If you’ve lost touch with an old friend and would like to reconnect, Sam Holbrook has a foolproof way to make that happen.
Just call the balls and strikes in the seventh game of the World Series.
“I’ve probably had over 200 text messages,” Holbrook said Wednesday. “Lots of people I hadn’t heard from in years.”
Last Wednesday, the Chicago Cubs ended 108 years of futility by beating the Cleveland Indians 8-7 in 10 innings in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. Lexington resident Holbrook, 51, was the home plate umpire for what turned out to be a game for the ages.
“The pinnacle of our profession,” Holbrook said. “I was just very, very honored they thought that much of me.”
The former Yankees manager turned Major League Baseball executive told Holbrook, 51, that he had been chosen to work the World Series.
“That means,” Marsh said, “if there is a Game 7, you’ll be behind the plate.”
For a major league umpire, working behind the plate in the deciding game of a World Series is akin to an attorney arguing a case before the Supreme Court.
Of course, the World Series had to get to Game 7 for Holbrook to have that opportunity.
A pitcher at EKU (1983-87) under coach Jim Ward, Holbrook ultimately found umpiring his path to stay in the game.
After graduating No. 1 in his class at Harry Wendelstedt’s umpiring school in 1990, Holbrook climbed the ladder, working in seven minor leagues. He got the call to the Show as a National League umpire in 1998.
In September 1999, Holbrook’s career was imperiled when a mass resignation strategy by the umpire’s union went awry. Rather than negotiate, MLB accepted many of the umpires’ resignations, including Holbrook’s.
For three long years, Holbrook was in baseball limbo. For a time, he was reading meters here in Lexington for Kentucky Utilities.
Then, in late August 2002, an arbitrator ordered MLB to bring him back. By 2004, Holbrook was umpiring in the All-Star Game for the first time. In 2010, he worked the World Series between the Giants and Rangers, calling the balls and strikes in Game 2.
“I’m just very, very blessed with how things worked out,” Holbrook said.
The 2016 World Series was special for Holbrook for reasons other than what happened on the field.
Holbrook had his son Adam, 21, a student at the University of Mississippi, and two of his friends as guests for World Series games at Wrigley Field. He had daughter Amy, 17, a senior at Paul Laurence Dunbar, at Games 6 and 7 in Cleveland.
Before Game 7, Holbrook said he got to Progressive Field about 2 1/2 hours early. Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred came into the umpires’ locker room to shake hands and wish the umps good luck.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous,” Holbrook says. “It’s Game 7 of the World Series. Of course you’re nervous.”
As the game played out, Holbrook was involved in no controversial calls. Instead, he worked in what some claim people was the most compelling World Series game ever.
When Cleveland’s Rajai Davis hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth to tie the game at 6, Holbrook said, “That was the loudest stadium I’ve ever been in. There were a lot of Cubs fans there. I’d say it was like 60 percent Indians fans, 40 percent Cubs fans. But (after the tying homer) the Indians fans were really being heard. Man, it was loud.”
The game was tied, 6-6, after nine innings when a short rain delay stopped play. Holbrook was about to remove his shirt to have it dried when word came that the game was going to resume.
Even after the Cubs plated two runs in the 10th, Holbrook didn’t have a feeling the game was decided.
“It just felt like one of those games that was going to keep going back and forth,” he said.
The one run the Indians scored in the bottom of the 10th wasn’t enough. The Cubs, at last, were again World Series champions.
“It was an epic game,” Holbrook says. “People keep asking me about it; that’s the one word that keeps coming to my mind: epic.”
That’s a good word to describe the achievement of the Kentuckian chosen to call balls and strikes in Game 7 of the World Series, too.
“I know I keep saying this,” Holbrook says, “but it was just a great, great honor.”