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Minnesotans making the calls


By Gordy Jones


Some of the best umpires in Major League Baseball have been Minnesota natives. Two of them are Tim Tschida, who grew up in the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul, and Jeff Nelson of Cottage Grove. They have both worked many playoff games, All-Star games and even the World Series. They are also on the same crew —a four-man crew that travels to 30 cities each season — and were recently at the Metrodome.

Tschida, who now lives near Turtle Lake, Wis., is a 21-year veteran. Last year he was promoted to crew chief. Tschida was actually one of Nelson’s instructors at umpiring school. What’s it like having a fellow Minnesotan on your crew?

“It’s pretty neat,” Tschida said. “Back in my younger days it was pretty fun for me to work with Joe Brinkman who’s from Little Falls. And I was with (MLB umpire) Mark Wagner a few years ago. He is not only from St. Paul, but went to Cretin, where I went to high school.”

Tschida and Nelson talk fondly about their Minnesota friends and memories. They also talk fondly about their travels. They have fun relating each city to its food and restaurants. They agree that Chicago is one of their favorite cities to visit.

“Umpires love steak!” Nelson said with a smile as he talked about some great Chicago steak houses.

I asked Nelson when he became interested in officiating. “I played a lot of baseball as a kid. We played in the neighborhood, and played in high school [Park of Cottage Grove]. I started getting interested in officiating while in high school, but never dreamed it’d be my career.”

Last season while in Cleveland, the 11-year veteran found out that he had testicular cancer.

“Fortunately,” Nelson said, “I had good doctors and a lot of people praying for me and supporting me.”

Jeff missed half of the 2007 season but is now back, happy and cancer-free.

Marty Springstead, a former umpire from the Bronx, who officiated in the majors from 1961 into the 1980s, is their supervisor. During a recent phone conversation, Marty said, “Jeff and Tim are not only outstanding umpires, but they are outstanding people.”

By the way, Marty has been to every state, and to towns you’ve never even heard of. His favorite place to visit: “Minnesota! And the Twins have one of the best run clubs in baseball.”

Marty has also known some of the greatest players of the game, from Mantle to DiMaggio. When I asked him who was the greatest of them all, he did not hesitate: “Harmon Killebrew, both on the field and off!”