MLB finding talent at umpire camps
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) Charlie Reliford sold his car to chase his big league dreams, using the money to help play the cost of attending umpire school.
Times have changed for those with the skills and aspirations seeking to become major league umps.
MLB held its fifth and final 2016 umpire camp Saturday at Tropicana Field before the Tampa Bay Rays hosted the Texas Rangers.
Five to seven attendees will end up getting invitations to join a group totaling around 30 for a December mini-camp in Fort Myers that will determine umpire school scholarship recipients.
''Realizing that for anybody to quit their job and risk four or five weeks of their life is a big step, much less come up with several thousand dollars in tuition,'' said Reliford, an MLB umpire supervisor. ''Baseball was gracious enough to give us a budget where we could help some worthy candidates get their start with little to no risk of their own other than their time.''
Over 100 past participants have moved on to professional ball since the first camp in 2006. One of them, Carlos Torres, worked the Kansas City Royals-Rays series earlier this month at Tropicana Field.
''That's really the moments that are good to me,'' Reliford said. ''I helped that guy a little bit.''
Reliford was ''fresh'' out of the University of Kentucky and working as a director at a YMCA in 1982 when he made the call that would eventually land him in the majors seven years later.
''Umpire school tuition was several thousand dollars and quite frankly, just out of college, didn't have it,'' Reliford said. ''So, I sold my car, quit my job with all of my friends telling, me, `What, are you crazy?' And I went to umpire school. For me, it was the best thing that ever happened to me.''
All 14 scholarship recipients last year are currently working in the minor leagues.
''When we find candidates that are qualified, we will encourage those people to go,'' Reliford said. ''We want to help.''
Rich Rieker, Larry Young and Ed Rapuano were among the other instructors at Saturday's camp.