FAIRBANKS — If you’ve fabricated it bottomward to Growden Memorial Esplanade to watch the Alaska Goldpanners comedy this summer, there’s a acceptable adventitious you’ve spotted adjudicator Bob Homolka on the field.
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Whether he’s calling assurance and strikes abaft the plate, continuing down the aboriginal or third abject curve or out abaft additional base, Homolka’s alpine ability and white hair make him adamantine to miss.
Between his aphotic tan and long, furry hair, Homolka looks like a acclimatized surfer, somebody who should be spending his summers strolling the beaches on the North Shore of Oahu instead of working amateur in the Golden Heart City.
But Homolka is happiest on the baseball diamond. That’s area he’s been anytime aback he ill-fitted up to assignment the bowl for his aboriginal academy bold in Kansas in 1973.
“I was abhorrent aback I aboriginal started,” said Homolka, 75, as he leaned aback in a berth at Big Daddy’s BBQ during a contempo interview.
Homolka is abundant added than an umpire. That’s how the baseball association knows him and will bethink him, but he’s additionally a appreciative ancestor of three boys and was a algebraic assistant at Kansas State for 43 years afore backward two years ago.
He’s additionally a storyteller. You could access all of the old-timers in your neighborhood, ambit through the barbershops, bounded confined and VFWs and accompany them all together. The belief they allotment could maybe appear abutting to the Encyclopedia-level of baseball ability Homolka has acquired over the years.
The innings he’s racked up appear with a price. Homolka has undergone a knee replacement, rotator belt anaplasty and a prostate removal. He’s due for an abate backup aback he allotment to Kansas at the end of the summer.
“Put all those things calm and I can’t get about all that well,” Holmolka says while adjusting a atramentous affectation aloft his hair.
Homolka believes he’s bottomward to his final outs afterwards 45 years of umpiring games. The Goldpanners accept assassin him to assignment their home amateur in contempo years, and he expects the actual amateur in Fairbanks will be his last.
He feels he has added to accomplish, and he’d adulation to get aback to teaching students.
“I absence the classroom,” Homolka said. “I appetite to get back. I’m still a assistant emeritus, but I charge to get aback and advise a class, at atomic actuality or there.”
If this is absolutely the end, he’ll accept a life’s account of baseball belief to share.
Following his assignment as a baseball drillmaster in Stafford, Arizona, Homolka angry to umpiring in the 70s. He had some important mentors, such as Don Denkinger and Jim Evans, two longtime umpires who spent years alive amateur in the big leagues.
“They slowed me bottomward and they told me the bang zone,” he said. “You can’t apprehend a aphorism book and umpire. You accept to apprentice the ins and outs.”
Homolka eventually started accepting opportunities to assignment amateur in the Big Eight Conference, a accumulating of assertive schools that later became the Big 12 in 1994.
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As a aggregation chief, he chose to absorb his Friday nights abaft the plate. During weekend series, academy teams about bout their best pitchers adjoin anniversary added on Friday nights.
Homolka saw them all.
“I formed amateur with Roger Clemens at Texas,” he said. “I admired Joba Chamberlain at Nebraska. I had him six or seven times one year.”
Working the amateur accustomed Homolka to biking beyond the country, seeing all the quirks every boondocks had to offer. It was adamantine assignment with arduous hours, but Homolka didn’t apperception active all those miles.
He admired it.
“Mississippi State was one of my admired places to adjudicator and I alone got $50 a game,” Homolka said. “That’s it. They didn’t accept to pay annihilation because anybody capital to assignment there.”
What was it about Starkville, Mississippi, that fabricated Homolka’s eyes ablaze up anniversary time he got the alarm to assignment a Bulldogs game?
“There was aliment all forth the outfield. The fences were lined with grills,” he said. “After the game, you’d airing out there and eat all you appetite and they’d accord you drinks.”
Over the years, Homolka formed 20 NCAA Division I Regional tournaments, three Super Regionals and two Academy World Series.
His final CWS came in 2004. He won’t go aback afterwards the NCAA got rid of celebrated Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska.
“Omaha was the greatest adventure I anytime had,” Homolka said. “I acclimated to go every year and watch. I aloof admired Rosenblatt, the atmosphere.”
Welcome to the Show
In 1995, Homolka accustomed the befalling of a lifetime.
The Major Alliance Baseball umpires were on strike, banishment the alliance to accompany in replacements. Homolka was asked to assignment a scattering of National Alliance games.
His acceptable to the big leagues was to assignment abaft the bowl for a awful advancing exhibition bold amid the New York Yankees and Colorado Rockies at Coors Acreage in Denver. Added than 50,000 bodies showed up to see the aboriginal bold in the park’s history, including one of the game’s best arresting stars.
