By Annette Bender
If you're going to see the Knoxville Smokies play on Aug. 1, be sure to wave at the umpire. R.J. Thompson is the son of a clergy member and will be officiating when more than 500 church members gather for "Holston Night at the Ballpark" in Kodak, Tenn.
"Yeah, he's been a church brat most all of his life," says R.J.'s mom, the Rev. Cynthia Thompson, minister of education and program at First Broad Street United Methodist Church in Kingsport District.
R.J., age 25, grew up in Brainerd UMC and Wesley Memorial UMC. In June, he transferred his membership to First Broad Street. But he won't be living in Kingsport until September, if at all. As an umpire in the Southern League, Thompson travels half the year between Huntsville, Ala.; Zebulon, N.C.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; and other towns where his AA teams have ballparks.
"During the season, I literally live from hotel to hotel from March to September," he says.
Off season, he attends school or this fall may apply to officiate baseball in Venezuela, Santa Domingo, or Puerto Rico.
His goal is to become an umpire in the major leagues, says Thompson, who's been calling games profes- sionally for five years. "But it works for us just like it does for the ballplayers." The competition is stiff for the few spots that open up. Thompson will have to beat out 200 other umps for a vacancy.
On Sunday, Aug. 1, church groups from Holston have tickets to see the Knoxville Smokies play the Chattanooga Lookouts. According to Smokies spokesperson Tom Luebbe, congregations that will be represented include Wright's Chapel, Abingdon, Hiltons, First Newport, First Cleveland and Tuckaleechee UMC.
Thompson will be one of three umpires at the game, and he says he likes it when he gets recognized. "Not a lot of people come out to see the umpires. It's kind of nice to see friendly faces."
The deadline to get group rates for "Holston Night at the Ballpark" was July 19, but groups of 10 or more may still have a chance if they call Luebbe by July 30 at (865) 286-2313. Group rates are $11 per ticket at field level. The game starts at 5 p.m. and will immediately be followed by a Point of Grace concert.