thrown out of the dugout from that point on.

"The toughest part every year, however, is being away from home," he added. "I still get back home to eat mom's cooking when I have a series in Cleveland. Her cooking and talking baseball with dad never gets old, but I will not being doing either this season. I have no Cleveland stops on my schedule."

Also not to be forgotten was his minor league schedule. Fairchild and his crew would leave the ballpark at midnight, many times to arrive at the next game site at 7 a.m., get some rest and food, and be back at the new park by 4 p.m. It did get more palatable when he made Triple-A ball in 2002. He started in the Pacific Coast League, but then got the transfer to International League, which got him back in the Midwest where he worked games in Toledo, Buffalo and Columbus.

In the minors, the home team pays for the umpires accommodations. In the majors, he books his own rooms, as the umpire is paid a per diem. A car service picks him up, takes him to the park and is waiting for him after the game to return him to his hotel.

"Every umpire knows exactly where he was when he got that magical call from the major league office," Fairchild said. "Mine came in September 2004. I was driving down I-75 in Florida on my way to picking up Tanner from school when I got the call on my cell phone. That call started right around a 650 game "callup" schedule, working as-needed when major league umpires were off on vacations or were possibly injured. I was working a spring training game in 2010 when I got the call that I was officially on a crew full-time."

And injuries are part of life for an umpire. Fairchild does his best to stay in shape. Despite his workout schedule, he has been on the sidelines, twice with knee operations and once with a back operation that forced him to miss half of the 2014 season.

Fairchild calls his career highlights the day he got called up, last year when he worked the plate in Game 1 of the ALCS series between the New York Yankees and Houston Astros, and three years ago when he worked the All-Star game in New York.

Also, in the ALCS series last year as part of the seven-man crew, he was in the replay booth in downtown New York monitoring the electronics for Games 3-through-7.

Working the ALCS last year was big, but Fairchild's No. 1 goal is working a World Series.

"It is a spot that like everything else in this business, has to be earned," he said. "We are constantly being evaluated."


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