Reusse: Minnesota native Jeff Nelson retires as MLB umpire with no fanfare

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Jeff Nelson graduated from Bethel University in the late 1980s with the intention to enter Pepperdine University's law school in Malibu, Calif. There aren't many colleges that provide better scenery than Pepperdine, as it overlooks the Pacific.

"It wasn't Arden Hills, home of Bethel, for sure … although there's nothing wrong with Arden Hills," Nelson said. "It's just Pepperdine's location is amazing."

Nelson had a short stay there, not due to the distractions of Malibu, but rather the costs of attending law school.

"I ran out of money and came home," he said. "I was living with my folks in Cottage Grove and umpiring amateur baseball games … mostly in St. Paul."

Nelson received encouragement from Butch Fisher, the St. Paul umpiring legend, about attending one of the umpire schools for professional baseball. He had breakfast to discuss this with Tim Tschida, a Fisher protégé, who had made an uncommonly rapid ascent from umpire school to the big leagues.

One afternoon in the fall of 1988, Nelson dropped his application in the mail for the umpiring school in Cocoa, Fla. This was run by veteran big-league umpire Joe Brinkman, formerly a standout athlete at Holdingford (Minn.) High School.

"It was a couple of hours after I mailed it that my parents, Gordie and Judy, came into my room for 'the talk,' " Nelson said.

The talk where the parents are tired of seeing a son around the house and tell him the time has arrived to undertake a serious job pursuit.

"I told them, 'I've applied for umpire school for this winter in Florida,' " Nelson said. "Their looks of disappointment could not be hidden."

Gordie and Judy still live in Cottage Grove and can share a smile when they hear this story, for son Jeff is retiring at age 58, after 25-plus seasons as a major league umpire.

The paperwork is not complete, but Nelson told his bosses that he was done and not to include him in any postseason assignments.

"I would never put myself in the same sentence as Doug Harvey, an all-time great, but when Harvey left, he worked his final regular-season game and quietly went home.

"That's what I wanted, and it was a perfect finish: Last day of the season in Anaheim, Oakland and the Angels, not an important game but players still competing. Take in everything, pack the bag and go home."

Nelson was in the big leagues for half-seasons in 1997 and 1998, then was signed by the National League as a full-timer in 1999. He worked four World Series. He was a crew chief for 10 seasons, starting in 2014.

Longtime umpires are called by first names and build reputations with managers, coaches and players.

When Twins manager Rocco Baldelli was asked for a comment on Nelson, he started with: "I didn't know he was done."

And then Baldelli offered this: "Jeff exemplified preparedness. He brought order to every game he presided over. That's a conscious decision by him, that nothing would be missed or left to chance."

Nelson's journey to the big leagues started in January 1989 in Cocoa. Five weeks, $5,000 fee.

"It was run like the military," Nelson said. "Brinkman ran the school. Tim [Tschida] was one of the instructors. Few days going over the basics and then the screaming over mistakes started."

Other students served the role of players as situations were set up for their cohorts to judge.

"You could get some of the most messed-up looking plays of all-time," Nelson said. "When it got too bad, the instructors would yell, 'Abort.' In the big leagues, when a play gets crazy, we'll say, 'That was an umpire school play.' "

Nelson was named ''best prospect" in Brinkman's 1989 school and was sent to the low-level Pioneer League in the West — through Yellowstone Park, mountain passes, all the way to Medicine Hat, Alberta.

"My partner that summer was Bob Ashley," Nelson said. "Even in the middle of the night, driver and passenger both had to stay awake because there might be a moose ready to walk out on the road."

Twenty-five years later, Nelson had the plate for Game 7 of the 2014 World Series between the Royals and the Giants, when ace starter Madison Bumgarner pitched five innings of relief to give San Francisco its third World Series title in five seasons.

"I've had the privilege to work in a lot of incredible moments," Nelson said. "And Bumgarner that night was amazing."

And now Madbum's manager, Bruce Bochy, is back in the World Series with Texas. But not Jeff Nelson.

He's at his adopted home in Orlando — a bachelor, a trip to Europe planned, a basketball nut who joins refereeing friends at college games, and retired from umpiring.