At baseball games, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the action on the field whether it’s who had the game-winning hit or which pitch struck out this player. Many times the unsung heroes of the game aren’t on either team at all. They have no fans cheering them on and it’s easy to forget about them until it comes to a controversial call when they will no doubt get the short end of the stick every time. I’m talking about the umpires who make the games we love to watch so much possible. I’ve always wondered how umpires make it to the majors so a few months ago I caught up with almost 15-year veteran Marvin Hudson and Lance Barrett who is entering his first full season as an MLB umpire to talk about their careers.
Hudson began his umpiring career in high school umpiring local T-ball and Little League games before switching to high school ball after graduating college. He said he never even thought about umpiring professionally and was initially backed into it.
“I was a catcher in college and the umpire talked me into doing some small college for him. I thought if I’m going to do that I’m going to move up. I was hoping to move up for Division I baseball so I went to an umpire clinic in Atlanta and was seen by some big league umpires at that time including Joe Brinkman,” Hudson said. “They all said you need to go to umpire school so I went to Joe’s umpire school. I did well and wound up getting a job then and worked my way up.”
Hudson spent the 1992 season in the Appalachian League followed by seasons in the South Atlantic League, the Florida Instructional League, the Southern League, the Hawaiian Winter League, and the International League before being promoted to the majors in 1999.
“You never forget the phone call telling you that you’re going to the majors,” Hudson said. “You get the phone call for the first time going up as a Triple-A umpire that you’re getting to go up and work in the big leagues and going into a big league spring knowing you’re getting the opportunity to give it a shot to be in the big leagues and the all-star game.”
Hudson said working as an umpire is hard especially road trips away from his family for two weeks at a time but that it’s special seeing his family share the experiences with him.
“It’s not just me. You have to have a good family at home when you’re gone so it’s cool seeing your family get rewarded too,” Hudson said. “Seeing the rewards they get to do with you and seeing them happy at All-Star games and playoff games. It’s thrilling for me.”
Lance Barrett’s career started out very similar to Hudson in that he also began his career working Little League games.
“When I was 14, my next door neighbor umpired Little League games and asked me if I wanted to make cash over the summer. I said sure I’d love to ride along with you,” Barrett said. “I would work game during the summer and the local association I came from had an instructional clinic. I went there and met with some instructors and thought ‘Wait a minute, you can make a career of this?’ The more I read and learned about it, I felt it was the direction God was pulling me in.”
Barrett started his professional umpire career in 2003 beginning in the Appalachian League just like Hudson. He worked his way up through the minors before getting the call this January that he was going to the Majors.
“It was a very emotional day for me,” Barrett said. “My wife and I bawled our eyes out that day. It’s been a dream that both of us have been pursuing and we’ve been through so much with it. You chase after that carrot for so long with the long road trips, the days away from home in the minor leagues, staying in bad hotels, and making no money. To finally get to walk out on a major league field where the lights are a lot brighter and the stadiums are a lot bigger. That phone call was fantastic and something I’ll never forget.”
The pair said they are constantly putting in as much training as possible whether it’s reading a rule book and treating it “like a Bible re-reading it over and over again” or teaching and attending instructional clinics. With years of experience under their belts and countless hours of training they both have one more goal on their umpire bucket lists.
“I think for everyone on staff the top of the mountain after you’re hired is to work a World Series,” Barrett said. “One day I would love to have the opportunity to work a World Series.”