Actions

From Salida to Denver to the World Series, umpire Chris Guccione saw history closer than anyone else

CORP-Digital-Default-Image-1280x720-KMGH.png
Posted at 9:32 PM, Nov 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-12 14:24:00-05

DENVER -- When the Chicago Cubs won the World Series for the first time in 108 years, a lovable loser fan base had a Colorado man to thank.

"Well, I did make the final out call of the World Series," said Denver resident and first base umpire, Chris Guccione. "Once that last out was over, you're like, 'man, this is really cool. I just worked one of the most historic World Series of all time.'"

Guccione just finished his first-ever World Series assignment. He's been a full time umpire since 2009 and has been doing part time Major League Baseball games and part time Triple-A ball since 2000.

He worked behind the plate for Game 2, a 5-1 Cubs victory. And for Game 7, he was involved in many of the plays, watching first base. Including one play that had even this seasoned ump, thinking "Oops."

"There was one play that whole series that I wasn't too sure about," said Guccione.

In the first inning, Cubs designated hitter Kyle Schwarber hit a slow roller to the right, just past the reach of Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber. Shortstop, Francisco Lindor, playing close to second base, made a barehanded throw to first, just as Schwarber touched the bag.

"We go off of sight and sound. Like, we hear the pop of the glove and watch the foot on the bag," said Guccione.

He said the throw to first was so soft and the crowd was so loud, it was difficult to hear the "pop."

"I called him safe and I was like, 'oh, that was close,'" said Guccione. "It never went to replay, so I guess I got it right."

Replay did show Schwarber touch the base before the throw ended up in the first baseman's glove.

His biggest call, though, was the final out. A play that he thought might go south, when he watched the Cubs third baseman grab the groundball.

"Kris Bryant fields it clean, but then as he goes to throw, he slips," said Guccione.

"You could see that?" asked Denver7 reporter Marshall Zelinger.

"Yeah, and I'm like, 'oh my gosh,' like, in my brain as an umpire, you're trying to read the play before it happens," he said.

No one waited to see his call. It was obvious, the throw made it to first on target and in time.

"I'm just trying to just watch the celebration and all that," he said after his final "out" call. "The crowd was insane, in Cleveland and Chicago. It was insane. The crowd was so loud."

FROM SALIDA TO THE MAJOR LEAGUES

Chris has been a baseball fan as long as he can remember -- after his dad, who emigrated from Italy in 1958 -- passed on his own love of baseball.

"At the age of 5-years-old, (I was) playing on the old Marvin Park baseball field in Salida, Colorado," said Guccione.

Chris started umpiring his younger brother's games in Salida when he was 12-years-old, then moved on to umpiring junior varsity games.

"The winter of '94 into '95, I went to umpire school," he said.

That was the Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring in Kissimmee, Florida. Chris traveled there, with two of his childhood friends, on a 52-hour bus ride.

After completing the five-week course, he was chosen for the developmental program.

"I went to rookie ball in 1995. (In) '96, I went to the Midwest League, which was 'A' Ball. (In) '97, I went to the Cal League -- 'Long A,' they call it. In '98, '99, I went to the Texas League and then the year 2000 came, I was promoted to the Pacific Coast League, which is now Triple-A, and that same spring, I was invited to big league Spring Training," said Guccione.

Before he got his chance, he saw a lot of America, with two other umpires, sharing the duties driving a van from one stadium to another.

"Helena, Montana; Clinton, Iowa; Lansing, Michigan; Visalia (California); Midland/Odessa (Texas); Shreveport, Louisiana (and) Jackson, Mississippi," Guccione listed off some of the highlights of his early career.

Then in 2000, while still working Triple-A games, he was called up get some major league experience.

"One-nothing game, Braves-Dodgers, Braves won one-nothing," he said, while showing us the box score he cut out of the paper from the April 25, 2000 game.

"I did that for eight years. Worked over 1,200 games in the big leagues as a Triple-A umpire, and then in 2009 I was officially hired," said Guccione.

