Alex Skandalis '05 on umpiring: "You always want to have your eyes in the right place. You have to look at everything and always have to be ready to make the next call."
Call of the Roaming Umpire
CSOM senior has sights set on a different kind of baseball career
By Reid Oslin
Baseball is almost done for the year - mercifully, some might say - but for one Carroll School of Management senior next season can't come soon enough.
Alex Skandalis, however, aims to follow a different path on the bases than the likes of David Ortiz or Derek Jeter. The 20-year-old New Jersey native wants to be a Major League Baseball umpire.
As the youngest umpire in the United States officiating college baseball games, Skandalis has an impressive head start on his career aspiration of calling balls and strikes at the highest professional level. After graduation next spring, he will enroll in one of the two professional umpire schools in Florida - the next step along a career path that could eventually lead him to Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium and other temples of the national pastime.
"Baseball is the most rule oriented sport there is," said Skandalis, who expects to receive his accounting degree in May after only three years at the University. "But it also is a sport that requires its umpires to do what's fair; to use common sense and fair play."
He knows that the role of a baseball arbiter is not always so altruistic. "It's the only sport that also has a fixed time for coaches or managers to come out on the field and argue with the game officials," he said with a laugh. "Handling that is a big part of an umpire school's curriculum."
As he builds his umpiring experience, Skandalis is careful to avoid developing a flamboyant on-field style that could mask faulty work habits. "I sometimes practice making 'safe' and 'out' calls in front of a mirror," Skandalis said. "My roommate probably wonders 'What the heck is this guy doing?'"
On the field, Skandalis tries to follow the cardinal rule of umpiring: "You always want to have your eyes in the right place," he says. "You have to look at everything and always have to be ready to make the next call. You don't want to make a call too early - you have to watch the whole play.
"If you don't use your eyes properly, it could blow up in your face," said Skandalis with the confidence of a man whose decisions - at least on a baseball diamond - are law.
His favorite major league arbiter is low-key Dale Scott, a 17-year MLB veteran who is respected for his ability to always be in the right position to make his calls. "The secret is 'angle before distance.' You always want to have the best angle on the play, although coaches only seem to see your distance from it," said Skandalis.
Like almost every baseball umpire at any level of the game, Skandalis started off as a player, participating in Little League in his hometown of Bedminster, NJ. When he suffered a sore pitching arm at age 12, he decided to look for other ways to be a part of the sport. Umpiring was a natural choice.
"I became a Little League umpire, and I discovered that I really liked it," he said.
Skandalis soon was able to assign other umpires to league games and assisted the adult organizers in choosing umpires for championship games.
By the time he turned 18, Skandalis had passed the New Jersey high school umpires' test and began working games at the prep level. When he came to Boston College, he shifted into an accounting frame of mind, but he admits "the dream had started" for a career behind the plate.
Skandalis has spent his recent summers working amateur baseball leagues in his home region, including the prestigious Metropolitan Baseball League, a "wooden bat" circuit for college players in the New York City area. He has also worked the American Youth Baseball Hall of Fame Tournament in Cooperstown, NY, and last summer was honored for having the "best umpiring mechanics" in the annual national competition.
Last summer, Skandalis took the challenging umpire's examination administered by the Eastern College Athletic Conference, which oversees sports officials for contests involving nearly 325 colleges and universities from Maine to Virginia. He passed the written test, which consists of approximately 100 true-false questions on the game's rules, complex situational questions, and written essays, and has been evaluated for his on-field work this fall at local college games.
"Alex has passed all of the steps so far," said ECAC Director of Baseball Umpiring Nick Zibelli, who expects Skandalis to be approved for working a full slate of college games in the spring.
After graduation, Skandalis plans to enroll in one of the professional umpiring schools in Florida operated by former Major League umps Harry Wendellstedt and Jim Evans. The top grads of the two umpiring schools are traditionally offered Rookie League contracts and the chance to begin the on-average 10-year career path that, for some, ends in the big leagues.
Said Zibelli, "Alex has his sights affixed to a couple of lofty goals, but from what I have seen of him he has the desire to reach them. He's a very hard worker, an excellent listener, and he's like a sponge in trying to learn as much as he can [from veteran umpires]. I am very impressed not only with his work ethic, but with his talent. I think he has a tremendous upside. He's a perfect candidate to go to a major league umpires' school and see what he can do with it."