The final challenge in Emma Charlesworth-Seiler’s bid to become a professional umpire took place in January at the Historic Dodgertown complex in Vero Beach, Fla.
There were 70-plus umpires at the Minor League Baseball Umpire Training Academy. There was a larger number of candidates across Florida at the Wendelstedt School for Umpires.
“Prior to that, most of what we had been involved in was instruction,” Charlesworth-Seiler said. “This was more about evaluation. At the end of the academy, you are brought in and either offered a job or not.”
One question: If you’re being evaluated on umpiring skills and potential, there’s a requirement for the spontaneity of baseball plays. Who are the people playing the games?
“Interesting thing about that: The umpires are playing the games,” Charlesworth-Seiler said. “When you’re not umpiring, there’s a chance you’re going to be one of the nine people out there in matching T-shirts doing your best to be a player.”
Emma had an advantage. She had played baseball through Little League in Golden Valley, played for women’s teams in the Midwest and spent last fall and the early winter playing in a women’s league in Australia.
“I’m sure I had played more baseball than a few of the guys in our academy games,” she said. “There were plays that happened called ‘umpire school plays,’ because you’re never going to see them in a real game.”
The four weeks of training and evaluation included numerous professional umpires. Charlesworth-Seiler was among 24 umpires offered a job out of the academy. Another 29 were added from the Wendelstedt school.
Emma didn’t turn 22 until March 2. When the assignments came out in late April, it wasn’t a surprise that her first pro job would be in the Gulf Coast League, also the starting place for raw rookies in the organized minors.
Charlesworth-Seiler was the only woman in her class at Historic Dodgertown. Another woman, Jen Pawol, debuted in the GCL last year and was promoted to short-season Class A for 2017.
Emma’s first real umpiring experience came in the summer of 2015. She had traveled to Orlando for the first “Baseball for All” national tournament.
It’s a program that offers opportunity to play baseball for women.
“Before that, I mostly had umpired Little League games,” she said. “I was umpiring the ‘Baseball for All’ games, and there were guys from minor league baseball there, watching.
“They would give me some umpiring tips between games, and 10 minutes later, when my next game started, I would try to use those. They came up to me after a couple of days and said, ‘We like the way you pick up on things.’ ”
That earned Charlesworth-Seiler an invitation to an annual four-day umpiring training session held in Fort Myers, Fla., between Christmas and New Year’s.
“Most of the guys there in the 2015 training were trying to get a scholarship to either the academy or the Wendelstedt,” Emma said. “I reminded them, ‘I’m going back to college.’ ”
Charlesworth-Seiler graduated from Hamline with a degree in political science and sociology in the spring of 2016. An understanding of differing views (politics) and social problem solving (sociology) are not bad qualities for an umpire.
“I’ve been a baseball nut since I was a little kid,” she said. “Softball never did it for me. I’m not really sure what field I had in mind with that degree. By last summer, my motivation was to be a professional umpire.”
Emma spent the summer of 2016 working baseball games where she could find them. Then, she went to Australia in the fall, playing for the Penrith Panthers and also umpiring in the Sydney area.
She came back before Christmas and then traveled to Fort Myers for the four-day umpiring camp.
“You only get to try once to earn a scholarship to one of the umpiring schools,” Emma said. “That’s why I told them in 2015 that I was just there for the training; I had college to finish.
“This time, I was there for the scholarship, and I was able to get one.”
And then she was able to get a job. There isn’t a lot of buildup to opening day for GCL umpires.
Charlesworth-Seiler flies to Tampa on June 24, there’s a league meeting on June 25 and she starts umpiring in the noon heat of a Florida summer on June 26.
“We have two-umpire crews,” Emma said. “I don’t know who my partner is as of yet.”
She knows this: The partner will be a young male umpire with the same hopes to succeed.
That’s because Charlesworth-Seiler is only the second female umpire hired by minor league baseball since 2007, and the first, Pawol, has moved up from the GCL.