Westmoreland County natives Jeremie Rehak, Jansen Visconti hone umpiring skills with eye on majors
If Jeremie Rehak could thank Mitch Adams one more time, he would do it in a heartbeat. But he can't.
Adams, the venerable former high school basketball coach at Gateway who died Sept. 20 of complications after an operation, was a baseball umpire assignor for various leagues and regularly aided the WPIAL in scheduling umpires for playoff games.
Rehak occasionally was one of them.
“I've got to give Mitch some props. I owe a lot to him for keeping me going,” said Rehak, a Murrysville native who has kept with it, rising in the minor league ranks to Class Triple-A.
Naturally, his eyes are fixed on a possible promotion to the majors.
So, too, is the case with Latrobe native Jansen Visconti, who's been at it a year longer than Rehak. The two are preparing for opening day of the Arizona Fall League, where the players aren't the only ones being evaluated.
“In terms of taking the next step,” Rehak said, “Jansen and I are in a good spot going out to the fall league. We'll get quite a bit of exposure. We've got to perform well.”
Rehak and Visconti, who recently worked home plate at the Triple-A championship game at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, are among a crew of 12 who will be on an Major League Baseball audition of sorts while calling a six-week schedule of games for teams at six Arizona-based complexes.
“Everything is put on video. We're basically under a microscope,” Visconti said.
The Pirates, incidentally, are among five MLB teams with minor league prospects making up a roster for the Glendale Desert Dogs.
It's anybody's guess if Rehak or Visconti will get a call-up. Visconti, who attended Latrobe and lives in Greensburg in the offseason, said only time will tell when and if any openings will be revealed.
“If I knew what had to happen, it would make things much easier,” he said. “It's difficult to see what's coming down the pipeline. You don't know how many MLB guys will retire or take permanent disability.”
Both men continue to be immersed in umpiring. In January, Visconti completed his eighth trip and Rehak his seventh to the Harry Wendelstedt Umpire School in Daytona Beach, Fla., where they teach younger umps and themselves work on the finer points.
“It's a nice refresher course before you hit the season,” Rehak said. “We're constantly in the rule book. We jump around quite a bit, from the batter to the runner to the pitcher. We work on positioning, everything. There is so much to learn in umpiring. It's a never-ending process.”
And now, there's more scrutiny with TV strike zone boxes and replay and talk of possibly calling balls and strikes electronically.
“We're constantly getting evaluated,” Rehak said. “You never know if somebody's watching you on a phone or iPad. You've got to try to go out and be perfect every night.”
Not that it always hasn't been the idea. But whatever the situation, they've come so far. No sense now of giving up on a dream.
“I knew I wasn't going anywhere as a player,” said Rehak, a Franklin Regional graduate who was a three-year player as a walk-on at Ohio University.
He frantically has been trying to make a move to Cranberry from Monroeville before heading west. The memories of his road to the brink of the majors race through his head.
“I got into umpiring as a summer job, and it just took off,” Rehak said. “I watch baseball games completely different now. I'm not really watching the game. I'm watching where the umpires are positioning themselves and what they are doing on any given play.”
Six weeks in Arizona under magnified scrutiny, that's what's in store for these two from Westmoreland County
“One thing this job has taught me is to never get too high or too low,” Visconti said. “I've had some good things happen this year, but I'm trying not to get too high. I'm going to put it in God's hands and let the chips fall where they may.”
Dave Mackall is a freelance writer.