As J.J. Bilinski settled into his new job with the Midwest League by calling his second game (on Friday evening he was once again behind the plate as the host Peoria Chiefs defeated the Dayton Dragons, 6-1, under cloudy, Illinois skies) in his third minor league system just a little over a year since becoming a professional umpire, some questions presented themselves.
Is Bilinski moving up the professional ranks at a faster pace than normal?
And if so, Why?
Luckily, with a number of experienced and able umpires, like, for instance, Ben Lindquist, who was a professional umpire himself that spent time in both the Gulf Coast (Rookie level) and South Atlantic (full-season Single A) Leagues, and Chip Johnson, a member of the Chautauqua County Baseball Umpires Association who has been calling games for 33 years, answers to these questions are readily available.
"I'd say right now he's ahead of the curve," Lindquist said. "He did really well for himself in the Gulf Coast League and then went and performed well in the New York-Penn League. He ended last season with the NY-P in a good place and with a good review. I think he's still at a place right now where if he works hard he can be in High Class A very soon."
While Lindquist, given his own experience in the minor leagues, was in the best position to answer question one, both men had strikingly similar reasons for the Panama native's success thus far.
"He has the desire to do well," Johnson said. "You just knew early on that he had the talent and the drive to make it. I've umpired with him and could see how solid his mechanics were, and the confidence and authority that he had out on the field."
Added Lindquist, "I was with J.J. and his partner earlier this year after a game and his partner was telling us what he was going to do if he didn't make it (to the Major Leagues). I stopped him and said, 'You can't have that attitude. You've got to tell yourself that you're going to make it, otherwise you won't. You have to have that drive to compete.'
"And J.J. has that drive. He's been studying the rule book for years, and he works on the minute details that really most minor and major league umpires don't pay attention to. But J.J., he frets over that stuff."
While Bilinski has been a professional umpire only since last July - when he was told to report to the Gulf Coast League a few months after graduating with honors from the Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring in Vero Beach, Fla. - he has called relatively few games at the pro level. He spent just four weeks at the GCL, finished out the final few weeks of the 2011 season and the first three weeks or so to start the 2012 season before his latest promotion to the MWL.
Though he hasn't been calling games at the professional level long, it was his prep work, including his starting to umpire at the young age of 13, coupled with that drive that has made his rise possible.
A perfect example of that, Johnson noted, was the fact that Bilinski, despite being a professional umpire, still comes back to Jamestown to call local games during his free time. It's what signaled to him that perhaps Bilinski has what it takes to reach the big leagues.
"That is what has been really great," Johnson said. "Even though he's been in the minor league system for some time, when he is free he still loves coming back to do local high school or Babe Ruth games.
"That just shows that being out there on the ball field is his passion."