Jordan Baker, at 6’7”, is the tallest umpire in the major leagues. Baker, born and raised an Oklahoma boy, started umpiring when he was just 18 years old. Thinking back to when he first officiated a game, he recalls, “ Seth Buckminster [ a former minor league umpire] and I grew up together. We were basically neighbors, we went to same high school, hung out, got in trouble together,…he was the guy that said ‘Hey let’s go do this little league stuff.’ We would knock out a little league baseball tournament and make $400 in one weekend. That is a lot of money for an 18 year old.” Baker recalls fondly, “From the first time I did it, I loved it. I loved running the game and being in charge as an official.”
Baker continued to umpire as he went on to college at Oklahoma State. He lived with some guys on the school’s baseball team and they urged him to take the next step and umpire high school ball. While studying to get a degree in Secondary Education, Baker umpired the high school games and joined the local umpire association where members saw his skill level and suggested he umpire on the collegiate level, so he did. He remembers “It was a little weird calling games for guys that were my own age” but this experience would help him feel more comfortable as a young major league umpire. During this time Baker learned he could umpire as a profession, and thought that sounded more fun than going to school, so on he went to Harry Wendelstedt’s umpire school in 2005.
Baker was in the minor leagues for eight years. He spent time in the Arizona League, Hawaii Winter league, New York Penn League, South Atlantic League, Dominican League and Florida State League. He felt fortunate for the traveling he did in the minor leagues, “I got a lot of cool assignments, but my favorite was Hawaii. I practically got paid to go on vacation for six months. Who wouldn’t want to be in Hawaii? I was there with Mark Ripperger and Dan Bellino, who both like to golf and have a good time. It was a rude awakening having to come back stateside.” When asked to share either the hardest part of the minor leagues or his fondest memory he chose to speak about his time in the Florida State League. The umpires stayed at the Palm Pavilion in Clearwater, Florida. Throughout the many years umpires had stayed at this hotel, they had built a great relationship with the owners. Thanks to this relationship, Baker vividly recalls one of his fondest memories from the minor leagues - enjoying a beer while hitting golf balls off the roof of the hotel into the Gulf of Mexico.
Baker had his first big league game at Minute Maid park in Houston on June 22, 2012. He is one of the few umpires that was able to share the experience with his family because he found out he would get the call-up to cover a block vacation 2 weeks before the actual game. Thanks to the early notice and the fact that Houston wasn’t too far from his home town in Oklahoma, he had lots of family drive down for the game. His wife, (then fiancé) was able to photograph his first play. On top of that, Baker adds, “Gerry Davis was the crew chief at the time and he made sure it was a special day for me. Gerry was at 3rd
, Phil Cuzzi was at the plate, and Manny Gonzalez was at 1st..
After Baker’s first call, Gerry Davis called time-out and told Phil Cuzzi to get the ball. Umpires often do this when they think the ball has a scuff or what not. Well, Cuzzi is looking at the ball and says. ‘It looks fine!’ but Davis told him ‘No, it’s the kid’s first call in the big leagues, give him the ball!’” Thanks to this Baker has photographs and the game ball from his first appearance in the big leagues.
Baker truly appreciates and enjoys his job as a major league umpire. When asked what advice he would give to young guys coming up in the profession, he said, “Work hard, stay humble…I could go on for a long time but I’ll keep it at that.” The most challenging thing about umpiring, according to Baker, is managing the lifestyle. He states, “Spring Training is fun to go to...you’re excited for the season. It doesn’t get much better than Opening Day, and even the first couple months are great. By the end of July the glamour has worn off. When you’re getting up at 4 AM to catch a 6AM flight for the second time that week it wears on you.….the grind of baseball.” Baker has gotten used to traveling now. He often chuckles when hearing about people having to ‘recuperate’ from being in a different time zone. Umpires don’t do that, they just jump right into the time zone of city they land in.
Off The Field:
Baker first got involved with UMPS CARE when he attended a hospital visit at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx his first year as a full-time major league umpire. He said it was an incredible experience seeing the kids in the hospital light up over one little bear, “It’s unbelievable what one stuffed animal can do to brighten a child’s day. It won’t change their whole outcome, but if you can switch their mindset it is a beautiful thing.” Now that Baker has children of his own, he stays in each patient’s room just a little longer. “UMPS CARE has always been important to me but when our twins arrived premature at 33 weeks and spent almost a month in the NICU it gave me a whole new perspective and appreciation for what the charity truly does.” Another plus of having his own children, is that he’s better able to keep up with the ‘cool things kids talk about these days’.
One thing is clear, Jordan Baker is thankful for all the experiences in his life. “I love my kids, I love my wife, I feel very lucky.
Thanks to my job I’ve been to a few cool places and done some neat things….I couldn’t ask for more.” Baker still lives in Oklahoma with his wife, Dustie Baker, (whom he met in college) and his three children, Legend and Tayce (3 year old twins) and their younger brother Bryar (15 months). When asked what he likes to do in his free time without missing a beat Baker replied, “I really enjoy changing diapers, nothing I love more. …But I used to really enjoy the outdoors, fishing, hunting, going to concerts.” If Baker was not umpiring he would most likely be teaching or coaching somewhere. He loves being around people and helping them learn about baseball and the game of life.