As you read this, Major League Baseball (MLB) Umpire Bruce Dreckman of Marcus is either umpiring a baseball game between a team of MLB All-Stars and Japan, sleeping in his four-star hotel room, or perhaps sitting with wife Danae in a sushi bar nixing the sake for a preferred cold lager.
One of four MLB umpires selected to accompany an All-Star squad of Major Leaguers as they play a series of five or six baseball games against Japanese All-Star teams over a 10-day period, Dreckman said he was honored and excited to make his first trip to Japan.
The charter flew out of Chicago last week bound for Tokyo. The U.S. team will play teams in Tokyo, Osaka, and Fukuoka, with some sight-seeing, fun and frolic in between. To help stem jet-lag, one of the first days, the team will ride the train from Tokyo to Kyoto, a popular sight-seeing city on the island.
Four umpires - two Americans and two Japanese - will work each game, with the men alternating games and positions. The other MLB umps accompanying Dreckman are Doug Eddings, Jerry Meals, and Stan Iassogna.
"It should be fun. We're really looking forward to it," said Dreckman a few days before he was scheduled to leave. "Danae and I have never been there, so it's kind of exciting. Japan takes its baseball very seriously so the games will be competitive. As we all know, international baseball is growing very fast and developing very good players. You see more Asian players each year in the Major Leagues."
Dreckman has been umpiring 10 years in the Bigs, although he "sat out" about three of those years when involved in the umpires' union strike that backfired. The last two seasons he has worked the National League Playoff Division Series, including the St. Louis Cardinals versus the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2003, and the Cards versus San Diego Padres in 2004 and 2005.
Not counting post-season, MLB umpires normally work about 140-150 games each season, with four, one-week vacations scheduled in.
A devout family man, Bruce lamented that he and Danae will really miss their three-year old daughter Emily, who will be staying with family in Marcus while her Mom and Dad tour Japan. Bruce lives in Marcus and spends most of the off-season there.
They will be staying at the four-star Hotel Otani in Tokyo. The All-Star baseball "tournament" is sponsored by a major Tokyo newspaper and the accomodations and per diem are all first class, according to Dreckman.
"It's been fun planning and preparing for the trip," continued Dreckman, who as a young man polished his considerable umpiring skills working prep and collegiate baseball in Northwest Iowa, and some fast-pitch softball, before obtaining the necessary schooling and training, advancing to the Minor Leagues, and then working his way up to the Bigs.
"They sent us pages and pages of information and the itinerary that we're plowing through, and we also have a book on the Japanese language. We're supposed to learn as many common phrases as we can to help us get around better there. Right now, I'm working on "Do not walk," laughed the Marcus High graduate, fully aware of the baseball pun.
Bruce promised me he would keep a ledger of his trip so we can get together upon his return and I can pound out another column on the one and only Major League Umpire I know, and a really good man in a very long line of good people originating out of Marcus.