By Greg Gulas
As members of the Mahoning Valley Umpires Association, Boardman natives Jude Koury and Drew Saluga were often at Struthers’ Cene Park together, yet through scheduling quirks never worked the same game.
But two years ago as members of the College Baseball Umpires Association, both were assigned a doubleheader in Cleveland between Case Western Reserve University and Marietta College.
It took several years and many miles traveled, but the two schoolmates and good friends were reunited two weeks ago. That’s when Saluga received the call to join Koury in order to complete one of this year’s seven umpiring teams in the South Atlantic League, a full-season Class A league.
Koury and Saluga join Austintown’s John Mang, a crew chief in the Class AA Eastern League and Sebring’s John Bacon, a crew chief in the Class AAA International League, as area arbiters looking to advance to baseball’s biggest stage.
Koury is a 2012 Boardman High School graduate who earned his BA in political science from Youngstown State University in 2016. He started his professional umpiring career in the short-season New York-Penn League.
“Drew and I go back to our grade school days at St. Charles School and have known each other for over 20 years, so I could not have been more excited to find out that he would be my partner,” Koury said.
In his second season in the South Atlantic League, Koury was selected to work this year’s league all-star game, which takes place Tuesday in Greensboro, N.C.
“Being selected to work this year’s all-star game has truly been humbling,” Koury said. “I’m pleased with my progression thus far, but you never really know if and when a move might happen.
“My original partner this year retired, so that opened the door for Drew,” Koury said. “I’m just happy to be working with him.”
Saluga, whose first professional season last year was in the New York-Penn League, was working extended spring training in Arizona when he got the call to join Koury.
“I was making plans to return home for a two-week break before heading back to the New York-Penn League,” Saluga said. League officials sent him Koury’s number.
“I didn’t need it because I already had it,” Saluga said. “Needless to say, I was quite excited.”
Saluga said working with a friend, especially someone who already knows the lay of the land, has been helpful.
“It’s invaluable to have someone like Jude as a partner because he already knows the towns, teams, general managers and all of the game day personnel,” Saluga said. “I’ll go with him to the All-Star Game, first to lend support and to interact with the other umpires and league representatives.”
Mang, a 2005 Austintown Fitch graduate who played at Mercyhurst University, is in his sixth professional season and second as crew chief in the Eastern League.
He will work the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game on July 15 and the T-Mobile Home Run Derby on July 16 in Washington at Nationals Park.
“Every umpire that goes through the system deserves an opportunity like this, so to say I am extremely grateful for this opportunity is an understatement,” Mang said. “It’s something that you shoot for when you are in Class AA and right before the jump to Class AAA. Being chosen for the Futures Game means that you are having a good year.”
Bacon is a 2002 Sebring graduate who earned his bachelor’s degree from Mount Union in 2006, He’s in his 11th minor league season and third in Class AAA
He started out in Gulf Coast League, has worked in the Appalachian League, Midwest League, Carolina League, Southern League and Eastern league. In 2017, was selected to work Major League spring training games.
Like Mang, he will work 140 games over a 150-day stretch.
“I started umpiring during my freshman year in high school, worked high school and college ball in the area and found out that I really liked the profession.” Bacon said.
“I moved to North Carolina in 2007, taught school for four years and decided to go to umpire school.”
Bacon is a product of the Jim Evans Umpire School, Koury and Mang the Harry Wendlestedt Umpire School and Saluga the Umpire Academy in Vero Beach, Fla.