While it is not unusual for kids playing sports to dream about making it to college or the pros, not many give thought to seeing their big league dream come true wearing the uniform of an umpire.
Yet two brothers from Princeton, Guillermo “Memo” Rodriguez, 29, and Hernan “Nan” Rodriguez, 21, are doing just that, making their way through the high school, collegiate and minor league baseball ranks as umpires on the field.
It was Memo who first made the transition from playing to becoming an official after completing two years of baseball at Shasta College, in Redding, then moving on to Chico State to pursue a degree in criminal justice.
“Once I transferred to Chico, reality hit that I wasn’t playing anymore. Then one day, I met a guy at the gym and we started chatting about sports and he told me he officiated high school sports. I asked if they needed more people and that’s when I began my journey. It started with football and volleyball, then basketball, but I fell in love with umpiring baseball. I knew I couldn’t play baseball forever, so officiating brought back a feeling like I was still playing the game, and I knew that was what I wanted to do,” said Memo, a 2009 graduate of Princeton High School.
So since 2013, Memo has officiated local high school sports along with college baseball, seeing his hard work pay off in 2017, when he signed his first professional contract officially making him a minor league baseball umpire.
For younger brother Nan, who saw how much his older brother enjoyed officiating, it started as a hobby and side job that fit into his school schedule, but he too has developed a passion for continuing to be involved in a sport he has always loved.
“Baseball has been my life since Little League. I stopped playing while attending Butte College, but saw how my older brother fell in love with umpiring,” Nan said. “ I love the game and to me it was the best way to give back to the game where I learned to be who I am now.”
Nan, a 2017 Colusa High graduate who is working toward a career as a firefighter, also officiates high school basketball and football in addition to baseball, and was in his inaugural season as a collegiate umpire in the Golden Valley Conference when the season was cut short.
There is no question that a love of baseball and the similarity to playing motivated the brothers to get into the umpiring business, but what may be even more interesting is how they deal with the displeasure often expressed by coaches, players and especially the fans.
Both spoke about keeping their composure, but also about having the confidence to trust themselves.
Memo, the more experienced of the two commented that, “Fans are always going to want their team to win or get the edge, so if it goes their way they are going to say good things, but when it goes against them they are going to say bad things. You just have to ignore them. They watch sports on TV and think the same rules apply to their kids, but every level has different rules. As for coaches and players, they may question your judgment, but never your integrity.”
Nan put it this way saying, “You can’t lose your cool. You have to take control of the situation. It’s a different perspective on the game, and we are human, so we aren’t perfect.”
Yet in spite of the occasional negative, another thing the brothers enjoy is the opportunity to work together.
“It’s awesome to work with my brother,” said Nan. “I think it’s my favorite thing to do. We both give each other feedback to make us better. If he has something to say to help me improve, I listen, because he has had the professional training.”
Memo agreed adding, “Younger brother has a lot of learning to do still, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. I still have a lot of learning to do myself. All in all though, it’s always fun to officiate and umpire with my brother.”
So while they both wait to get back on the field, the goals remain in place, for Memo it’s to be a Major League Baseball umpire, while Nan is looking toward Division I college ball after he retires from firefighting. ♣