Local umpire Derek Thomas in the Midwest League, shoots for the big leagues

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CEDAR RAPIDS — When the six umpires were introduced Tuesday night before the first pitch of the Midwest League All-Star Game at Veterans Memorial Stadium, one actually garnered some applause.

“Somebody booed me, though, too,” Derek Thomas was quick to point out.

Boos and verbal jabs come with the territory when you are calling balls, strikes and outs. It’s a thankless job, but one Thomas has grown to love.

The Cedar Rapids Kennedy graduate is in his third season as a professional umpire, his first in the MWL.

“It has definitely been fun being able to travel and see parts of the country I probably wouldn’t have gotten to,” he said. “To me, that’s the best part of it. Seeing things I never would have seen if I wasn’t in this game. And, of course, being on a baseball field isn’t bad, either.”

Thomas was a three-year varsity player for the Cougars, graduating in 2009. He played baseball at Lewis University in surburban Chicago and got into umpiring after his career concluded.

Initially it was just a way for him to earn a little money as he sought a full-time job. Then someone suggested to him perhaps he should give umpiring school a shot.

He did, traveling to Florida in January of 2014. Thomas proved good enough to get assigned to the Arizona Rookie League and then the Rookie-level Northwest League that summer.

Last season, it was back to the Northwest League. He got promoted to low-A ball this summer and was assigned to be the home-plate umpire at last week’s all-star game.

Family and friends were the ones you heard cheering when his name was announced.

“Being a former player maybe helps a little bit, but all of the instructors at the schools do a really good job of teaching guys what they need to know,” Thomas said. “Even the guys who didn’t really play baseball are really good umpires.”

This would seem to be a good time to get into professional baseball umpiring, as several major league veterans are approaching the ends of their careers. There should be some turnover coming within the next few seasons.

Thomas was asked if he has allowed himself the opportunity to think about making it to “The Show.”

“We all do,” he said. “It’s hard to say if this is a good time to be an umpire or not. Not one of those things that you try and focus on. You kind of go with short-term goals right now. Do the things we’re being told to improve on day in and day out. Just try and get better overall.”

How They're Doing

Colin Rea (Cascade): Promoted back to the big leagues (Padres) after a short stint in Triple-A. Is 3-2 with a 4.85 ERA in 11 games, 10 starts.
Scott Schebler (Cedar Rapids Prairie): Outfielder hitting .299 in 42 games for Triple-A Louisville (Reds). Has 10 doubles, four triples, seven home runs and 25 RBIs in 164 at-bats.
Matt Dermody (University of Iowa): Relief pitcher is 1-0 with a 0.66 earned run average in 11 games for Double-A New Hampshire (Blue Jays). Has allowed just nine hits and has 14 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings.
Jon Keller (Cedar Rapids Xavier): Reliever is 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA in 18 games for Double-A Bowie (Orioles). Also has a save.
Mitch Keller (Cedar Rapids Xavier): Starting pitcher is 5-4 with a 2.42 ERA in 12 starts for low-A West Virginia (Pirates). Has allowed just 47 hits and has 76 strikeouts in 67 innings.
Jake Yacinich (University of Iowa): Shortstop hitting .219 in 26 games for low-Class A Burlington, with four homers and 12 RBIs.
Joel Booker (University of Iowa): Outfielder and 2016 draft pick is 3 for 13 to begin his pro career for Arizona Rookie League White Sox. Also has driven in three runs.
Kris Goodman (University of Iowa): Outfielder is with Rookie-level Batavia (Marlins). Is 8 for 29 in eight games (.276 average).
Nick Roscetti (University of Iowa): Shortstop has begun his pro career with Arizona Rookie League Brewers. Is 4 for 13 in four games, with an RBI and two stolen bases.
Eric Toole (University of Iowa): Outfielder is 5 for his first 11 for Rookie-level Boise (Rockies), with a pair of walks in three games.

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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