Upon graduating from Northern Illinois University, Dan thought that his career path would take him through law school in the field of intellectual property and land him in private practice as a patent lawyer.
He distinguished himself as an outstanding student at the John Marshall Law School, but a funny thing happened upon his graduation in 2002. He decided to put all of his efforts into being an umpire in professional baseball. He gave it his best shot and succeeded.
“Eight years of toiling as a minor league umpire hardly seems like fast tracking,” Danny says. But in a profession that employs only 68 full-time members, one in which the odds are heavily stacked against ever making it to the major leagues, Dan Bellino’s rise was near meteoric.
The 32-year-old resident of Crystal Lake got the call in February 2009, just before he left for spring training. It was the call of a lifetime as he learned he was being promoted to a full-time major league umpire. His wife, Katie, recalls they both shed tears of joy over the news.
Now at the major league level, Bellino gets more time at home during the summer with Katie and their three sons — Anthony (4), Grant (2-1/2) and Andrew (8 months). Their pictures are pasted all over the inside lid of Bellino’s traveling trunk.
Bellino admits he didn’t totally know what he was getting into when he embarked on his journey to become an umpire. But even though his officiating experience to that point was limited to basketball, he found himself drawn to umpiring school.
“I came into the system and I honestly had no idea how difficult it was,” Bellino says. “I had no concept that there are five different levels of A ball, then Double-A and Triple-A. I learned how difficult it was once I was into it. Once you realize how difficult it is, then you do start to put certain limits on yourself.”
Bellino says it’s only natural for umpires to consider other options. While he had a better fallback than most, he also kept his foot on the accelerator. In 2008, he made his major league debut with one game. While working the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in 2009, he was called up for 31 major league games.
Bellino knew he was closing in on the majors last year when he umped 112 games as a replacement. In February, he was promoted to full-time status in the majors. Minor league umpires start off making about $1,800 a month, while major league umps make approximately $84,000 to $300,000 a year.
Italian Americans have distinguished themselves over the years as major league umpires. Presently, according to Bellino, there are nine, including himself, Tony Randazzo (son of National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame founder George Randazzo), Chris Guccione, Crew Chief Ed Rapuano, Mike Dimuro, Dan Iassogna, Tim Tschida, Phil Cuzzi and Brian O’Nora.
Here is Dan’s Italian ancestry in his own words: “My family is from Tuscany on one side, and Sicily (Palermo) on the other. I remember talking to my grandmother about this years ago, and she told me we still have relatives there. Growing up, I remember vividly when my Nonna would get upset with me, she would always get angry in Italian. I wish some of that would have stuck with me. But, believe it or not, my grandmother, being first generation, felt that it was more important for us to speak English all the time. My family has always been based in Chicago. My grandfather was a high-ranking officer in World War II who distinguished himself, as did many Italian Americans.”
Of his current career status, Bellino says, “Last year, I got a really good taste of what it would be like to be full-time. The difference between full-time and a minor league umpire is full-time you have your schedule. You know where you’re going to be. I’m here before the All-Star break and it’s a perfect transition. I can drive home and it’s like a regular day of work. I was home for the Fourth of July for the first time in 10 years.”
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