Big Brothers Big Sisters kids take part in visit Saturday
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ONTO -- On Saturday afternoon, a 16-year-old named Ankit got a chance to step on the FieldTurf at Rogers Centre an hour before his favorite Blue Jays player, Adam Lind, was to do the same.
"It's like carpet," Ankit laughed. "It's actually just like carpet."
Ankit -- who has been a baseball fan for the past year -- and his Big Brother, Shrikesh Majithia, got a chance to do a little more than walk on the field. They also had an opportunity to go behind the scenes, meeting a couple of Major League umpires before the Jays took on the White Sox on Saturday. Three teens from the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization and their "Bigs" came to the ballpark to talk with umpires Dan Iassogna and Adrian Johnson as part of the Umps Care program.
"It's cool to see the game with a different set of eyes, because you don't see that as a spectator," Majithia said.
The three boys and their Bigs chatted with Iassogna and Johnson outside the umpires' room before going out onto the field to see the stadium from the other side. They also left with a bag of loot -- a Jays hat, a baseball and some essential ballpark snacks, including peanuts, Cracker Jack and Big League Chew.
During the visit, Johnson and Iassogna spoke about the challenges in the life of a big league umpire, such as being on the road a lot and dealing with irate players. Just getting to the Majors is a grueling process that requires paying one's dues in the Minor Leagues, just as the players do.
Ankit was surprised at how tough it is to get a job as an umpire in the Majors.
"I didn't know there was a 1 percent success rate among umpires," Ankit said. "I didn't know it was so competitive and so hard to make it as an umpire."
Majithia, who has been Ankit's Big Brother for almost two years, admired the work ethic of umpires like Iassogna and Johnson, who put in a lot of time to get where they are, but don't get the recognition the players do.
"Everyone looks up to the players and they aspire to be the players," Majithia said. "But you look at an umpire, and it takes a lot of effort. It takes a lot of commitment and it takes a lot of sacrifice. It's good to see what these guys have done in their lives -- to see what they've become.
"These guys go on the road for eight, 10 years," Majithia said, referring to the time it takes for an umpire to make it to the Major Leagues. "It takes a long time to do it, only to keep traveling the rest of your life. So you've got to have a passion for it. You've got to love your job, otherwise you're not going to make it, so it's good to see that."
Fans may sometimes express frustration with umpires when they disagree, but both Ankit and Majithia left with a positive impression of the men making the calls.
"They're both personable guys, both friendly guys," Majithia said. "[It's nice] to see who they are -- see the guys behind the mask."
Erika Gilbert is an associate reporter for MLB.com.