April 21, 2011
The diamond is forever: Baseball more than a game for K-State Salina professor
It's not hard to see Bob Homolka's love of baseball.
His mathematics lectures at Kansas State University Salina frequently use references to baseball and umpiring. But Homolka, professor of arts, sciences and business, is no casual fan. He's a seasoned baseball umpire with almost 40 years of experience, including at the collegiate and professional level.
Homolka's umpiring career began in 1973 at Emporia State University. More than 4,600 games later he has an impressive track record. He's umpired 20 Division I NCAA Regional Tournaments, three Super Regional Tournaments and the Division I College World Series twice. In addition, Homolka has umpired the Alaska League and several international tournaments.
A major league umpire strike in 1995 provided Homolka an opportunity to perform his craft on the biggest stage of all -- Major League Baseball, as a replacement umpire. Working with professional baseball players was fun, he said, but the security needed for the job was another story.
"I had security guards with me 24 hours a day," Homolka said. "My equipment was regularly shipped to the wrong city. My hotel reservations were either canceled or vandalized. My flights were changed or canceled to the extent that I eventually was given a name change: James Duo."
The job was a positive experience for Homolka's family. His sons were able to attend a series he worked and received on-field privileges. He also was an umpire for the major league debut of Japanese pitching sensation Hideo Nomo in May 1995. The game, matching the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, turned into a five hour-plus affair, setting the record for most pitchers used in a single game. Prior to the game, Homolka had the opportunity to visit with Giants outfielder Barry Bonds, a player he had met years earlier at a summer league game in Hutchinson.
"It was an unbelievable experience," said Homolka, who umpires as many as 160 games a year.
Homolka's baseball-based teaching has stretched beyond K-State Salina. In 2009 he presented at the Midwest Section of the American Society for Engineering Education. His topic was "An Academic Home Run: Baseball, Umpiring and Mathematics." In 2010 he presented at the society's national meeting at Louisville and the global meeting at Singapore. The topic was "A Triple Play: Baseball, Mathematics and Storytelling." He also presented "Make The Right Call" to a select group of engineering students at K-State's Manhattan campus.
Baseball is not Homolka's only hobby. He also enjoys cooking and golf, and is an avid storyteller. He even tried to get into politics, running unsuccessfully for state representative in 2004.
Longevity not only characterizes Homolka's umpiring career, but his tenure at K-State Salina. He is the senior faculty member at the college and has witnessed several transitions, including seeing it go from the Kansas Technological Institute to the Kansas College of Technology to K-State Salina.
While the school's name has changed, his passion for teaching mathematics remains.
"I love working with students," he said. "Some of my students live a life I could not live for a single day. I want my students to come to my classroom and find a home away from home, thrilled to be there and learning enough to gain upward mobility."