By 2011, he was working the All Star Game in Arizona. Before the Montreal Expos moved to Washington, D.C., they played some of their games in Puerto Rico, where he also umpired. Chris also worked the World Baseball Classic in Japan.

"I tell all the umpires, I say, 'Hey, if you ever get a chance to go Japan to work, go,'" he said.

MEMORABILIA STORED IN BOXES IN DENVER

"I don't really hang stuff on the wall, but I don't want to throw it away either," said Guccione.

He pulled out a crate filled with memories, from baseballs to lineup cards, newspaper cutouts to old hats and uniforms.

"I just don't have anywhere to put them, but like I said, I don't want to throw them away," said Guccione.

One of the items that made him light up the most was from his hometown.

"Oh, look at this article here. This is from the Mountain Mail newspaper in Salida," said Guccione.

He showed us still photos of him breaking up a fight with former Expos outfielder Vladimir Guerrero, and a heated ejection of former New York Yankees pitcher David Wells.

"What's a magic word to get you tossed?" asked Zelinger.

"Oh, any 'you' something. 'You' are this. 'You' are that.' A lot of bleeps in there," he said.

For as much as he keeps, he was nonchalant about some items he couldn't find.

"I don't know if it's in here or if I've got it set aside, but I worked Cal Ripken's 3,000th game played," he said. "He would have retired the next night. The last game was the next day. I have that lineup card somewhere."

He also had the lineup card from being behind the plate for David Ortiz's last regular season game with the Boston Red Sox.

Some of his newest memorabilia was made just for him from a friend from Crested Butte who now lives in Cleveland.

The blue bat had the Cubs and Indians logo on the end, with the names of all the umpires in the World Series.

"He personalized it saying, 'Chris, you are the pride of Salida, congratulations neighbor,'" he said.

On his wall, he has a great piece of artwork made special for him, showcasing his uniform number '68' and an image of him walking off the field with a glove.

The story behind the photo is from a June 20, 2012, game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Washington Nationals. Rays relief pitcher, Joel Peralta, was ejected for having pine tar in his glove.

"The opposing manager knew that in the past he'd put pine tar in his glove," said Guccione. "We got all together, went to the mound, and checked his glove and sure enough there was pine tar, like loaded in there."

He walked off the field with the glove, so that it could be sent to the Commissioner's office for further inspection. The opposing manager knew there might be pine tar in the glove because Peralta previously played for the Nationals. He received an eight-game suspension.

As for the number 68, the story isn't all that compelling. In 2000, Major League Baseball combined National and American League umpires into one giant umpire pool. The higher the seniority, the sooner you got to pick your number.

"That was the only number left in the sixties, so I picked it. I'll keep it forever," said Guccione.

CAREER MOMENTS

His road to the World Series was nearly derailed in May during a game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Pittsburgh Pirates.

We showed him a replay of a specific play.

"Tell me if you remember this," asked Zelinger.

"Oh my gosh, yes, of course I do," he said.

In the first inning, he took a foul tip right into the bottom of his mask.

"Oh, that hurt," he said. "Seems like I took a few beatings this year. Took one of the chest, two or three off the face."

He stayed in the game for an inning and then was taken out after complaining of blurriness in his eye.

For someone who's on the road the majority of the season, he got to come back home to Denver for one week to recover, spending time with his wife Amy and his now one-year-old daughter, Gemma.

"Number one; I have to thank God for giving me the ability to do this job and the strength to do this job. Number two; my wife that [sic] has been with me since we've been high school sweethearts, so she's been with me this whole journey," said Guccione. "She's been to Clinton, Iowa, she's been to Shreveport, Louisiana, she's been on this whole journey, my entire 20-plus years professionally, so without her -- the support and love and putting up with me being on the road -- none of this is even possible."

---------

Sign up for Denver7 email alerts to stay informed about breaking news and daily headlines.

Or, keep up-to-date by following Denver7 on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.