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There’s more than one way to the World Series. Ask Carlos Torres and Mike Hill.

The longtime umpire from Venezuela and Harvard-educated baseball executive landed their positions in MLB via unlikely paths

PHILADELPHIA — With two out in the bottom of the second inning, Philadelphia Phillies center fielder Brandon Marsh lifted a ball into right field that Houston Astros right fielder Kyle Tucker did his best to keep in the yard, but it sailed barely over his head. After the ball hit the glove of a kid fan, the umpire’s home run call went to review: the call was confirmed, the Citizens Bank Park crowd erupted, and the Phillies were up 4-0 with three home runs in World Series Game 3 already. If MLB wanted replays to be “big moments,” Tuesday night, they got one.

It didn’t take as long as it did to review Phillies outfielder Kyle Schwarber’s fair/foul ball that eventually was overturned — after Schwarber had run the bases — in Houston in Game 2, but the result was much better for Phillies fans.

The Phillies went on to hit five homers in five innings, a World Series record, and win 7-0, but this series has had a few moments where the umpire who nobody sees is the most important person involved in the game. This year, one of those people is Carlos Torres.

While Ranger Suarez became the second Venezuelan pitcher to win a World Series game, (they’re 5-0 in the playoffs when he pitches) Torres, only the second Venezuelan umpire ever in MLB, became the first to work a World Series. became the first Venezuelan to work a World Series. Also, Alan Porter, who is Black, is working as a field umpire for the World Series.

At Citizens Bank Park, they play the Law & Order theme song when they introduce the men in black, but Torres’ name isn’t one of them. Neither is Chad Fairchild. That’s because they’re the replay officials, stationed back at MLB headquarters, right across the street from Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

A relatively modern moment for MLB, the play reflected an evolution of the game that you might not notice if you’re only paying attention to the players. This season, they inserted microphones into live play, allowing umpires to announce big replay decisions, allowing for in-game moments similar to what the NFL has done for years and the NBA and NHL have more recently adopted.

Yet more largely, in the past few years of the MLB, umpires have come under a new level of scrutiny, with Twitter feeds dedicated to tracking their effectiveness and the introduction of the idea of robots umps to cater to the small but vocal cadre of so-called baseball fans who show up to complain about bad calls. That said, it’s a very real part of the drill these days, thus the roles of the officials are as important as ever.

Without getting into a whole diatribe about how removing playcalls from the hands of humans is a flat out horrible idea, there’s something to be said about umpiring: If you aren’t playing, it’s a way to be a part of baseball. Short version: Umps are people too.

Twenty years ago, Torres was doing exactly what many of you do during the Fall Classic. Sitting at home, watching the World Series in his home country of Venezuela, just being a baseball fan. In college at the time, the former amateur player whose dad ran a local baseball team had to find a way to help feed his family, brothers and sisters. So he started umpiring younger leagues. All day Saturdays and Sundays, it was a way for him to stay around the game when he realized that being a pro player just wasn’t going to happen.

“I just wanted to be a professional umpire in my country. So I started to watch professional baseball games,” Torres said Monday, rocking a slick tan leather jacket in New York. “I met a guy, he was a professional umpire in my hometown. So he was the one who saw me one day I was working with little kids and he said, ‘OK, you’re tall. I think you have the talent to do this. I’m going to bring you to my academy,” which was an association in my hometown. And I started to work with him. He started to teach me stuff that he already knew for being a professional umpire. And that’s how it started.’ ”

Next thing you know, he was in pro ball in Venezuela. They’ve been playing pro ball there since World War II. In many ways, Torres had made it. Then, he got another great look. The head of umpires for the South America leagues came calling in 2007, three years into his pro career. He wanted to bring Torres to the United States.

There’s was only one small hurdle: Torres didn’t have a passport, had never been out of Venezuela, and didn’t speak English.

The Miami Marlins’ Ichiro Suzuki (left) with the team’s president of baseball operations, Mike Hill (right), during a ceremony marking Suzuki’s 4,257th combined career hit total on June 17, 2016, at Marlins Park in Miami. Hill is now a senior vice president of on-field operations for the MLB.

David Santiago/El Nuevo Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

When you think about Harvard University, sports aren’t the first, second or third thing that come to mind. Neither are two-sport stars. Never mind Black people. A 1993 graduate of the otherwise well-known university, Mike Hill was the leading rusher on the Crimson’s football team and the captain of the baseball team.

When he was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 31st round, everything was going according to plan. He was on his way to being a big leaguer. All his life, he figured it would be either be that or the NFL. Neither happened. After years of beating up his body in two sports, he got hurt in spring training of 1995. It was time to figure out the rest of his life. 

“Life is always about making adjustments. And I was fortunate enough to get drafted, but I was also beat up from four years of college football,” Hill said before World Series Game 3 at Citizens Bank Park. “I was fortunate enough I had met Chuck LaMar when he was still with the Atlanta Braves and then he became the first GM of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.”

Somewhat dumb luck and some of it being the residue of design, he was hired to be a part of Tampa’s first front office. He got the job because he handed Lamar a résumé, a relic of the past Hill still describes with a chuckle. But he could have done anything in the game. Again, as a Harvard graduate, he had plenty of paths to choose.

Typically, the post-playing career has three avenues. Front office, broadcast booth, or coaching. Ironically, Hill figured out before he was done on the field that coaching wasn’t for him. While playing in the Cincinnati Reds organization, his childhood team, he coached at his old high school. It wasn’t for him.

“I had a blast coaching, but I realized that I was who I was and it was a challenge for me when you coach players who didn’t have that same fire, that same passion, that same mental toughness,” Hill, 51, explained. “I expected that of all of my players and when a player couldn’t demonstrate that, I got frustrated. So I felt like in the long run, [for] my own mental well-being, it was probably smart for me to try to impact young people in a different way.”

Those Harvard kids are smart. Couple decades later, he’s worked as a director of player development, vice president, assistant general manager and general manager in the bigs. Most of that time was spent with the Miami Marlins. Point is, that’s a lot of jobs. Not just for one person, but in general. Where MLB has spent a lot of energy in the past few years is reminding people that the lone path to the bigs isn’t just on the field. Broadcasting, while popular, is not necessarily much easier to break into, although Lord knows that needs to change, too.

Point being, front offices do not have roster limits. It’s an avenue that even if you aren’t Ivy League-educated, can be fruitful.

“When we go out to high schools, we go out to colleges, we want people to know that there are avenues to have a career in baseball for us, outside of being a player. And that’s something that we’re doing with our diversity pipeline program where we’re letting people know that you don’t have to be able to hit 95 and a slider down and in,” Hill points out.

“Major League Baseball is a huge entity and so there’s a lot of different areas that you can impact if this is the game that you love. And so that’s what we spent a lot of time [on] in my two years here, that we spent a lot of time in letting people know and bringing awareness to that fact. And so we’re out at the HBCUs [historically Black colleges and universities], we’re out at all of the different conferences, just showing people of color and diverse backgrounds that this is an avenue that they can pursue.”

Now, Hill is a senior vice president of on-field operations for MLB. Working at this position in the commissioner’s office, he liaises with all sorts of groups, which include the guys we all forget about if they’re doing their jobs correctly: umpires.

World Series umpire Carlos Torres (left), who came to the United States at age 29 from Venezuela, received an MLB scholarship to go to umpire school and learned English from a fellow umpire trainee.

Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Baseball is understood to be a universal language. If you know what a curveball looks like and can hit it, you’re good. A 450-foot blast is a homer no matter where you learned how to speak.

But for umpires, well, your native tongue is definitely a factor. The position is a lot more than just calling balls and strikes. They say the game polices itself in terms of players, but the truth is that the brain trust for the game that umpires bring to the park is immeasurable.

