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Umpire Basner a step away from big leagues

Umpires, referees and other game officials do their best work when they go unnoticed, sort of fading into the background as the game takes center stage.

Fans are unlikely to remember their names. And certainly not their faces.

So it comes as no major surprise that Toby Basner's recent promotion to Class AAA minor league baseball umpire happened in relative obscurity. Outside of his family and friends, few people knew the 2003 Brookwood grad had moved up from AA to within one step of his dream - to be a major league umpire.

"A lot of people didn't really know (about my career) at first," said Basner, who started working as a pro baseball umpire as a 19-year-old. "But a lot of my friends back home know and obviously they're understanding what I do more now. They're all pumped up and rooting for me. ... They do know it's a tough job and they all respect it."

Basner, still one of pro baseball's youngest umpires at 25, has put in his time to get to this point. Just like a baseball player, he went from league to league in search of promotion to the next level.

He went from the Gulf Coast League to the Appalachian League to the South Atlantic League, to the Carolina League and then the Southern League. His latest promotion has him on the West Coast in the Pacific Coast League. It's not exactly the International League, where he could umpire a hometown Gwinnett Braves game, but the other AAA league is a good fit for Basner.

He's seeing more of the country - this week he's in Reno, Nev., and then it's on to Round Rock, Texas - every day.

"I think I put in my time (in AA), it was going into my third season there," Basner said. "So this has been fun, seeing all the new stadiums, the bigger crowds. It lets you appreciate what you're doing, working baseball games as an umpire for a living."

That career choice has given him a few nice highlights already. He worked the 2008 Futures Game at Yankee Stadium and the Road to Wrigley game earlier this month at Wrigley Field. In the spring, he was on a crew for a game that featured Tampa Bay and Minnesota major league players.

Those are pleasant diversions on his winding road to what he hopes is his final destination. He's spent his offseasons as an umpire in places like the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Puerto Rico, so holiday trips home are rare.

He hopes for an offer to work the Arizona Fall League, a proving ground for umpire prospects, this offseason.

"That would be big," Basner said. "They put you on the QuesTec strike-zone system and grade you. It's pretty much like your tryout for the major leagues. Hopefully I'll get that. I'm not expecting it, but if it comes it will be the biggest opportunity of my career."

And if it comes, very few people will hear about it.

Will Hammock can be reached via e-mail at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays.