As he often does, J.J. Bilinski logged on the Association of Minor League Umpire's website about a week ago. He wasn't looking for anything in particular, just a few notes or any news that might be important for the upcoming season. Searching through the site, however, he came across a rather interesting piece of information.
His league identification number, which had to that point indicated his assignment to the Midwest League, had changed.
"That was when I got a hunch I was moving," he said of the discovery.
J.J. Bilinski has been promoted four times in 20 weeks as a professional baseball umpire.
P-J file photo by Jim Riggs
A day later, it was official.
Yes, in news that should come as no surprise at all to those who have followed his career, Bilinski has been promoted yet again - this time to the "High A" Carolina League.
"It's always surprising to get a promotion," the Panama native said, "and the truth is it's always exciting, too, because that means you're getting closer and closer to the ultimate goal."
In Bilinski's case, he's closing in on that goal at breakneck speed.
Beginning his professional umpiring career in May of 2011, Bilinski spent a month calling Rookie League games for the Gulf Coast League.
From there, he was assigned to the short-season Class A New York-Pennsylvania League for a nine-week stint before moving on to the Midwest League (full-season Class A), where he spent the better part of seven weeks traveling from game to game in places like Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan and Indiana.
For those counting, that's only about 20 weeks on the professional umpiring circuit.
Bilinski, however, is keeping his swift rise in perspective.
"It's just another rung," he said. "I'm just working hard and trying to do my best. Each umpire is different, and when guys move they're ready to move. Each level that I've been at before has prepared me for the next step, and I'm just trying to take it one step at a time, keep improving and work hard every night."
With eight teams scattered throughout the South Atlantic Coast, though most are located in Virginia and North Carolina, the Carolina League is usually the first step for high draft choices and those players with significant college experience. Among the many Major League stars who once called the league home are Johnny Bench, Wade Boggs and Bernie Williams.
Bilinski, currently spending the offseason in Jamestown, has minor league spring training in Mid-March and then reports to his newest assignment on the 5th or 6th of April.
"I am ready to get the season started," he said. "I want to be back out on that field."