For all the Kerwin Danleys out there (great players who transitioned to umpiring), there are a lot of guys who were just on the grind and eventually got called up. The barrier to entry for putting on the mask is not dissimilar to what it is to play as a kid these days: money. Umpire schools cost money and time, which keeps a large amount of people out of the pipeline on general principle.

Luckily, Torres caught a break. The first time he ever went to the United States — at 29 years old, speaking no English — he found himself in umpire school. He got a scholarship from MLB, and nailed his chance among 72 guys. Still, the learning curve was high.

“It was a little hard at first because I had to learn to speak English. That was the biggest thing for me. And then just get to know my co-workers when I started to work in Minor League Baseball, get to see what they were doing, get to see how they were behaving like you guys culturally,” said Torres, 44.

After meeting a Mexican buddy, another umpire, he started picking things up with his help.

“He was born in the United States, of course he spoke English. And first day, ‘Oh, this guy speaks Spanish. OK,’ ” Torres said. “We started to talk and he was sitting next to me the entire six weeks just translating everything for me. He’s saying this, this, this. And we’re just taking notes in Spanish and then doing homework every single night that we had. And this guy just helped me a lot for this six weeks. And then I went through umpire school. Thanks, God. Thanks, Gilberto [Marin], who was an angel.”

Yet, things go both ways.

In the minors, Torres figured out a smart way to make his knowledge of Spanish work for him and his crew. Working all over the minors, starting in the Gulf Coast League in Florida, he thought the heat was going to ruin him before his English did, but he survived.

“These guys, they knew I couldn’t speak English really well, and they didn’t speak any Spanish. And I said, ‘OK, I’m going to take care of the guys who speak Spanish. If they start to yell at you guys, I take care of it on the field,’ ” said Torres, explaining the basics of umpiring teamwork. “And the guys yelling at me in English, ‘I hope you guys step up and help me with all that stuff.’ That’s what we did at night. They were teaching me English, I was teaching them Spanish. So my entire career through the minor leagues, I met guys like this.”

When he finally got his call-up, however, he was all alone. The man who had started the job as a side gig to provide for his parents and siblings was going to the show, but again, there was one problem: the government. Even though he was told a month before, it wasn’t going to be feasible for him to get visas for them, so he went at it alone.

On July 17, 2015, there he was at second base in Cincinnati.

“I was with myself. No family, nothing. But they were watching the game in my hometown,” Torres recalled. “And my neighborhood took a TV outside. All of my friends, family, everybody was there. I had two calls only, two double plays. Didn’t do much, but it was really cool. All of the players that were jogging by me or walking by me, they were, ‘Hey, congratulations. This is your first game in the major leagues.’ And I said, ‘Wow, these guys know who is on the field.’ And it was really very cool to me.”

If a guy who’s never been out of his own country and doesn’t speak the language can climb through the ranks and make it to the top, in theory, anyone can. Torres of course has the presence and personality that comes with the job, but that’s a given. You might remember when he ejected Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg from the stands, an all-time moment in 2020.

“Carlos was someone with a baseball background who necessarily wasn’t going to make it as a player, but still had a passion for the game. If you’ve ever seen him, he’s a presence,” Hill said. “So, that’s what we’re trying to do is to identify people who have that passion, introduce them to our game, give them the education, the knowledge, and then continue to push them.”

MLB now holds free camps for aspiring umpires, but those days in the rearview mirror for Torres, fortunately. His kids are in high school, and they live in Georgia. They don’t even like baseball, but that doesn’t matter. The game has given his family a better life and for that, he’s always grateful.

When he got the call that he’d be in the World Series, it was a long payoff, finally come due.

“I never thought I was going to be in the World Series 16, 17 years ago. And good things when I made it to the major leagues, I got to work with guys that I was watching on TV, again, that many years ago,” Torres said, with deep reverence. “And I said, ‘Well, I’m working with this guy. I’m working with that guy. I am on the field with this guy that I was watching 10, 15 years ago.’ I was just living my dream every single day and enjoying this blessing, brother.”

Clinton Yates is a tastemaker at Andscape. He likes rap, rock, reggae, R&B and remixes — in that order.