Mark Yoder thought he was done with umpiring for 2022. His college slate wrapped up last week with an Atlantic-10 series and he was gearing up for rotator cuff and knee surgeries. Then he gets a call to work one more game as a substitute in the Class-A Carolina League. Yoder was the base umpire Tuesday, May 24 as the Fredericksburg (Va.) Nationals hosted the Salem (Va.) Red Sox. In the pregame plate meeting he saw a familiar face from days gone by in Virginia baseball circles in Jake Lowery, who is now the FredNats manager. This game was also rehab start for right-handed pitcher Stephen Strasburg (the 2019 World Series MVP). But as Yoder, who worked in the 2021 NCAA Division III World Series in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, took his spot on the field he began chatting with the Salem first baseman. “His face looks really familiar to me but I just can’t place it,” says Yoder. “I ask him his name and he says, ‘Niko.’ There’s not that many guys named Niko.” Yoder’s next question: “Where’d you play college ball?” Niko Kavadas tells him: “Notre Dame.” Come to find out Yoder (55) and Kavadas (23) both played at Penn High School — decades apart — for Greg Dikos. The latter was in his first season as Kingsmen junior varsity coach when Yoder met him. So there they are in a professional game in Virginia. Kavadas, who was selected in the 11th round of the 2021 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Boston Red Sox, smacked a two-run double off Strasburg in the top of the third inning. Strasburg wound up throwing 2 2/3 innings and giving up three runs (all earned) and throwing 61 pitches. The lefty-swinging Kavadas is hitting .264 (29-of-110) with three home runs, one triple, 12 doubles, 19 runs batted and 16 runs scored in 34 games. Shortly before the game was over, Yoder came to the slugger and fellow Penn alum. Said Yoder, “I told Niko in the ninth inning: I can’t root for you tonight but I’m rooting for you the rest of the year and the rest of your career.”
In 2016, Yoder was a D-III regional alternate. He made it onto the field in the postseason in 2017 and 2018 and was a regional and super regional crew chief in 2019 — the year that D-III adopted the D-I postseason model of regional, super regional and College World Series.
Yoder had noticed that super regional crew chiefs tend to be assigned to the D-III CWS the next year. The COVID-19 pandemic ended the 2020 regular season early and took away the postseason.
This past week it was confirmed that Yoder is part of the D-III College World Series crew.
The son of Mishawaka residents Keith (who was on the Penn-Harris-Madison school board) and Virginia Yoder (who was a teacher) and brother of Granger’s Kevin Yoder, Mark was a youngster traveling with his father to basketball referee gigs when he got his first taste for athletic officiating.
At Penn, Mark Yoder was a tight end for Indiana Football Hall of Fame coach Chris Geesman and a junior on the Kingmen’s first state champion in 1983.
A football assistant and head football coach at Penn was Chuck Wegner, also an Indiana Football Hall of Famer.
“I love Geez,” says Yoder. “As a kid you don’t realize what you learn from your coaches. They just instilled such a mentality of teamwork and counting on each other.
“(Geesman) was hard, but he was always fair. I got to play because I worked hard or didn’t get to play because I didn’t work hard.”
Yoder remembers Wegner’s policy with game officials.
“He would never let us mouth off to an umpire,” says Yoder. “That was a huge no-no. He would never tolerate that.
“Occasionally he would chirp about a pitch. But I don’t ever remember Chuck getting silly with officials.”
Current Penn head coach and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Greg Dikos coached Yoder as a junior varsity player and then led the Kingsmen for much of his senior season while Wegner was away on medical leave.
Through it all, Yoder was able to apply criticism as an athlete and get better.
“It’s no different in umpiring,” says Yoder.
After graduating from Penn in 1985, Yoder played two football seasons at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind., for RHIT Hall of Famer Scott Duncan.
When an injury ended his gridiron playing career, Yoder transferred to Indiana State University in Terre Haute and earned his degree.
On an ROTC scholarship and commissioned to the Army, Yoder was an intramural basketball official for $10 a game at Rose-Hulman and also worked other sports at Rose and ISU.
Yoder took a hiatus from officiating while focusing on his military career. The last few years of active duty, he found himself in Germany and served Department of Defense high school baseball, basketball and volleyball.
When he arrived back in the U.S. and the Richmond, Va., area Yoder aligned with the Old Dominion Umpires Association — a group that trains and supports baseball officials.
Yoder spent the winter of 2008-09 honing his skills and worked his first high school game in the spring at the Class 3A varsity level (the highest in Viriginia at the time).
He figured he has earned his way.
“If you have the skills, ability and game management you’re going to work,” says Yoder. “It’s not the good old boys club.
“You can’t hide a good umpire and you can’t hide a bad umpire. I had enough potential to keep an eye on.”
Walls was not only high school commissioner for the ODUA but supervisor of umpires for the D-III ODAC.
In 2009 and 2010, Walls gave Yoder high school and American Legion ball assignments with umpires who did college baseball. At the same time, the Indiana native attended two-man camps as well as a three-man camp ran by Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Umpires.
Yoder worked junior college games in 2011 and 2012 and his first D-III game in 2013. By 2015 he was doing almost a full conference season. After that came some D-I assignments.
Yoder has four children all living in northern Indiana — Andrew (Southwest), Sarah (New Paris), Zac South Bend) and Matthew (Elkhart). Matthew Yoder just enlisted in the U.S. Army.