“Reggie Jackson came into our bathrobe allowance afore the game,” Homolka remembers. “He anticipation it was the team’s locker room.”
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He concluded up alive seven National Alliance amateur that year. His aftermost MLB bold was the best notable, the admission of Japanese casting awareness Hideo Nomo, who took the bank for the Los Angeles Dodgers adjoin the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Esplanade in San Francisco.
Homolka will never balloon that one. The account was angry 0-0 afterwards 14 innings, and he was afresh alive abaft the plate.
“The Dodgers denticulate three runs in the top of the 15th and the wind was alarming adamantine aback the Giants came up,” he said. “The Giants got two runners on and the Dodgers went out to allocution to the pitcher. Robby Thompson came up to bat and I got a little afterpiece to him and said, ‘You know, you can hit one out of here.’”
Sure enough, the Giants additional baseman launched the aboriginal angle he saw into the larboard acreage seats, attached the bold 3-3.
“I was thrilled,” Homolka admitted.
Up abutting was above Alaska Goldpanner Barry Bonds, who Homolka knew well from working Arizona State amateur while the San Francisco slugger was in college.
“I addled him out three times that game,” Homolka said, “but he got a abject hit and again Matt Williams hit one in the gap to win it 4-3.”
Homolka said the chase bold was one of the best he’s anytime worked.
“There were 32 strikeouts and it took 5 hours, 16 minutes,” he said with a laugh. “What a game!”
Every adjudicator has their own style, their own claimed blaze they use to call amateur with a adumbration of swagger.
For Homolka, it’s his signature “Homolka Hop,” a falling-back activity he sometimes uses to arresting a third bang on a batter.
“I don’t apperceive how it happened,” he insists. “I aloof started advancing up and leaned aback while accepting off the ground.”
A simple chase of “Bob’s Hop” on YouTube will advertise his agog strikeout call.
Players and coaches never complained about the hop. “They apperceive I’m not aggravating to appearance them up,” Homolka says.
Although his hop hasn’t afflicted the pot, Homolka hasn’t shied abroad from altercation over the years.
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He has abundant belief about arguing with coaches to assemble a double-sided almanac of greatest hits, admitting one of his added absurd exchanges came with Steve McFarland aback he was alive an Anchorage Pilots game.
Homolka admits he acceptable absent a alarm at home bowl that led to McFarland, the Pilots’ then-manager, affronted out of the dugout to argue.
“As he was advancing at me, the belt catch on my pants broke,” the adjudicator recalls. “When he got to me, I said, ‘Mac, authority my abuse affectation for a second! I’ve got to try to accumulate my pants up — look! My belt broke.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Maybe you can cull this over actuality or do that.’ Aback I assuredly got done with it, he forgot why he alike came out to altercate and went aback to the dugout.”
Working amateur in Fairbanks doesn’t backpack the aforementioned adventure as the big leagues. There aren’t tens of bags of admirers in appearance and the amateur aren’t on television.
But Homolka has a abysmal account for Alaska’s baseball heritage, decidedly the Midnight Sun Game.
He formed abaft the bowl during this year’s game, which was played beneath bitter clouds until Goldpanners infielder Nyles Nygaard hit a walk-off home run to defended a achievement over the Orange County Surf.
“If he didn’t hit that home run, we were apparently activity to shut it bottomward for a few hours,” Homolka said.
The allegorical adjudicator was a allotment of the 2016 bold that was abeyant because of darkness.
This year, Homolka said he fabricated it bright to the teams’ managers that the bold would be finished, alike if that meant branch to the dugouts for a quick nap afore resuming comedy already the sun returned.
“Before the bold I said, ‘I’m not calling this bold beneath any circumstances. This bold will be completed. I don’t affliction what we accept to do,’” Homolka said.
He admits it was difficult to atom the brawl as the bold — which concluded aloof afore 1 a.m. — went on.
“None of us could see at the end of the game,” he said. “The catchers kept saying, ‘Bob, you’re activity to get hit with a angle actuality appealing soon.’”
His illustrious career may appear to a abutting at the end of the summer, but Homolka said alive one aftermost bold beneath the Midnight Sun is a acceptable way to affluence abroad from the job he loves.
“This will apparently be my aftermost year,” he said. “The Midnight Sun Bold is as big of a adventure as you’re activity to get because of the tradition, because of that park.”
As the summer apprehension down, the Goldpanners’ players will move on to bigger and bigger things.
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So will Homolka, who’s accepting bottomward to his final outs afterwards spending added than four decades giving the bold all he had.
Contact News-Miner sports biographer Brad Joyal at 459-7530. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMSportsGuy.
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