Holcomb umpire graces biggest stage

Tim Unruh Special to The Telegram

Fond flashbacks sent Bonnie Tichenor bouncing through her Holcomb home this week while recounting son Todd’s acsent to Major League baseball umpiring.

This week her son’s in the World Series.

“It was always his dream, and now he’s made it,” she said, barring something unexpected during this pandemic riddled year.

Many loved ones were to be in the bleachers Wednesday night in Arlington, Texas, when Todd assumed his spot behind home plate in Globe Life Stadium, for Game 2 of baseball’s Fall Classic.

Bonnie expected to be somewhere in southwest Kansas, watching “on the biggest TV screen I can find. I’ll probably have a better seat than anybody there.”

The 43-year-old ump was an alternate on the esteemed crew for the opening game Tuesday night when the Los Angeles Dodgers bested the Tampa Bay Rays, 8-3. He was introduced during pregame television coverage, and will be on the field for the remainder of the series.

Bonnie will be rooting only for her son, and possibly against the Rays “because Tampa Bay (Buccaneers football team) beat my Packers Sunday.” She’s a Wisconsin native.

“I could jump over the moon. I couldn’t be more proud or excited. My legs are shaking,” Bonnie said of her son’s accomplishment.

Thousands in southwest Kansas were likely bubbling in happiness for the tow-headed kid who was embraced with a fascination for sports, thanks in large part to his late father, Fred Tichenor.

Enthusiasm for this pastime, and others, never waned, and now Todd’s prepping daily for the grandest of stages, most likely with millions watching from around the world.

Kansans are watching, too, based on reactions from his World Series assignment announced on Facebook. Word of Tichenor’s ultimate umpiring gig is circulating.

“I know everybody in Kansas is so proud of him,” said Kelly Maestas Tichenor, Todd’s wife.

He has worked Major League playoff games since 2014, most recently including the Rays-Houston Astros series in San Diego. He’s also worked an MLB All-Star Game.

When Tichenor was chosen for the World Series, the story “totally blew up once it hit social media,” Kelly Tichenor said.

“It’s such a blessing. What an honor. I’m a super-proud sister,” said Dixie Teeter, also of Holcomb, Todd’s only sibling.

Dixie’s husband, Kent Teeter, is head football coach at Holcomb High School. She is a speech language pathologist.

Todd Tichenor could not be reached Tuesday as he mentally prepared, and isolated with fellow umpires in a nearby hotel.

There was brief contact with his wife, their three children — Kaden, a junior football player at McPherson College; Kooper, a freshman at Holcomb High and their daughter, Teagan,  a third grader at Holcomb Elementary School — and Todd’s sister.

They flew into Arlington to witness the event, and are living in other hotels. Kelly and company arrived three days early to satisfy COVID-19 testing protocols.

“It’s nice. It’s kind of like a staycation. We’re just trying to soak it all in,” said Kelly, a longtime teacher in Garden City and Holcomb. She and Todd were high school sweethearts.

Dixie said the family was be seated 14 rows up, between home plate and first base at Tuesday night’s game.

“I’m giddy being here,” she said. “I’m definitely buying my T-shirts.”

They brought “good cameras,” Dixie Teeter said, and the series is set to record on their home TV.

Many steps were taken for this moment. Bonnie harkened back to Cleaver and Fansler fields in Garden City, where Fred Tichenor umpired men’s and women’s slow-pitch softball during the summers.

“Todd was a ball shagger for 10 cents a ball,” she said. “That’s how he made spending money.”

Todd’s father was the head football coach at Holcomb High School, where young Todd helped out at Longhorn practices and games.

“Todd was Dad’s sidekick, for sure,” Dixie said. “He was an ornery little kid and we’ve had our moments, but he’s grown into a wonderful man. I wouldn’t trade him for the world. He’s the best brother ever and he loves his family.”

Doing the offseason, Fred Tichenor worked as a part-time sports writer at the Garden City Telegram, and occasionally, the night crew was served Bonnie’s homemade chili, with their kids in tow.

“Fred and Todd loved sports. They watched games together on TV,” Bonnie said.

Todd competed as a young boy in YMCA wrestling. When his father was in the throes of pancreatic cancer, he would watch and cheer from a wheelchair at the edge of the mat. He died in 1984 when Todd was 7 and Dixie, 11.

“Our dad would be super proud of him,” Dixie said. “I have no doubt he’s looking over all of us and can guarantee he’s helped out along the way. We know he’s there.”

Todd competed in several sports growing up, but he excelled in baseball at Garden City High School and later at Garden City Community College.

“It’s not that he wasn’t a good baseball player,” Kelly said. “He’s an even better umpire.”

He worked as a sports official for football, baseball, basketball and volleyball, and spent some time selling advertising at the Garden City newspaper.

“He’s as all-American as baseball and apple pie, just a really bright young man” said Tom Bell, of Todd Tichenor.

“We knew he’d do great things,” said Bell, now of Salina. He was editor and publisher of the Telegram in 1997-1998.

Tichenor took a leave of absence from the Telegram in 1999 to attend the Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring in Kissimmee, Fla. He was called up to the Major Leagues in 2007, and became a full-time umpire five years later.

Much of the credit for this Tichenor union goes to Kelly, who has stayed home, worked and given their offspring a stable base while Todd spends roughy half of every year on the road.

“Kelly has been wonderful for Todd,” Dixie said. “She runs the house and manages three kids.”

It’s not easy when Dad’s not home, Kelly admits, but she’s had help from her mother, Debbie Maestas, mother-in-law Bonnie, extended family and community.

“It’s been a long haul,” Kelly said. “It has taken a village to do the life we have. Holcomb and Garden City have been major influences, and lots of people have been helping to raise our kids. We’re very thankful and grateful or that, for sure.”

Fame has honored MLB umpire Todd Tichenor on the only menu in his home town, at the El Rancho Cafe in Holcomb. “The Ejector,” is a flour tortilla with bean and cheese dip, wrapped around a corn taco. The El Rancho is owned by the Maestas family. Kelly Maestas Tichenor, Todd’s wife, is a member of that family.