MLB Umpire Jeff Nelson ’87 Named CAS Alumnus of the Year

Jeff Nelson has been on the field as an umpire for historic moments in Major League Baseball, including a Hall of Famer’s final All-Star appearance and game seven of the World Series. But his career could have ended in Little League if not for a trusted mentor, and that has inspired him to give back.

By Jason Schoonover ’09, content specialist

September 21, 2021 | 11 a.m.

When Jeff Nelson ’87 first called balls and strikes at a Little League game as a 16-year-old in his native Cottage Grove, Minnesota, both coaches told his boss, Dick Swanson, they didn’t want him behind the plate again. But Swanson stood up for Nelson, telling them to “let the kid have a chance.” Swanson became a mentor and friend to Nelson, helping him catch the bug for umpiring. After earning a history degree from Bethel, Nelson followed that bug to Joe Brinkman Umpiring School and, in 1999, all the way to Major League Baseball. He has worked as an MLB umpire ever since, was promoted to crew chief in 2014, and has made calls during historic baseball moments. He worked Hall of Famer Derek Jeter’s final All-Star Game, and he was behind home plate when Madison Bumgarner pitched the San Francisco Giants’ to a game seven win in the 2014 World Series.

Jeff Nelson ’87

Jeff Nelson ’87: 2021 College of Arts & Sciences Alumnus of the Year

Through it all, Swanson’s example sticks with him. He encourages young umpires to find a mentor and then be a mentor. “It’s really important that someone helps you along and gives you the chance and boosts your confidence. If you can help someone and pass it down, that’s huge,” he says.

Bethel University named Nelson the 2021 Alumnus of the Year for the College of Arts & Sciences.

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