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Sports

Illinois umps fulfill dreams, call game at MLB park

Chris Rollin Walker
Chris Rollin Walker

John Hobscheid is no stranger to the awesome tailgating experience at Miller Park, which is the home of the Milwaukee Brewers.

During the summer you often can find Hobscheid with a cold beer in one hand and a grilled sandwich of some sorts in the other in the parking lot before Brewers games.

Recently, though, the Roselle resident was actually on the field. Umpiring.

“It was the highlight of my 14-year career so far,” he said. “I had that and I worked a Friday night cancer benefit and regionals so those are my top three moments.”

The Miller Park experience came as a surprise to Hobscheid as his umpiring assignor had simply posted a question on Facebook that jokingly asked his umpires what their dream stadium to work at was. Hobscheid had no idea that he would soon be umpiring a Wisconsin high school game at an MLB ballpark, but he answered the question anyway.

“I saw the question and answered Miller Park, Wrigley Field and Busch Stadium,” Hobscheid said. “But I had no idea there was going to be a game for me.”

Shortly thereafter, as he was filling up a gas container for the dreaded lawn mowing chore that awaited him, he got a call from fellow umpire Gary Hoger who saw an announcement on Facebook. Hobscheid needed to change his plans for May 17 since he’d now be umpiring at Miller Park.

For a guy who had worked in several minor league ballparks and countless games over the years, this was huge news. He was going to work on the same field where the best players in the world played the national pastime.

“It was an awesome experience,” he said. “I’m just someone that loves the game. I grew up near Wrigley Field, and even in ’69 I was able to go to the West Coast and got autographs from every player. This was something else, though. When I got the email to confirm this assignment I was shocked.”

Hobscheid made the trip with umpire Denis Nemmers. They joined a pair of Wisconsin umpires and worked a rare four-man crew.

For Nemmers, the experience was equally thrilling, especially since he’s had some amazing personal and baseball experiences in Milwaukee.

The Prospect Heights resident often frequented the Brewers’ old home, Milwaukee County Stadium, and his memories there certainly include some unforgettable ones. Nemmers had his bachelor party at Milwaukee County Stadium, but there’s no need to go over details of that here. I’m pretty sure that Adrian Zmed did not attend it although I wouldn’t be surprised to learn if the beer-gutted Gorman Thomas made a surprise visit. Nemmers also was in the stands in 1990 when Nolan Ryan won his 300th game, besting current Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio, and he was in the same stadium when another Hall of Famer, Robin Yount, collected career hit No. 3,000 off Indians reliever Jose Mesa.

He saw a lot of history and then made some personal history when he got the chance to umpire at Miller Park.

“I’ve been setting goals and looking to move up and I’ve been fortunate,” Nemmers said. “This has been a great season with getting some playoff games and then this experience of going up to Miller Park was great.”

Nemmers was giddy all morning leading up to the game.

“They didn’t allow us to use the umpire room, but the Brewers were still very accommodating,” he said. “It was just a great day overall and a great honor for me.”

These rare opportunities to work a big game in the best parks don’t come often, but they certainly are well-earned, especially for guys that have put in their time such as Hobscheid and Nemmers.

“I don’t have a huge ego or anything so I treat each game like it should be,” Nemmers said. “It could be an 8U game on a rinky-dinky field, but it might feel like Game 7 of the World Series to those kids and that’s the perspective you need to take.”

Good umpires might look around and be amazed when they’re working at a venue like Miller Park, but it doesn’t take long before you’re so completely focused on the job itself.

“Once the game got going that was our focus,” Hobscheid said. “It was a really neat experience and we ended up working a 2-1 game with a walkoff single to win it in the bottom of the seventh inning.”

A walk-off winner at a Major League stadium? It doesn’t get much better than that, does it?

Well, I’d have to disagree there. 

As much as I love umpiring, it doesn’t get more relaxing than kicking back by tailgating, grilling and enjoying a few cold drinks with friends. I’m sure Hobscheid and Nemmers will get to do that again and now they certainly have a great story to share when they do it since they’ve now worked at beautiful Miller Park.

Sugar Grove resident Chris Rollin Walker is a baseball umpire with an eye for strikes, balls, gerunds and participles. Contact him at editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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