Todd Felis walked away from a coordinator position with Big League Dreams to return to umpiring.
“I liked coordinating,” Felis said, “but my heart was in umpiring. It was easy for me to step down.
“I would have loved to stay within the company, but I had more fun interacting with the guys I knew and played with.”
Oh, you still question his desire to call balls and strikes?
Try to wrap your head around this one:
Todd Felis, 48, woke up in a hospital, groggy from a four-day coma, completely unaware how he got there. Within 48 hours, he was back behind the dish at Big League Dreams.
It isn’t the money that drives him, and it’s certainly not the fame. When has an umpire, referee or game official ever been the most popular person in the athletic arena?
Felis umpires for the very reason most of us continue to play baseball, soccer, basketball and football long after we’ve tumbled over The Hill.
He loves it.
“I’ve been umpiring for 25 years altogether. I became an umpire when my son started Little League and just continued to do it,” he said. “It’s a love of the game. I love to be out there.”
No one in Manteca Big League Dreams history has been “out there” more than Felis, a happy-go-lucky sort who lives with a brain tumor and waves a flag at Manteca High football games.
He is fast-approaching his 5,000th game at the popular sports and restaurant complex on Milo Candini Drive.
Felis had 4,772 league games under his belt as of press time Tuesday. He says he averages about four or five games per night, Monday through Thursday.
At that rate – 16 to 20 games a week – Felis will call his 5,000th game sometime in December.
“You look at a number like that and think, ‘Wow,’ ” Felis said. “To me, it’s a great accomplishment. It means I’m dedicated to my job and wanting to be out there.”
Felis got his start in umpiring with Northgate Little League in the late 1980s. He began calling games at BLD when the park opened in 2006.
He equates his employment with BLD to that of a farm hand receiving his Major League call-up – and treats the opportunity as such.
“He works more games and he’s here more consistently than anybody else,” BLD Sports Coordinator James Wright said.
Felis was part of the Big League Dreams’ original roster of officials. Within about a year, BLD General Manager Roy Fetherolf approached Felis about a coordinator’s position.
Felis obliged, but saw his time behind the plate diminish. Since 2008, he’s averaged 734 games a year.
“When I got the opportunity to come here … to me it felt like a promotion,” he said. “(BLD) was a class organization to work for.”
It hasn’t been all pop flies and sunshine, though. The milestone was put in jeopardy by a mysterious health scare in May 2011.
Family members found Felis incoherent at home alone, lying in his daughter’s bed.
“Dad, can you tell me where you are at right now?’ ” his daughter asked.
Felis’ response: “BLD.”
Within hours, Felis was attached to an IV in an emergency room. At one point, he mistook his daughter’s boyfriend for Santa Claus.
Shortly after that, Felis slipped into a coma and didn’t wake up for four days.
Doctors still haven’t identified the cause for the episode. Some wonder if it had anything to do with his diabetes or the benign tumor on his brain.
Felis didn’t stick around for an answer, either. See, he doesn’t operate in a world of speculation. The moment he flinches or waffles on the diamond is the moment he blows a call.
BLD officials say there is a reason why Feliz is chasing a milestone as grandiose as this.
“He is as consistent as you’re going to get,” said Wright. “People may get upset over judgment or height of pitch, but he’ll give everyone the same game. He’s basically ‘Steady Eddie.’ ”