While working a Class-A game in Lexington, Ky., in 2006, umpire Stephen Barga witnessed a meltdown that would have made Lou Piniella and the late Billy Martin proud.
After Barga's partner, Andy Russell, called Roger Clemens' son Koby safe at second base on a pickoff try, Asheville (N.C.) manager Joe Mikulik lost it.
He dived headfirst into second, where he pulled up the bag -- after a few tugs -- and launched it into right field. He covered home plate with dirt and later cleaned it with a water bottle, which he spiked onto the plate.
Mikulik also threw a resin bag into the bullpen and a bunch of bats onto the field before leaving through a door in the right-field wall.
The tirade can be seen in all its glory on YouTube and in occasional clips on ESPN's "SportsCenter."
"It is amusing, but you rarely get the crazy ones," said Barga, who has since ascended to the Pacific Coast League, where he worked his seventh straight Triple-A game at Cashman Field on Saturday. "You'll get a guy yelling, trying to take out his frustration. You'll have managers who are trying to put on a show. And there are managers who are trying to fire up their teams because they're not playing up to par and they feel the excitement's not there."
When Florida Marlins manager Jack McKeon was managing Omaha, he orchestrated his ejection in hilarious fashion with veteran major league umpire Tim McClelland, who shared the story on mlb.com.
"He came out and said, 'I know you got that call right, but I have a big, full house here, and my team isn't playing very well. Can we just stand out here and argue a little bit? I am just going to stand here and bob my head and raise my hands a little bit, but I am not mad at you. I just want to put on a little bit of a show. When I'm done, you run me, and I'll go to the dugout,' " McClelland wrote. "I said, 'That's fine, whatever you need to do, go ahead and do it.' So I told him I had a good dinner last night at (some restaurant) and asked if he's ever been there. He said no, and started kicking the dirt and raising his hands and said 'But maybe I should try it out sometime! Well, I think this was enough, why don't you run me now.' So I did, and he walked away."
While there are several grounds for automatic ejection -- for directing profanity at an umpire, for instance, or drawing a line in the dirt in the batter's box -- there are also gray areas.
"Some umpires are much more patient than others, and some understand the game better or are more aware of situations," 51s manager Marty Brown said. "They understand when a manager wants to get thrown out and when not to. And then there are some umpires who have no feel whatsoever. Those are the guys that usually end up staying in Triple A longer than the guys who have a better feel.
"Overall, umpiring this year hasn't been bad at all. There are certain crews that need more work, but that's why they're in Triple A, just like the players."
While minor league umpires share the same goal as players -- to reach the majors -- they must arguably overcome more obstacles to get there.
Besides dealing with the occasional meltdown by a manager or player and heckling by fans while working what many consider a thankless job, umps must accept low pay, arduous travel and long odds to realize their dream.
There are only 68 umpire roster spots in the big leagues, where the salary ranges from $90,000 to more than $300,000, so umpires cling to their coveted positions.
By contrast, there are about 220 umps in the minors, where the salary ranges from $1,900 per month in rookie ball to $2,600 to $3,500 per month in Triple A.
The PCL is the only league outside of the majors in which umpires mostly fly from city to city. But two-man crews in Class A drive their own vehicles, and three-man crews in Double A travel together in minivans, packing up after each four-game series and driving up to 10 hours through the night to the next town.
The constant travel throughout the 144-game season prevents umps from having a home life.
"The difference between us and (the players) is they have 72 home games," PCL crew chief Dixon Stureman said. "They can have their families come live with them. We can't."
But all the hardships endured are worth it when an umpire finally gets that call to the majors -- as seventh-year pro Clint Fagan did Monday morning in Las Vegas after working the first two games of the 51s-Tacoma Rainiers series at Cashman.
The 29-year-old Fagan made his major league debut in a Mariners-Braves game in Seattle on Monday night.
"It's every person's dream in this (umpires') locker room and in the minor leagues to get there one day," said Fagan, who returned to Las Vegas to work Tuesday's series finale. "When you come back to Triple A, you work hard to try to get back there."
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at email@example.com or 702-383-0354.