Baranek: Baseball umpire John Tumpane remembers his roots
By Tony Baranek email@example.com April 11, 2013 7:56PM
John Tumpane addresses umpire hopefuls at the Illinois Officials Association and South Suburbs Officials Association umpires clinic. | Supplied photo
Updated: May 13, 2013 6:36AM
He isn’t there very often from February through October, but to Evergreen Park native, 2001 St. Laurence graduate and current minor and major league umpire John Tumpane there still is no place like home.
He still dates the Queen of Peace girl (Jennifer Cerny) he did in high school. In fact, they just got engaged.
He hasn’t forgotten those who helped him on the path that at age 29 has him working in MLB ballparks across the nation, enforcing the rules for some of the best baseball players in the world.
Perhaps most important to the area kids who are developing their diamond skills, he’s still making sure they have people out there at their very best in calling balls and strikes.
For the past seven years, Tumpane has been one of the instructors at the annual Illinois Officials Association and South Suburbs Officials Association umpires clinic hosted by Crete-Monee High School.
“I can’t thank him enough for the way he’s given back to us,” said Jordan Cohen, assignment chairman of the IOA and SSOA. “His knowledge of the game and the incredible knack he has for teaching ... to have somebody like that is just incredible.”
This year the clinic, held in early February, drew 330 current and soon-to-be IHSA baseball and softball umpires.
It was an interesting sight, to be sure. The “students” came in all ages, shapes and sizes. On the baseball side, once Tumpane started talking there was everything from veteran IHSA eyes eager to improve to those akin to deer in headlights.
“Anybody who wants to be an umpire, they sign up with the IHSA and they’re sent a manual and a written test,” Tumpane said. “Then they’re sent out to a game at Rich East without any formal training or a chance to show their mechanics.
“Here at the clinic, of the guys we had in the first group, I think 10 of them raised their hand that they had never umpired before. Today was the first day they ever called a ball or a strike, or a safe or an out. So this (clinic) was a good learning tool for them.”
Tumpane is in his 12th season as a full-time minor league umpire and is scheduled to work 144 Triple-A International League games. He is among the first on call when a major league umpire is ill, injured or on vacation.
From 2010 through ’12, Tumpane worked 85 MLB games. In the past two weeks he has been in Oakland, San Francisco and, most recent, Wednesday in Detroit, where he umpired at third base for the Tigers-Toronto Blue Jays game.
If there’s such a thing to be a natural at umpiring, Tumpane is the definition.
“I was the kid just hanging around at the fields at Westside (fields) in Oak Lawn,” he said. “If someone (from the umpiring crew) didn’t show up, I’d talk the other one into letting me work the bases.”
Tumpane umpired Little League games until his senior year at St. Laurence, when he quit the baseball team and got an IHSA license to be an umpire.
“I was getting out of St. Laurence at 3 o’clock and doing freshman and sophomore games in the SICA West,” he said.
Tumpane said he received a lot of help early on from Catholic League veterans Rich Panovich and Dan Marshall.
“They kind of took me under their wing and guided me in the right direction,” he said.
In 2002, Tumpane attended a five-week course at the Harry Wendelstedt School for Umpires in Daytona Beach, Fla., and emerged as one of the top 25 in the class. That landed him a job, at age 18, in the Gulf Coast League, from where he has worked his way up the minor league ladder to the majors, and become an instructor at the Wendelstedt School.
He always makes time for some home-schooling.
At the Crete-Monee clinic, Tumpane was all about fundamentals — with an emphasis on mental.
“We worked a lot on timing, basically letting the plays and pitches develop,” he said. “So many (new umpires) are eager to do something, and if the umpire is moving faster than the game there are too many mixed signals. You’ve got to slow down and let the game come to you.
“It’s tough to go out on these high school fields and learn on the fly, so as much as I can pump into their brain in a one-day clinic, the better for them.”
And, ultimately, the kids.