A higher competitive level is just one of the aspects of Minor League Class A advanced baseball that Kerry Jenkins had to adjust to this year.
He’s also still getting used to seeing his former West High teammate, Derek Eaton, calling balls and strikes from behind the plate.
"It’s crazy to think about how we used to be on the same team, and now we’re on the same field again," said Jenkins, an outfielder for the Visalia Rawhide, part of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.
Jenkins, 24, and Eaton, 25, both played for the Wolf Pack’s 2006 varsity baseball team and started their pro careers in 2011 — Jenkins as a player and Eaton as an umpire. Both took a step up this year to the California League.
"I see Derek all the time," Jenkins said. "It’s an interesting dynamic."
They were on the same field most recently when Eaton was assigned to officiate games as the Stockton Ports played host to the Rawhide from Sunday, July 7, to Tuesday, July 9.
The former teammates sometimes chat before or after games, Jenkins said. But in between, they stay focused on the action at hand.
"Once we get on the field, it’s strictly baseball," he said. "He’s doing his job and I’m doing mine."
Eaton said it’s common to see familiar faces at games as players and umpires move up through the Minor League system. It’s a little more unusual to see someone he has known since his West High days.
"Whenever we’re umpiring there (Visalia), I see him and say hi to him," Eaton said. "I still treat him like any other player."
Relationships between teams and officials are sometimes tense, Eaton said. Umpires can catch criticism from players and coaches they don’t know, while there’s actually less pressure calling for a former teammate.
"We know each other so well, we know we’re each trying to do our best to get things right," Eaton said.
Jenkins played most of the 2012 season with the Class A South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks, where he batted .294 and drove in 38 runs over 64 games. After 55 games this year, he’s batting .228.
He added that Class-A Advanced baseball is much more intense, as the players all know they have major league potential.
"There are a lot of eyes on you at all times," Jenkins said. "Now everyone has played a full season and is looking at the big leagues."
Eaton said that regardless of who he knew before he got into pro baseball, he expects that he and his umpiring partner, Paul Clemons, will get to know all the coaches and players by the end of the 140-game season.
They work with only 11 days off between April and September and are in the middle of officiating 26-day stretch of consecutive game days.
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