From no-hitters to opening days to World Series: Jeff Nelson has seen it all as an MLB umpire
On Sunday, Oct. 28, most sports fans—and especially baseball fans—had their eyes locked on their televisions.
For Jeff Nelson, he had a front row seat as the Boston Red Sox won the World Series in five games over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Nelson was the home plate umpire, calling balls and strikes in what ended up being the last game of the season.
Throughout his 21 years of being an MLB umpire, Nelson has traveled everywhere and has experienced some memorable moments. From no-hitters to umpiring in All Star games and playoff games, Nelson has been witness to some of the biggest games in MLB history.
"It's a dream come true for me," Nelson said. "I get to do something I love everyday and I get to see every part of the country."
Nelson grew up in Cottage Grove and played pretty much every sport in the neighborhood. As a teenager, he enjoyed being an umpire so he decided to to learn more about the job.
He went through some teachings and lessons at umpire school and became a base umpire his first year. In his second year, he became a plate umpire for little league and Babe Ruth in Cottage Grove.
After umpiring in Cottage Grove, Nelson needed money to pay for college so he and his friend decided to be an umpire in the spring of 1982. The two were paid 15 dollars a game.
"It was the best part time job," Nelson said. "I wanted to be an attorney in college."
Nelson was a history major at Bethel University, but decided to attend umpire school in Florida in the fall of 1983. The umpire school starts in January and it's a five-week course that includes 125 to 175 students.
Nelson said the umpire school teaches the students everything they need to know about umpiring in the major leagues. After the five-week class, the school picks 45 total students to send to the minor leagues as the next course.
The umpire students are placed into rookie ball and sign a one-year contract, with basically no job security. Nelson made it through this entire process and even though it was tough, it was an exciting process to be a part of.
"About one percent of the umpires at the school make it to the pros," Nelson said. "It's a tough road, but it definitely builds your character."
Once he went through rookie ball, Nelson had a 70-game schedule in 1989 and also started teaching at the umpire school.
From 1989 to the early part of the 1999 season, Nelson was an umpire in the minor leagues. As a minor league umpire, he had to work with what was given to him. Nelson said he would get to know people in the city and try to figure out the best situations for him.
During the 1987 and 1989 season, Nelson became a substitute for the National League and was one step away from his ultimate goal of reaching the major leagues.
Finally, on May 9, 1997, Nelson had his first opportunity to umpire a MLB game at Dodger Stadium, site of Boston's title-clinching win this fall. For him, it was the most amazing memory of his 21-year career.
"The first game for any umpire is special because whether you are an umpire for one game or for 20 years," Nelson said, "you still were able to be an umpire in the major leagues."
Along with his first game of his career, Nelson was a part of an umpire crew that witnessed five no-hitters, and he was the home plate umpire for the first game at Target Field. Nelson also worked as home plate umpire for the no-hitter by Seattle's Hisashi Iwakuma on August, 12, 2015.
Besides his first game in the MLB, Nelson has one other distinct memory in his career: being the home plate umpire for Game 7 of the 2014 World Series when the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants played each other.
"You try to make those nights as normal as possible and you don't think about the circumstances," Nelson said. "It's always an honor being the plate umpire for a Game 7 of the World Series."
Nelson has made so many memories throughout his 21 years as an MLB umpire and he credits his growth as an umpire to the incredible teachers he's had along the way. From umpire school in Cottage Grove to umpire school in Florida and the umpires that taught him along the way to the MLB, every single person helped him understand his job more and more each day.
Now that the season has come to an end, Nelson will return home and work on some projects for the upcoming month. He loves to travel and see some of his friends who are officials in other sports, like college basketball and the NBA.
Even though the season is over, spring training is right around the corner, so Nelson makes sure to get together with his personal trainer early and often. Many umpires retire from the sport due to injuries, especially back and leg injuries, so Nelson makes sure he's always working out and keeping in good shape during the offseason.
"I'm feeling really good in my career and I hope to continue umpiring for the future," Nelson said. "It's a fun job to have and it's amazing to see the journey to where I am today."
There are 76 full time umpires in the MLB and 17 crew chiefs and Nelson has been able to develop friendships with many of them throughout his career.
With 21 years comes some negativity from fans, players and coaches, but Nelson doesn't worry about it. He goes into his job every day the same way and hopes to umpire to perfection each and every game.
"We, [as umpires], compete against perfection every day," Nelson said. "It can be tough some days, but in the end, this job is a dream come true."