07/12/05 7:36 PM ET
Fletcher honored to ump All-Star Game
Memphis native has long history in national pastime
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
It wasn't as if the coach at Memphis Harding Academy, Harold Bodiford, was a slouch -- he won 413 games in 23 years before retiring. But the kid who gave him advice just happened to reach special heights in baseball. Fletcher, 38, was one of six umpires chosen to work in Tuesday night's 76th All-Star Game at Comerica Park. Joe West is the crew chief.
"We'd talk about rules," Fletcher recalled of his days on the bench. "He'd ask me, 'Is that the right rule?' I'd tell him 'yes' or 'no,' and he'd either go out there or not."
Fletcher hopes he's an example of a smart, but relatively little-known, way of staying on the field and forging a path to a sport's highest level.
His life was more or less a family tradition. His father, Riner Fletcher, was a football official at the amateur level for 34 years.
"I always was hanging around him and I got to see a lot of the other officials. A lot of the amateur officials officiate more than one sport. A lot of those guys were doing baseball as well, and they said, 'Why don't you come try baseball with me?'
"We're looking for officials at the youth league and high school levels. We can't get enough officials."
Far fewer people try to make the Majors as an umpire, but in some senses, it's more competitive than trying to make it as a player. Fletcher is in his sixth year in the Majors -- he joined after labor unrest in the umpiring ranks but joined the new World Umpires Association with the blessing of the old union -- after an 11-year climb through the Minors that started in the rookie-level Appalachian League.
Fletcher worked several All-Star Games -- the Class A Midwest League and the Double-A and Triple-A events. C.B. Bucknor, one of the umpires on Tuesday night, worked the 1997 Triple-A event with Fletcher.
The umpires relax and make it a family event, as the players do. His father, mother (Carol) and sister (Lisa) made the trip, as did his wife, Andrea, and 5-year-old son, Andrew II. Turning 'Drew' loose at Fan Fest, watching him enjoy the Century 21 Home Run Derby and allowing his wife to relax made the trip even more special for Fletcher.
"It's difficult to be away from home as much as we are," he said. "We do get four weeks of vacation during the season, but when we're gone, there's no help at all at home for mom with a 5-year-old. So when I come home on vacation or during the winter, I take over cleaning, chasing him around. It's her vacation."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.