Scottie Cline was a three-sport star and a Hall of Famer at Portland High School, but his umpiring career has taken him even further than his athletic career did.
Cline, a Nolensville resident, was among eight umpires selected to officiate the College World Series in Omaha this year. It was his second time at the ‘Greatest Show on Dirt’ after he made his debut in 2016.
“It never gets old,” he said. “I was on field for the (pregame) flyover. It certainly lets you know that you’re still alive, because if that doesn’t get your adrenaline flowing, something’s wrong with you.”
During the regular season, Cline is an umpire for numerous Power 5 games, so he isn’t bothered by large crowds and national television exposure. He officiated eight SEC weekend series and three ACC series this season.
“I was a little bit more relaxed this time,” he said. “It’s a big stage and a lot of exposure and all that. But it was really just another day at the park from a pressure standout.”
Cline’s successful athletic background inspired him to stay involved in sports as an umpire.
He played baseball, basketball and football at Portland and quarterbacked the Panther football team to a 9-1 record as a senior. He graduated in 1988 and continued his baseball career at Maryville College, where he was named the team’s most valuable player in 1990 and 1992.
After finishing college, Cline continued to hang out at the ballpark playing travel softball. That’s when he figured he should find a way to monetize his time on the diamond.
“I thought, ‘I’m at the ballpark all the time. If I’m going to be here, I might as well find a way to be paid,’” he said.
Cline began umpiring American Legion baseball games in Gallatin and eventually worked his way into the high school ranks, where he spent four years polishing his skills.
In the fall of 1998, Cline was identified as a high-performer at an Austin Peay umpire camp, and his career took off. He began working college games in the Ohio Valley Conference and the ASUN, before moving up to the Power 5 conferences a few years later.
The job has become nearly full-time for Cline, at least in the spring. He also works as a sales rep for BSN Sports, a sporting goods supplier based in Texas. That gig perfectly fits his travel schedule.
“You have to have an employer and a job that’s flexible,” he said. “Fortunately for me, my job kind of goes hand in hand with what I do. And my employer has been very forgiving in allowing me to (umpire).”
From February to June, Cline’s schedule is jam-packed with games. He typically works local contests at Vanderbilt, Lipscomb, Belmont or Middle Tennessee on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and then travels to his assigned weekend series on Thursday night. He returns home late Sunday or early Monday and squeezes in work for BSN whenever possible.
His performance during the regular season played a big role in landing the Omaha gig. There are roughly two thousand college baseball umpires, and only 96 are chosen for postseason play. Eight make it to the CWS.
“It’s a pretty intense evaluation process,” he said. “Regional evaluators watch the umpires throughout the season. They look for judgement, appearance, mechanics and mannerisms.”
Cline served as the home plate umpire for the Auburn-Louisville elimination game June 18. Because Vanderbilt made the finals, he was placed in less crucial spots for the championship series. He spent Game 1 at second base, Game 2 at third base and the decisive Game 3 on the left-field line.
“(The NCAA) is strategic,” he said. “With me being from the Nashville area, I pretty much knew when Vanderbilt made the finals that I didn’t really have a chance of working the plate. But it doesn’t really matter, being from the SEC.”
Continual technology advancements have made Cline’s sometimes-subjective job easier, especially at the CWS. ESPN had 25 total cameras set up for each game, including 15 on the field. New 4K technology allowed replays to be viewed at 360 degrees.
“We absolutely embrace it and we love it,” he said. “No one wants to be riding home from a game and see that you have a play with 1,000 YouTube hits where you’ve missed a call. We want to get everything right.”
For Cline, the CWS is as big as it gets. He was once offered a chance to train to become a professional baseball umpire, but after spending a summer in the independent Northern League in 2000, he decided staying on the college level would allow him to spend more time with his family.
“It was just too tough already having a family,” Cline said. “I made the decision years ago that I was comfortable in the college game.”
But that doesn’t mean Cline isn’t still dreaming. He wants to get back to Omaha at least one more time.
“I would love to go back to the CWS,” he said. “That’s the pinnacle for me.”