It’s a five-hour drive from Miller Park in Milwaukee to Target Field, home of the 2014 All-Star Game.
Jeff Nelson, who was one of the umpires during the Brewers-Cardinals series over the weekend, was prepared to make the drive if his flight ran into inclement weather. The Cottage Grove native wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to serve as the crew chief in the Twin Cities on Tuesday.
“It’s like a Final Four, Super Bowl type of event — and it’s right here where we grew up,” Nelson said.
Nelson told Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Joe Torre that he’d love the opportunity to umpire an All-Star Game if it ever were held in Target Field. The same year he was promoted to a crew chief position he received the All-Star assignment, serving as the first base umpire
“I kind of feel a part of the whole thing,” said Nelson, 49. “Growing up, the All-Star Game was always a larger-than-life event. I used to watch it as a kid and hope you’d have some kind of role in the game.”
Nelson, who is in his 21st season, never expected umpiring to be his career. The last time the Midsummer Classic was held in the Twin Cities, in 1985, Nelson was completing his undergraduate degree in history at Bethel University, where he paid part of his tuition by umpiring high school games.
“I was paying attention to the umpires back then, but I didn’t have plans to become a professional one,” said Nelson, who still remembered that Larry McCoy was the plate umpire in the 1985 game.
Nelson briefly attended Pepperdine Law School but nixed his plan to become a lawyer and at 23 enrolled in an umpiring school in Florida run by veteran Joe Brinkman, who is from Holdingford, Minn.
He worked as an umpire for 10 years in the minor leagues until he was promoted to the majors in 1999.
This will be Nelson’s second All-Star Game; he also worked the 2006 game in Pittsburgh.
In addition, he worked the 2005 and 2009 World Series. He missed three months during the 2007 season while being treated for testicular cancer.
The opportunity to serve as the crew chief and first base umpire in an All-Star Game at Target Field will bring Nelson’s career full circle. He hopes to learn from his All-Star Game experience and get a chance to stop and enjoy the rare spectacle in the Twin Cities.
“It doesn’t happen that many times in your lifetime; it’s something special,” Nelson said. “A lot of times we’re grinding through these cities and going in and out, here and there going to hotels. This is one of those events where you stop, go to the event, look around and say, ‘This is pretty cool.’”