GARDEN CITY, Kan. (KSNW) – Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, and raised in Garden City, Todd Tichenor grew up around sports.
As a kid, he worked almost every job in baseball. He shagged baseballs, worked scoreboard, and started umpiring at just 12-years-old.
By the time Tichenor had reached high school, he knew he wanted to pursue umpiring for a career.
“It just grew into a passion,” said Tichenor.
He graduated high school in 1995, and then went on to play baseball at Garden City Community College from 1996-1997. After that, he worked at the local telegram for a year and then decided to pursue his dreams of umpiring.
“I was like, can I do this for the rest of my life? And so I googled it and found out that I could go to umpire school. Didn’t know anything about it. But I left Kansas and went to umpiring school,” he said.
The school he attended takes place every January and is six weeks long. There are two different umpiring schools, each has 150 students.
Out of the 300 students accepted into the umpire program, 30 were chosen to move on to the main course in Cocoa Beach, Florida for an additional three weeks of work.
“We just umpired. There wasn’t really any teaching you had a number on your back, and you just umpired and you got evaluated every day,” he said.
Of the 30 students in the main course, 17 got jobs in the minor leagues, and only three of them are now full-time major league umpires.
The following April, Tichenor got asked to work the Pioneer League. He umpired in Montana, Canada, Idaho, and Utah for five months.
“It’s a tough situation living out of a suitcase,” he said, “My goal was to become a professional umpire. You set goals. Once you’re in the Pioneer League, you want to work that all-star game. Once you’re in the South Atlantic League, in the Carolina League, you want to work those all-star games. Then it grows,” he said.
Tichenor would later get promoted to Triple-A.
“Big League supervisors come to Triple-A. They look at the umpires just as they do the new players,” he said.
From there he got asked to be on the call-up list.
“You go to the fall League and start working a four man system of umpires,” he said.
In 2007, Tichenor would get his first call-up to a major league game while he was in Las Vegas umping a Triple-A game. It was the same day as his ten-year wedding anniversary.
He and his family rented a can and drove to Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
“Once you get your first call-up you want more, you know it’s a, it’s an addicting thing you want more big league games,” he said.
From 2007 to 2011, Tichenor would be called up when needed to umpire big league games, but in 2012, it became his full-time gig, and after years of work, he finally received the call he had been waiting for.
He was chosen to umpire the 2020 World Series of the Los Angeles Dodgers versus the Tampa Bay Rays. He would be the first Kansan to do so since 1948 and only the third in history.
“It’s a surreal phone call to get. ‘We need you to work the World Series,’ you know it’s an awesome phone call to get, but once you hang up. It’s, it becomes work,” he said. “What do I have to do at first base, what do I have to do at second base, what do I have to do at third base. Oh, wait I have to work the plate tonight in a big game. It’s a lot of focus.”
His biggest moment was stepping up to home plate to call game two.
“As an umpire, you’re expected to be 100% right and get better, and that’s one of the hardest things to learn is that you’re not going to get every call, you’re not always going to be right, you know it’s very humbling,” he said.
Besides the hours of work on the diamond, Tichenor was also able to become friends with the other umpires, learning from their experience, and making memories he will never forget.
But he says his most cherished memory was seeing his family in the stands after having to spend time away to umpire other games.
“I hadn’t seen them you know for a couple of months. So it was pretty neat that I look up and see my two sons sitting right there,” he said.
After the series, Tichenor returned back home to western Kansas.
His community welcomed him with a cheer at their local football game.
“It’s been a long journey. This started 20 years ago, and for somebody to notice that. It’s a humbling experience and I’m glad that people see it,” he said.
But the journey isn’t over.
“It’s not my last one. I wanna get more. You know, that’s the goal now. I’m hungry for more,” he said.