Most professional ball players have worked their way up through the minor leagues, usually spending three to five years riding buses from one small town to another, before they have a chance to play in the major leagues. According to Major League Baseball, it can take twice as long for umpires to reach the big leagues, where there are just 68 umpires working games.
Two umpires on the field of this week’s Major League Baseball’s two League Championship Series who worked their way to the bright lights as umpires began their long journey while they were students at UConn.
Dan Iassogna and Jim Reynolds, both 1991 graduates, started umpiring at UConn during their undergraduate years as part of the Umpire Development Program, which was started by former Husky baseball coach Andy Baylock.
Reynolds, who holds a degree in communications journalism, began umpiring in the majors in 1999. He is working the American League Series between the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers, and previously was an umpire for the Division Series in 2005, 2007, and 2008, and the 2004 All-Star Game. He spent his minor league years working games in the NY-Penn League, South Atlantic League, California League, Eastern League, Southern League, American Association, and International League.
Iassogna, whose UConn degree is in English, has been in the majors since 2004. He is working the National League Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and San Francisco Giants, and has previously worked minor league games in the NY-Penn, South Atlantic, Carolina, Texas, and International Leagues.
“I’m pretty proud of what they did,” says Baylock, who currently is director of alumni and community relations for the Husky football team. “It was really enjoyable to see those guys progress and get where they are today.”
Baylock says the UConn umpiring program was initiated in the 1970s in order to allow the Husky baseball team to play its fall and spring schedules without incurring extra costs. In those days there were both varsity and junior varsity squads playing.
“We scheduled junior colleges and prep schools to come here to play,” he said. “We needed umpires. One way to do it was to run an umpiring class.”
Baylock attended umpiring clinics, and then returned to the classroom to teach the handful of undergraduates who were interested in learning the ropes. Among those who also later found baseball careers were Matt Winans and Rick Romanello, who both worked in the majors, and Nick Giaquinto, a Husky football player who was a member of the Super Bowl XVII champion Washington Redskins before beginning his 22-year career as head baseball coach at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn.
“Two of the guys who took umpiring very seriously were Dan [Iassogna] and Jimmy [Reynolds],” Baylock says. “They did youth league ball in summer and went to the Harry Wendelstedt Umpire School. I still remember when they got their first assignment in the NY-Penn League. I went up and saw the dingy locker room they had. I was thrilled when they sent me their umpiring jerseys. I still wear an umpire jacket.”
The umpiring class earned students just one credit, even though they worked varsity and junior varsity games in the fall, attended workshops during the week, and umpired junior varsity games in the spring.
“They loved the game, they played the game,” says Baylock. “But they found their future in baseball as umpires.”