Bowie, Md. – Fort Wayne resident Max Guyll was the home plate umpire here on Sept. 6 for a Class AA Eastern League playoff game that took nearly three hours.
There were five pitching changes and 20 hits in the EL semifinal series between the host and Baltimore affiliate Bowie (MD) Baysox and the Akron (Ohio) Aeros. The game ran pretty smoothly, even when Guyll called Cleveland big leaguer Lonnie Chisenhall, who was with Akron on a rehab assignment, looking at strike three in the top of the fourth in a game won by Bowie, 7-5.
But that was just the beginning of a long night for Guyll, who has been a minor league umpire since 2006.
Less than one hour after the final pitch here in Maryland, the 2002 Homestead High School graduate and fellow umpire and Hoosier State native, Joe Born of Lafayette, got in a van behind the visitor's clubhouse about 15 miles east of the nation's capital to begin the overnight drive to Akron, which took about seven hours.
They arrived at their hotel in Ohio around 6 a.m. Sept. 7, got a few hours of sleep, grabbed some lunch and were at the ballpark in Akron by 5:30 p.m. in preparation to work Game 3 of the Eastern League series that night between host Akron and Bowie.
Welcome to the world of a minor league umpire, in which there is no such thing as a home game for the men in blue who are constantly on the road. One of his longest road trips was between Richmond, Va., and Portland, Maine during the 2011 Eastern League season.
“I don't want to say it gets annoying because I love travel,” says Guyll. “Having a normal life while you are gone six months of the year is a challenge. You are not home” half of the year.
Even so there are still things that need to be done, which can be a challenge after a long day of calling balls and strikes.
“You are tried and you are driving … the last thing you want to do is call an electrician to do something at your house,” he said.
But Guyll, who has been at the Class AA level for the past three seasons, is more than willing to put up with those distractions as he tries to work his way up the ladder to the Major Leagues.
“I will make them release me. I am not going to quit,” said Guyll, who is a substitute teacher in the off-season at Woodside Middle School and Homestead.
Guyll grew up in a military family and was in sixth grade when his parents, Jim and Lisa, moved to Fort Wayne in the 1990s. He played baseball and football at Homestead and attended Ball State before transferring to IPFW, where he played one season of baseball. He is now less than a year shy of a degree in Organizational Leadership at IPFW.
But it was the inability to play baseball that led Guyll to becoming an umpire. He broke his arm the summer before eighth grade and was not able to play for a few months.
“You are not going to sit around the house all day,” said his father.
So Guyll joined his father as they called games in a Fort Wayne youth league.
The younger Guyll eventually did high school baseball games and in January of 2006 attended the Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring, run by the former Major League arbitrator in Florida.
He also took a course through the Professional Baseball Umpire Corp (PBUC) to become certified and on a Friday night in June in 2006 got a call that invited him into the ranks of minor league umpires. He was a plane that Sunday and headed to the Gulf Coast League in Florida, where Guyll began his journey up the minor league ladder.
Guyll garnered national attention – something that umpires do not want – in August of 2011 when he ejected Harrisburg (PA) Senators' mega-prospect Bryce Harper, then 18, after Harper was called out on strikes to end the seventh against Richmond pitcher Eric Surkamp in an Eastern League game.
“It happens,” said Guyll, who wasn't the first or last umpire to eject Harper.
Harper is now a top rookie with the Washington Nationals while Surkamp pitched in the majors with the Giants last season.
“There were a couple of pitches I just thought were off the plate,” Harrisburg manager Tony Beasley, who was ejected, told the Patriot-News of Harrisburg after that game. “I mentioned that to [Guyll] earlier in passing. But the pitch on Harper I just disagreed with, and obviously Harper did, too. Surkamp is tough enough when you're keeping him in the zone. I just disagreed with the call and things just escalated a bit.”
Guyll and three other umpires (the Eastern League uses just three umpires during the regular season) also worked Game 4 on Saturday and Game 5 on Sunday in Akron in this year's EL semifinals, as the Aeros came back from a 2-0 deficit to win the series in five games in Bowie.
When the EL championship series began Tuesday night in Akron, Guyll was the second base umpire. Playoff umpires in the Eastern League are chosen on merit, which is good news for Guyll.
Game 2 between host Akron and Trenton, a farm team of the Yankees, was held Wednesday night in Ohio with the best-of-five series moving to Trenton for the rest of the series starting with Game 3 on Friday, Sept. 14.
Guyll said it takes the support of family and friends for umpires to spend years in the minors. He credits his fiancÚ, Abbey Malloy, a Bishop Luers High School graduate and speech therapist.
Since Akron is the westernmost team in the Eastern League, Guyll has had family members drive to Ohio when he is working a series there. Malloy has also driven to Pennsylvania when he called games in Eastern League towns Erie and Altoona and she has also flown to Harrisburg and Portland to see him during his three years at the Class AA level.
Guyll has no timetable on his call of becoming a Major League umpire. He said he should find out around spring training if he will move up a level in 2013.
“I am close to going to Triple A. It is a job now,” he said.
The Guyll file
Here is a look at the pro umpiring career of Fort Wayne resident Max Guyll, a 2002 graduate of Homestead High School:
2006 – Gulf Coast League
2007 – New York-Penn League
2008 – low Class A Midwest League
2009 – high Class A Florida State League
2010 – Class AA Eastern League
2011 – Class AA Eastern League
2012 – Class AA Eastern League