It’s one thing to be making your debut as a Major League Baseball umpire after years of hard work, including six-and-a-half years working your way up through the minors. But then to make your debut umpiring a rivalry game between the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Cubs? And to add to that—you were born and raised in the Chicago area, in nearby Joliet, Ill. Yeah, that makes for a very memorable debut!

So it was for Mark Carlson, who debuted in the majors in 1999 with plenty of family and friends in the stands to share the experience. Since then he’s been a mainstay, with multiple postseason series under his belt.

Mark grew up on baseball, playing in various local leagues and then in both high school and at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill. In 2015, in fact, he was inducted into Parkland’s Hall of Fame; he’s also been listed as one of their 50 most notable alumni. And he keeps connected as well, he reports. “To this day, my college baseball coach, who is now the AD at Parkland, can sometimes be found in the stands at some of my games across the country.”

His playing career ended after college, and after a stint in the U.S. Marine Corps, Carlson attended the Brinkman/Froemming Umpire School in 1993. He was selected to the Umpire Development Program and then selected into professional baseball. His start in umpiring, he says, was “my way of earning money.” He worked baseball, football, and basketball games through high school and college—keeping up with the latter two even while working professionally in the minor leagues.

“I always highly recommend officiating to young adults as a way to stay connected to all sports,” he says, “to earn spending money, and to gain a new perspective to the sport they love. There is always a need for officials.”

Mark admits that, “I have the softest spot in my heart for kids” and says he was excited to participate when UMPS CARE Charities came along. “One of the best perks of being an umpire is the opportunity given to me to participate in events that support our youth.”

“I have many fond memories of the UMPS CARE events,” exclaims Mark. “I enjoy helping to host the boys and girls that attend our ballpark visits. To be able to spend a few minutes and share the experience of being on a Major League Baseball field and talking to them about their ambitions is enlightening.”

“Some of my most touching memories come from our Build A Bear Hospital visits,” he continues. “I often think that I am going there to put a smile on a child’s face and provide them with a distraction for the day, but the truth is that they are the ones giving me a bigger gift than I could ever give. These kids show joy during times of sorrow, positive spirits during rough days, and a mighty perseverance from ones so young. They are truly inspiring."

During the offseason, he reports, “I have a pretty long honey-do list after having been gone for the better part of the year. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see me running errands, doing the grocery shopping, and attending the kids sporting events. There’s never a shortage of house projects to be done. I also catch up with friends and try to squeeze in a Blackhawks game or two.”

He made sure to praise his support system at home as well. “My family is very supportive of me and my career choice,” he says. “My wife amazes me with what she’s able to accomplish on her own, and my kids impress me with their resilience, tolerance, and independence. My extended family should not go without mention. They, along with our friends, are our support system. I couldn’t do this without all of them.”