Former Science Hill and Milligan College baseball player Will Little is scheduled to debut as a Major League Baseball umpire Monday night in Baltimore.
The Orioles are hosting the Cleveland Indians, and Little will begin the four-game series at third base. His first game behind the plate is scheduled for Thursday in the series finale.
Little will then fly to Arlington to work the Texas Rangers’ three-game series with Cincinnati.
After that series, Little’s assignments are expected to vary between Triple-A and the majors — essentially on a day-by-day basis.
Little’s first two major-league destinations have distinction. Baltimore manager Buck Showalter’s father was an All-America fullback at Little’s alma mater, Milligan College, in 1940, and Little’s mentor, former MLB umpire Dale Ford, is best known by many for ejecting then-Baltimore manager Earl Weaver during the national anthem.
Also, Little played baseball at Milligan for Danny Clark, who is the Texas Rangers minor-league pitching coordinator.
Little’s father, Bill, is traveling to Baltimore, and his mother (Pam), sister (Carey) and fiancé (Katy) will go to Texas.
Little began umpiring professionally in the Appalachian League in 2007. He worked the plate in Greeneville when the Astros hosted Johnson City for a season-opening doubleheader that year and it was immediately apparent that he had all the tools to go far.
And he’s gone far, having umpired in the South Atlantic League, Carolina League, Southern League and International League, as well as Hawaii, Arizona and the Dominican Republic for winter leagues.
Little emphasized that his current opportunity is only a foot in the door.
“My performance now on the big-league stage,” he said, “will completely determine my future.”
Others with local ties who umpired or officiated professionally include Mountain City’s Ralph Stout (American Basketball Association) and the late Hunter Jackson and Jack Vest, who wore the stripes in the American Football League and NFL. Vest, who played football, basketball and baseball at East Tennessee State, worked Super Bowl II (Green Bay vs. Oakland).
Tennessee baseball signee Will Carter will return to Walters State next season. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound right-hander played at ETSU as a freshman, transferred to Walters State last summer and signed with UT in the fall. But he had Tommy John Surgery in the winter and missed the Senators’ run to the JUCO World Series.
Walters State assistant David Shelton said Tennessee suggested Carter continue his development while recovering next season, and he’ll still have two years of Division I eligibility.
Former Walters State pitcher Cody Geyer, now pitching in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, came back from the infamous elbow surgery in 10 months.
“Will had his surgery in February,” Shelton said via email. “So we are hopeful he will be ready to go when our season starts next year, then continue to get stronger as the season progresses.”
Walters State head coach Ken Campbell, a Science Hill graduate, should have at least four Hilltoppers on his roster next season: Carter, Reed Hayes, Matt Pope and Kyle Wilson.
Former Science Hill/East Tennessee State pitcher Chas Byrne has bounced back after missing last season due to Tommy John Surgery. The 6-foot-3, 185-pounder is pitching for Kansas City’s South Atlantic League affiliate in Lexington, Ky., where’s he’s 3-0 with a 4.10 ERA.
Byrne was 3-3 with nine saves and a 3.93 ERA in the Midwest League in 2011.
He began his career in the Appalachian League in 2010, and had six saves for Burlington before being promoted to the Midwest League during his debut season in the minors.
Trey Williams is a sports writer for the Johnson City Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.