Ellsworth Community College alumni and former baseball player Matt Winter, a native of Hubbard Radcliffe, is making all the calls in the Midwest baseball league. Winter was recently assigned to umpire for the Class-A minor league.
Winter attended ECC and played baseball in 2008 and 2009. He graduated with an associate's degree in Business Administration. "I love ECC! It was close to home and I had a lot of great professors, teammates and friends," commented Winter about his time as a Panther.
After graduating from Ellsworth, he continued his college baseball career and education at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, TX. After college, Winter played for six months in Sydney, Australia, for the MacArthur Orioles and then moved on to his next baseball stop in Gothenburg, Sweden, where he played for the Gothenburg Sharks. After five months in Sweden he came home (September 2012), knowing that his days as a player were over. "I knew if I wanted to stay in baseball I would either have to take up coaching or umpiring," said Winter. "I decided that I would try umpiring because you were still on the field and had a big impact on the game."
Once Winter made his decision about the next step in his life, he enrolled in the Harry Wendelstedt umpire school, one of only two umpire schools sanctioned by Major League Baseball to educate and provide umpires to the Minor League. He went through a five week course in Dayton Beach, FL. The education including learning everything from basic safe/out calls to rotations and advanced mechanics. "It was an absolute blast and I was lucky enough to be chosen to go on to the evaluation coarse that eventually led to a job in Minor League Baseball."
Winter has been on a fast-paced trek ever since. His first assignment was extended spring training in Port St. Lucie and Jupiter, FL, last April through June. He was then assigned to the Gulf Coast League, where he worked three games before being promoted to the New York Penn League, where he worked the majority of last summer. He was also assigned to the first round of the playoffs in the NYPL. He was promoted in the off season to the Midwest League, where he is currently umpiring.
When asked about the best part of being an umpire, Winter had this to say: "The best part is getting to work in a bunch of different cities and stadiums in front of thousands of people every night and getting to travel to cities I'd never get to if it wasn't for this job." While working in the NYPL, his family came out and saw him umpire a series in Brooklyn and New York. "If it wasn't for this job we never would have seen New York City. I've gotten to see and be a part of a lot of special moments on the field and have met so many great people already in my one year in the game."
Even though he is loving his dream job, Winter said there are some negatives that come along with the position. "The hardest part is the road trips. There is never a "home game" for umpires. Every three to four days we pack up the car and drive to the next city. It's not a normal schedule but it's part of the job. You also have to have a thick skin out there because you hear a lot from fans, players and managers. It's a war zone and you and your partner are the only mediators out there."
Winter is happy with the progress he has made in his career. His ultimate goal is to make it to the big league. It's either a move up and advance or get released in the umpiring business. "Every Minor League umpire has the same goal in mind ... we are all chasing the dream of being a Major League umpire."