By Steve Gibson, www.capmel.com site contributor and Nativewatercraft.com pro staff guide
Getting it right
Last Modified: Sunday, August 19, 2007 at 4:33 a.m.
If you have two strikes on you, you had better swing if the next pitch is close.
Jose Canseco, biceps bulging, didn’t adhere to that age-old advice. So, when a pitch grazed the outside corner, Canseco stood with his bat on his shoulder.
Umpire Neil Taylor calmly and cooly called Canseco out.
Canseco turned, looked at Taylor and said, “Was that really a strike?”
Taylor, without hesitation, said, “Yes, but I probably couldn’t have hit it, either.”
That said, Canseco turned to the dugout and walked away.
Taylor, who resides in Palm Harbor, was a professional umpire for 10 seasons. He began in the Gulf Coast League in 1995 and worked his way up to Triple A, where he was a crew chief and umpired the championship series in 2004.
Even though he was one of the most-respected umpires in the minor leagues, Taylor could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“Timing is everything in life, but particularly in baseball when you’re an umpire,” said Taylor. “Back then, there were very few opportunities for a Triple-A umpire to rise to the major leagues.
“I believe there have been five major-league jobs given out in the last eight years. That’s tough odds when there are about 45 Triple-A umpires hoping to get the call.”
Neil Taylor is on the water as often as possible.
He was seemingly born with a rod and reel in his hand.
“I was able to cast a fishing rod pretty much at the same age that I was able to walk,” Taylor said. “With Dad and three older brothers, it was how we’d spend out vacations and weekends.”
Taylor used to have a powerboat, but now fishes from a Native Watercraft kayak. Well, it’s sort of a kayak. It looks like a cross between a kayak and a canoe.
“It’s my everyday boat now,” he said while paddling toward Tarpon Key in Tampa Bay. “It’s easy to paddle and real comfortable.”
Definition of a powerboat: A hole in the water surrounded by wood or fiberglass into which one pours money.
“I always had issues with wiring, batteries, trolling motors,” said Taylor. “There was always something I had to worry about prior to a trip.
“Going by kayak, you never have a trip that’s canceled because of equipment failure.”
Neil Taylor began his umpiring career while attending the University of Arizona. After receiving his BS in finance and accounting, he packed his belongings and drove to Daytona Beach to attend Harry Wendelstedt’s School for Umpires.
“My experiences working games while in college made me realize that I had the ability to walk onto a professional baseball field, perform the job well and progress toward a chance at becoming a major-league umpire,” he said. “I made that my goal very early on in my time learning how to umpire.”
He was good. He advanced every year. After the GCL in 1995, Taylor moved up the the Appalachian League (advance rookie) in 1996, South Atlantic (Class A) in 1997, Carolina (advance A) in the middle of the 1997 season and the Eastern League (Double A), where he began in 1998 and stayed until 2001.
He was promoted to the Triple-A International League in 2001.
“I was crew chief seven of my 10 years,” he said. “I worked the playoffs six of those years, two all-star games and I worked 90 major-league spring training games.”
Finding the fish
When his career in baseball came to an end, Neil Taylor moved to Dunedin.
“I’d spend five to seven days a week on the water,” he said.
He learned the waters thoroughly. So well, in fact, that it was a natural move for him to become a fishing guide. Dave Loger, founder of Adventure Kayak Fishing, recognized Taylor’s talent and asked him aboard.
“He asked me about joining up with his business,” said Taylor. “That enabled him to concentrate on other areas of Florida while I worked on establishing my own segment of the business in the Tampa Bay area.”
Taylor specializes in fishing the shallow backcountry waters for snook, redfish, spotted seatrout and other species.
“Fishing is an exercise in patience and skill, but it’s also something that’s just a great way to pass some time,” he said. “Through many a tough time in my life, I’ve used fishing as a way to relax.
“Rarely does a day go by where I’m not in awe of something I see out there.”
Respected, but out
Neil Taylor was among the most respected umpires in the game. But a promotion wasn’t imminent.
“I spent three full years at Triple A, hoping for the big break,” he said. “That break never came. And when that season ended in 2004 and the major leagues didn’t express an interest, I was let go by the retention policy.
“Ironically, that was after being named crew chief of the championship series and rated one of the best umpires of the International League.”
He knew it was a game of politics, a game of being in the right place at the right time.
“I was personally satisfied that I gave it a great effort, ” said Taylor. “I was very happy and looked forward to being in Florida year-round.”
He was comfortable at training young professional umpires. So it was natural for him as a fishing guide, helping new anglers achieve success.
“While it’s a great deal about the clients catching fish,” Taylor said, “it’s also a lot about the experience.
“There’s a lot of satisfaction that comes from being a successful instructor.”