MILWAUKEE (AP) -When Bruce Froemming was 14 years old, he answered an ad in the local newspaper looking for youth baseball umpires.
He was just looking for a job at the time, not a career.
But man, did it pay well.
``I made $14 a day, four days a week - 56 bucks,'' Froemming said. ``I thought I was a millionaire!''
Froemming always loved baseball - he would go on to play for his high school team, then briefly in the semiprofessional ranks - but it would be a while before Froemming considered the career that would eventually become his calling. Needing a job in 1958, he saw an ad in The Sporting News for an umpire school and sent in an application.
Froemming, who turned 68 on Friday, now has been a professional umpire for half a century - including 37 consecutive years in the major leagues, making him the longest-tenured umpire in history.
On Sunday, he'll be in his hometown to work his final regular-season game. He's expected to work in the playoffs, then retire to his home in suburban Milwaukee with his wife, Rose Marie, and his hunting dog, Blu.
``You know how you wait for Christmas, and it's three days to go? This is like Christmas is going to be over,'' Froemming said. ``I've enjoyed being in the game. When I started 50 years ago, I never dreamt that I'd be standing here.''
How did he get through all those years of grinding travel and steady grief from fans, players and managers? He had good partners, he said, fellow umpires who always made him want to come to the ballpark.
Besides, Froemming said, major league umps fly first class.
``In the Texas League, you'd have 600-, 700-mile car trips after a game,'' Froemming said. ``You'd be in a town five days and then you'd go another 700 miles. When I got to the big leagues and I flew first-class all the time, I appreciated it.''
First class is the way players will remember him, too - with a healthy dose of grouchiness thrown in, at least during games.
``He enjoys being on the field, even though he doesn't always look it,'' San Diego Padres pitcher Greg Maddux said. ``I think he does have a good time out there. Just kind of one of the icons of baseball. It's not going to be the same without seeing him.''
Froemming got his start in a minor league game in Waterloo, Iowa. He still remembers the feeling he had while he stood for the national anthem before the game.
``I thought I was in heaven - on the ballfield, professional athletes, I was starting my professional career,'' Froemming said. ``But never did you dream at the time, ever even think of going to a big league ballpark, because you had so far to go through the minor leagues to even get a chance.''
He'll be returning to his minor league roots in semiretirement, traveling to Triple-A towns on behalf of the commissioner's office to mentor young umpires.
So, what makes a good umpire?
``Probably being patient with yourself,'' Froemming said. ``You're going to make mistakes early on.''
But the events of this past week proved that even veteran umpires aren't immune to errors in judgment.
Froemming is working his final series without longtime partner Mike Winters, who was suspended for the rest of the season after a confrontation with Padres player Milton Bradley.
Baseball officials suspended Winters for using profanity in an argument with Bradley during a game last Sunday. Bradley ended up tearing a knee ligament when Padres manager Bud Black spun him to the ground to keep him from going after Winters.
Froemming said he talked to Winters this week, and he's doing fine.
``He's a good guy, and I've had a lot of fun with him,'' Froemming said. ``We've been together approximately 10 years, so we've worked 1,300, 1,400 games together.''
Froemming appeared to blow a call at first base that went against the Padres during Friday night's game, but Black dismissed the suggestion that Froemming might be holding a grudge against the team that got his co-worker suspended.
Froemming said the incident wouldn't have a long-term effect on Winters' credibility.
``Mistakes were made, and we move on from there,'' Froemming said.
As for Froemming's own plans to move on, it sounds like he'll be trading his chest protector for something in camouflage.
``I think I'll do a little more fishing than I have, because I'll be home sometimes during the warm weather,'' Froemming said. ``But the hunting and everything that's coming up, I'm looking forward to it with my dog, Blu. He's ready, too. He smells that fresh air - and the birds.''

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