The nerves still reside in Charlie Clemons the same way they did during his playing career.
They release when he emerges from the clubhouse and charges onto the field at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. His uniform still kept neatly and his hat perfectly aligned, as he takes his spot on the field.
The first game of the day in the National Baseball Congress World Series is set to begin and Clemons is about to immerse himself in his favorite hobby for the next two-plus hours.
“Some people fish, some people play golf,” Clemons said. “I umpire.”
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Clemons is a 28-year-old Topeka resident who travels around the country, but mostly the Midwest, to umpire primarily college baseball games in the spring and summer.
He was brought to Wichita this week by Bob Homolka, the umpire in chief for the NBC World Series who handpicked Clemons. Homolka received more than 100 applicants for the tournament and it’s not a mistake that Clemons was one of the 41 he choose to work games over the two-week span.
“Charlie is probably the best young umpire in the state of Kansas and one of the best in the Midwest,” Homolka said. “I’ve been at this for awhile and he’s one of the best young guys I’ve ever seen.”
That’s high praise from an umpire who is inducted in the Kansas Baseball Hall of Fame, Kansas Sports Officials Hall of Fame, and NBC Hall of Fame.
And not bad for someone who started as an umpire as a quick way to make cash during the summer while he was playing right field for the Washburn baseball team. But Clemons enjoyed the work and met a group of college-aged umpires who encouraged him to pursue it as a career.
So Clemons saved up $5,000 and road-tripped to Kissimmee, Fla. to attend the Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring, a renowned academy that trains aspiring umpires around 60 hours a week for five weeks.
“I kind of looked at it like paying for a college dorm and a meal plan,” Clemons said. “It was like a semester of college.”
Clemons went through hours of mental preparation and on-field training. It is still up to Clemons to make his own calls, but he learned where, why, and when to be on the field to put himself in the position to improve his chances of making the right one.
But where umpires build their reputation is their work from behind the plate.
“That’s where you either get hired or fired,” Clemons said.
Clemons graduated from the academy and received high-enough marks to be hired immediately to umpire professional baseball games. His major-league dreams were suddenly real and Clemons ascended as high as Double-A.
But he would not be promoted again and returned to Topeka to earn his business degree from Washburn. He will walk at graduation this December with a new career goal: become a financial analyst for a business.
“You really only get one chance to make it (to the majors) and that was it,” Clemons said. “Now I’m strictly an amateur.”
On this day, a late-afternoon tilt on the first day of the tournament’s championship week, Clemons doesn’t feel like an amateur making calls from the third-base line. He still feels the rush of adrenaline and sense of pride making the right calls during the game.
It is clear that a day job won’t quench this thirst for Clemons. Baseball is a part of him and always will be.
He may never end up in the majors, like he had originally dreamed, but Clemons is doing what he loves and that’s enough for him.
“I don’t really have any (major-league) aspirations anymore and that’s fine,” Clemons said. “I’ll just get a real job and then have this as a hobby. A very, very fun hobby.”
NBC World Series
When: Games beginning at 8 a.m. Sunday
Where: Lawrence-Dumont Stadium
Inside: Saturday’s results, Sunday’s schedule, page 4D.