TORONTO – As the only Canadian umpire in Major League Baseball, Stu Scheurwater has heard some pretty specific chirps over the years.
“I’ve had guys say stuff like, ‘So, you drinking Labatt’s after the game?’” the 36-year-old from Regina recalls with a grin.
It’s all good fun for Scheurwater, who made his big-league debut in April 25, 2014 at Dodger Stadium and was hired to MLB’s full-time staff ahead of the 2018 season. He’s the first Canadian to achieve that status since the late Jim McKean, who worked from 1973-2001.
That he’s ended up umpiring baseball is an interesting twist of fate for Scheurwater, who grew up dreaming of playing in the CFL like his uncle, Scott Redl, an offensive lineman and long-snapper with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
A defensive lineman who relished the competition in the gridiron trenches, Scheurwater started playing in peewee and worked his way up the ladder. He got up to the Regina Prairie Thunder of the Canadian Junior Football League while attending tryout camps with the University of Saskatchewan and University of Regina, but didn’t make either squad.
“I thought when I was a young kid that it would be cool to go play in the CFL (like Redl),” he says. “As time went along, I realized that wasn’t going to be a dream come true. At some point, I thought, this umpiring this thing is going pretty well. I got really involved with Baseball Saskatchewan and Baseball Regina, that was really my foundation. Building on those, went on to Baseball Canada and the national tournaments all over the country and just decided to go down to pro school. Went down to Harry Wendelstedt’s school and got a job in the minor leagues.”
Baseball was initially a secondary passion for Scheurwater. He played until he was 13 or 14 but admits he “wasn’t very good at it.” Wanting to stay connected with the game while also making a bit of money, he picked up some local umpiring work that started him down his current path.
“When you’re a kid, why not go work weekend tournaments and go that route?” he says.
The timing worked since it didn’t overlap with his football commitments but as his junior career was coming to a close, he had to make a decision about his future. At 21, he was working with his dad’s electrical contracting company but he really longed for the feeling of being around competition umpiring afforded him.
So he kept at it, breaking through into the minor-leagues in 2007 and progressing from the Gulf Coast League to extended Spring Training, the Arizona League, the Northwest League, the South Atlantic League, the Carolina League, the Arizona Instructional League, the Texas League, the Pacific Coast League and Arizona Fall League.
That’s a good bit of grinding.
“Once I got in the minor-leagues, that’s when I was like, ‘Hey, I’m going to give it my best shot here to become a major-league umpire,’” says Scheurwater. “From there, I got my look in the major leagues and got myself a job.”
Scheurwater worked a series in Toronto this year for the first time as a full-time umpire, having visited twice as a call-up before that, and the experience for him was akin to a home game.
“Saskatchewan is on the other side of the country but being the only Canadian, I got a lot of support from the guys at home, Regina, Saskatchewan and Baseball Canada,” he says. “Those guys are always blowing my phone up, telling me congratulations. There’s definitely country-wide support.”
There are a handful of Canadian umpires working the minor-leagues now, including Scott Costello of Barrie, Ont., and Chris Graham of Brampton, Ont., in the triple-A International League. Chris Marco of Waterdown, Ont., is in the double-A Eastern League and Ben Rosen of Thornhill, Ont., is in the low-A Midwest League.
There hasn’t been a pipeline of Canadian umpires to the majors historically, but perhaps the group working in the pros now can help establish one.
“I’ve always been a believer that if you do your job to the best of your abilities, you’re going to get picked, no matter who you are, where you’re from,” says Scheurwater. “Baseball, especially in Saskatchewan, is a shorter season. I know in Toronto and Ontario, the season’s a little bit longer, but there’s more of a heavier hockey base than baseball. But you’re seeing more and more players getting drafted out of Canada, coming down and being successful.”
Scheurwater has seen that first-hand, with a view and responsibilities few others can match.
“I was never a guy to just sit behind a desk. I don’t mind getting my hands dirty, been in construction,” says Scheurwater. “But to be out here every day, probably one of the next best things to being a professional athlete is a professional official. You look around and it’s something to see every day.”