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Interview with Jim Reynolds

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I recently had the opportunity to ask Major League Umpire Jim Reynolds (#77) a few questions. Jim is a 1992 graduate of Jim Evans Academy and had a particularly quick rise through the ranks and was added to the Major League staff in 1999. Since then he’s worked the 2004 All-Star Game, 2005 ALDS between the Angels and Yankees, 2007 NLDS between the Rockies and Phillies, 2008 NLDS between the Cubs and the Dodgers, and most recently the 2010 ALCS between the Rangers and Yankees. Jim is also the Secretary/Treasurer of UMPS CARE Charities. Jim, thank you for agreeing to speak with Umpire-Empire.

Warren: You have a pretty interesting story about how you became an umpire. Tell us a little about that.

Jim: I was attending the University of Connecticut and in my freshman year and there was a fire drill. I grabbed my high school jacket and went outside. While waiting outside there was this guy wearing his high school jacket and it was from a rival school. We struck up a conversation and that’s how Dan Iassogna and I became good friends.

He later talked me into taking a 1 credit course on umpiring taught by UConn coach Andy Baylock. It wasn’t an intense rules and mechanics course like pro school, just an introductory course. The first pitch I ever saw as an umpire was from Charles Naggy, who later had a great career with the Cleveland Indians, in the UConn batting cages. It was pretty much trial by fire. Through this I was able to start doing JV regular season games and varsity fall ball. I quickly found myself doing everything from 13-14 year olds to Legion.

Dan then told me he was going to pro school to try and become a professional umpire and asked if I would go with him.

We went to pro school and were both selected. We were also pretty lucky to be assigned together our first year. That made a lot of difference in going on the road together with your best friend. It was a great experience.

Warren: In the introduction it really stands out how quickly you rose through the ranks. Making it in just 7 years is practically unheard of. Tell us what you think made you stand out and able to rise so quickly.

Jim: It’s not all about ability; there are a number of factors involved. One major factor for any umpire is timing. There are always a good group of umpires coming up who would be great major league umpires, but sometimes there just are not any openings. I was very blessed to make it in the timeframe I did.

Warren: Tell me about the pressures you’ve faced and how you’ve dealt with them from your first MLB game June 4th 1999, to the 2004 All-Star Game, to your first post season appearance in 2005, your first post season plate appearance a year later and your appearance in this year’s ALCS.

Jim: Oh, there definitely is a lot of pressure for each one of these. The run up to the game is more stressful than the game itself. It’s more self imposed pressure and anxiousness than nervousness. You’re playing mental games and running through every potential situation which could happen and every sticky situation that’s happened to you all season thinking that they’re all going to happen to you in this game. Then you get in there settle in and the anxiousness slips away.

I have such an appreciation for the guys who work the playoffs year after year and go through this and have been successful and are able to set aside the pressure and focus on the game.

Warren: How did your crew help you or what words of advice did they give you?

Jim: I was on a great crew and they all had some great advice for me. Fieldin Culbreth and I had a great conversation where he told me to treat it just like any other game. There’s nothing that is going to happen out there which we haven’t seen or dealt with before.

Warren: In Game 1 when Sabatihia's pitch goes to the back stop. Posada recovers and throws back to Sabathia to tag Cruz. We had a lengthy discussion on this call at Umpire-Empire on how great this call by Davis was, not only in nailing it but the timing is and how it is both powerful and nonchalant. Seeing your partners’ make a call like that, what's going through your mind?

Jim: That was an incredible call. That call set the credibility for the crew for the series. At the time I really couldn’t appreciate it. Afterwards when I did see the play then I could not only appreciate the call, but it emphasized just how good these guys are. That’s why guys like Gerry Davis are constantly working the playoffs. Our crew had a few really good conversations about that call.

Warren: In game 3 of the ALCS, when you had the dish, you had a phenomenal plate job. Even the TBS Pitch Track showed you were spot on. How did you feel after that game?

Jim: I felt really good, but I was very fortunate that both Lee and Pettit were both pitching incredibly.

Warren: Could you tell you had a really good game going at the time or is something you had to look back to realize?

Jim: I felt that I was seeing the ball well. Walking off the field I felt that I had done a good job. I still haven't watched the game yet.

