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Umpiring has big-league payoff for former Illinois Wesleyan pitcher Alex Tosi

Alex Tosi and Tim Siegworth pose on a Major League baseball field
Alex Tosi, left, is joined by his former Illinois Wesleyan pitching coach, Tim Siegworth, for Tosi's Major League debut as an umpire in 2019 at Minneapolis. Tosi just completed his first season as a fulltime big league umpire.

Alex Tosi will receive a paycheck this month. He’ll get one in December, too.

This is new territory for Tosi, a former Illinois Wesleyan pitcher who just completed his first full season in the Major Leagues … not throwing balls and strikes, but calling them.

After more than a decade of small, seasonal paychecks in the minor leagues, Tosi was among 10 first-year, full-time umpires in the big leagues.

“I’m 35 years old and it’s the first time in my life I’m actually getting paid 12 months out of the year,” Tosi said, laughing. “I remember when I got hired (last December), I saw my dad a couple of days later. He walked in the room and he goes, ‘Alex, I just want to congratulate you. You’re 34 years old and you officially have your first full-time job.’ I was like, ‘Thanks Dad.’”

It wasn’t long ago Tosi spent his offseasons working at Case New Holland in Racine, Wisconsin. He worked in the finance department, putting to use the finance degree he received in 2010 at IWU.

He did it to earn money, certainly, but also this:

“I was trying to build a resume so I just wasn’t a 30-year-old guy with nothing but umpiring on his resume,” Tosi said.

It’s what you do when you’re climbing baseball’s ladder. The hard truth is your place in the game – as a player or umpire – might disappear sooner than you’d like.

Working in finance would be Tosi’s safety net, his Plan B. It’s still there, but Plan A is going quite well, thank you.

Tosi worked his first Major League game in 2019 as a fill-in for a vacationing umpire. He continued in that role through last season, getting an increasing number of big-league games each year while working primarily in Triple-A.

Receiving the Major League call last winter was a relief and realization of a dream.

“It’s really great just having that job security, knowing that I’m not going to have to go back down to the minor leagues,” Tosi said. “Having vacation time and being able to have kind of a more normal life during the season, or at least as close to a normal life as you can in this job, is pretty amazing.”

Two years ago, as minor league baseball returned from the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no All-Star break. It meant Tosi did not sleep in his own bed from April 1 to September 1.

“It was five months without being home for one day,” he said.

Vacation time is built into every Major League umpiring crew’s schedule. So occasionally this season, Tosi was able to spend a few days/nights at his home in Arizona.

A perk? You bet. Others are mode of travel – first-class flights opposed to riding in vans in the minors – and a six-figure annual salary that dwarfs what minor-league umpires are paid.

Tosi was among three first-year umpires selected to work a postseason series. On the crew for the American League wildcard series in Tampa, he was on the right-field line for Game 1 and the left-field line for Game 2. Had there been a Game 3, he would have been at third base.

“I wasn’t really expecting to get that phone call, but when I did, that was pretty great,” Tosi said. “I was expecting to have to work a couple of years before that happened.”

The umpiring bug came early for Tosi. A Dunlap High School graduate, he did some umpiring in his teenage years.

He was recruited to Illinois Wesleyan by head baseball coach Dennis Martel and was a senior on the Titans’ 2010 Division III national championship team.

Tosi had a 4-3 record that season and was 13-7 for his IWU career, totaling 122 strikeouts and 55 walks in 144 innings. Shortly after Tosi received his big-league call, he shared the news via conference call with Martel and Titan pitching coach Tim Siegworth.

“He was ecstatic,” said Siegworth, who has attended a number of Tosi’s big-league games, including his 2019 debut in Minnesota. “He was committed to this right from the get-go.”

Siegworth said Tosi had a good curveball and a fastball in the mid-80s. Control was sometimes a problem, enough that pitching professionally was not an option.

So one day …

“I said to him, ‘If you can’t play, what’s the next best thing?’” Siegworth said. “He said when he was growing up he umpired in the Peoria area, so he had a little bit of that in his blood I guess.

“He’s come back (to IWU) now and then and even umpired our Parents Day game. Two years ago, he and I played catch for two innings in the bullpen when I should have been coaching. We’ve just always got along well.”

Tosi called his journey to the big leagues “a long road for sure,” adding, “Fortunately, it all worked out.”

“Either way, I always told myself the process of getting there was a lot of fun in itself,” he said. “If it hadn’t worked out, obviously I would have been bummed. But the minor leagues are a great time.

“Traveling around when you’re in your 20s with one or two other guys your age, living out of a suitcase and traveling from city to city, some of the best stories I have in baseball are from just being a kid in the minor leagues. You build friendships for the rest of your life with some of those guys.”

That kind of reward goes beyond dollars and cents. Those are doled out in paychecks and Tosi, finally, is getting his.

Every month of the year.

Veteran Bloomington-Normal journalist joined WGLT as a correspondent in 2023. You can reach Randy at rkindred58@gmail.com.
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