When Todd Tichenor began his professional baseball umpiring career in the late 1990s, he had a long-range and long-term goal of eventually calling balls and strikes at the major league level.
That goal was realized in the late 2000s when he was a part-time, substitute umpire for the small fraternity of MLB full-time umps.
Then, in 2012, Tichenor was rewarded for his hard work with a contract to become a full-time MLB umpire.
This past summer, in recognition of his high rating, Tichenor, a Garden City native and now resident of Holcomb, was named to the 2014 All-Star Game six-man umpiring crew in Minneapolis.
That story, and his subsequent being selected to umpire the Kansas City Royals-Oakland A’s wild card playoff game, has earned him The Telegram’s No. 5 Sports Story of the Year.
In addition to working the left field foul line of the All-Star Game, Tichenor was assigned the right field foul line for the wildly exciting and tense Royals extra-inning victory that catapulted them into the World Series for the first time in 29 years.
The accolades were an acknowledgement that Tichenor is one of the up and coming young umpires for MLB.
Tichenor said that he was awaiting a plane home on Father’s Day on June 15 when he was called by MLB Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Joe Torre, a former New York Yankee player and manager.
“When Torre calls, you answer the phone,” Tichenor said in a summer interview. “It was a conversation I’ll always remember.”
The life of a MLB umpire is demanding, with a schedule of seven weeks on and then a week off, from April to early October.
In addition to the on-field work during the postseason, Tichenor was part of a crew that worked in the MLB New York office for replay reviews. He spent an entire week there, sitting in a large room with several other colleagues, reviewing any challenges made by team’s managers.
Tichenor said the opportunity to work a six-man crew versus the regular-season four-man outfit allowed them to do more coverage of the entire field of play.
“The biggest difference between the four and six-man crew is our ability to cover the entire field more quickly, and more accurately,” Tichenor said. “The long, deep fly balls are covered better, and you can do a better job on the fair/foul calls with the poles. You can get into position quicker.”
Tichenor, as all MLB umpires do, get a weekly review, with every game taped and graded.
With all of the new technology, the ultimate goal is to simply get the calls right.
“We strive to be 100 percent right, and then improve,” Tichenor said.
The difficulty, as it is with any sport’s officiating groups, is angles play a big role in making the proper call.
“I can show you the same play, from different angles, and show you one time the ball looks fair, and the next time it looks foul,” Tichenor said. “But the ball has never moved. That’s why it’s important to get it right. It’s so fast.”
Time will tell whether the next invite might include the league championship series, and possibly the World Series — the ultimate assignment for a MLB umpire.
“I’m sure there’s a criteria for those who work, and I would guess they also try to pass it around,” Tichenor said of the assignments. “If I’m lucky, I would guess I might get to do a couple of these during my career.”