Warren: The next game you had the right field line. Tell us a little about Robinson Cano’s homerun in game 4. After the fact and reviewing it too many times your call seemed to be dead on. What did you see?

Jim: This was really the ideal situation for why we use six-man crews in the playoffs. I was able to get out and get into position where I had very good look at the play. From my position I was able to see the depth of the ball as it went over the glove.

Warren: Did the thought of replay come into your mind?

Jim: No, I had an excellent angle to see the play and I was 100% confident of my call. In a press conference after the game, once we had the opportunity to see it, a reporter asked about the call. Gerry Davis replied to the effect of, ‘We did look at the play and the ball was in the stands, had we gone to review we would have ruled the same.’

Warren: Then, just two batters later Berkman hits one which was initially called a HR, what went through your mind in going to a review?

Jim: That was another tough call, but the difference between the two was my confidence in making the call. I wasn’t 100% sure on this call. There were a few factors like angle and lights which came into play giving me reason to. I knew one of my partners would have had a better view than me.

Warren: Let’s discuss your equipment to satiate our equipment junkies. Tell us about what you use for a chest protector, shins, shoes and mask?

Jim: For a chest protector I currently use the Wilson Gold. I use the Wilson Pro Shin Guards, I think they’re really good. I wear the Wilson Dyna Lite mask, Reebok Magistrate Base shoes and Nautilus mid-cut plate shoes.

Warren: What is your favorite piece of equipment and why?

Jim: I’d say my mask. It has great protection, is light and is comfortable.

Warren: What equipment changes do you plan on making if any?

Jim: I may try the Platinum and see how I like it. I change up my equipment as needed. I’m not superstitious about any piece of equipment and am going to get something new when it becomes worn, damaged or just needs to be changed out .

Warren: A lot of the MLB guys have been spotted wearing the Reebok Premier Road IV lately, which are not available to the general public yet. If you used these, what were your thoughts on them and how do they compare to the Reebok Field Magistrate’s or other shoes you’ve used?

Jim: I did not use the new shoes and continued with the Magistrates, just out of personal preference. But a number of the guys have spoken highly of them in terms of their comfort and traction.

Warren: As I mentioned earlier, you are the Secretary / Treasurer of UMPS CARE Charities. Tell us a little about UMPS CARE, your role, and why it’s important to you.

Jim: UMPS CARE was formed 12 years ago by Larry Young. The purpose was to raise money to help retired umpires in need. In 2004 Mike Di Muro and Marvin Hudson founded Blue for Kids with an emphasis on helping children in need by visiting children’s hospitals and providing tickets to foster children awaiting adoption.

In 2008 the two charities merged to form UMPS CARE Charities. Today UMPS CARE Charities participates in four major programs.

We are still assisting retired umpires in need. We do the hospital visits and give the children a wonderful Build a Bear experience and often times will take the local team’s mascot with us and have a great experience for not only the kids but for us as well. Let me tell you, there is not much more in this world which can put things in perspective for you than when you are able to put a smile on these kids’ faces. These children are remarkable. Some have faced such hardships and have shown more courage than most adults would ever be able to do. They’re just amazing and it is an incredible experience.

We also have the Blue Crew ticket program where this year we provided 750 kids the opportunity to go to a game and enjoy one of the great memory building experiences of a day at the ballpark that other children have, but isn’t always available to children awaiting adoption. We provide these children with tickets, a goodie bag, a drink, Cracker Jacks, hot dog as well as some on the field pictures.

Our newest program, which started this year, is the All-Star Scholarship. This program is for adopted children to help provide a college education to students who otherwise might not be able to afford one. There are a number of programs out there for scholarships for those who are still awaiting adoption, but often times those who have been adopted will need financial assistance, and that’s where this comes in.

Warren: Now you have the UMPS CARE Charities Golf Marathon coming up next weekend tell us a little about that.

Jim: It is November 10th at Augusta Ranch Golf Club in Mesa, AZ. We’ll be playing 100 holes of golf and have reserved the entire course for the day. It’s a lot of fun, and one of our larger events.

Warren: Jim, I want to really thank you for this opportunity in agreeing to speak with us and reaching out to the amateur umpire community.

Jim: Thank you, and I want to let you know how much I appreciate what you all as amateur umpires do. It’s not easy. Most of you guys work your full time job then, no matter what happened that day, you’re then expected to go onto the field and be perfect.

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