Northwoods League umpire killed in rollover crash
By Mike Warren
CENTRAL WISCONSIN — A Northwoods League baseball umpire was killed, and two others injured, when they were involved in a rollover crash. The incident occurred just before noon on Sunday, July 9 near mile marker 132 on I-39, near Hancock in Waushara County.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, a southbound 2003 Ford Expedition, driven by 31-year-old Andrew Lee Thomas of Bellflower, Calif., went out of control and rolled over, into the grassy median area between northbound and southbound lanes of the interstate.
Conor Sean McKenzie, 29, of Deatsville, Ala., was ejected from the vehicle and pronounced dead at the scene. Thomas and another passenger – 21-year-old Andrew William Chumley of Kingwood, Texas – were not ejected. They were transported to UW Hospital in Madison with non-life-threatening injuries.
Wisconsin State Patrol, along with Waushara County EMS, responded to the one-vehicle, rollover incident. Assisting agencies included the Waushara County Sheriff’s Office and Waushara County Medical Examiner’s office. Both southbound lanes were shut down for approximately 30 minutes. State Patrol is conducting the investigation and reconstructing the crash.
McKenzie had umpired the most games in Northwoods League history
A statement from the Madison Mallards said the incident occurred as McKenzie, Thomas and Chumley were traveling to Madison to umpire a game between the Mallards and the Wausau Woodchucks. That game was postponed until Tuesday, Aug. 1.
A same-day news release from the Northwoods League read:
“It is with deep sadness and a heavy heart that the Northwoods League announces the passing of umpire Conor McKenzie in a tragic car accident this morning. The league and its entire community are devastated by this loss and extend their deepest condolences to Conor’s family, friends, and colleagues during this difficult time. The other two umpires traveling with Conor are in stable condition.
“McKenzie was a talented and respected umpire, known for his professionalism, dedication, and love for the game. He joined the Northwoods League in 2019 and quickly became an integral part of the umpiring crew, leaving a lasting impact on players, coaches, and fans alike. Conor had worked close to 350 Northwoods League games and was also on the field for each all-star game and postseason during his four previous seasons in the league.”
“Conor was an exceptional umpire and an even better person,” said Northwoods League Chairman Dick Radatz, Jr. “His dedication to the game was unparalleled, and his loss is deeply felt throughout our league.”
“Conor’s passion for baseball was evident in every game he officiated,” the release continued. “His knowledge of the game and integrity earned him the respect and admiration of all those who worked with him. Conor’s enthusiasm and positive attitude were contagious, creating a vibrant and enjoyable atmosphere on the field.”
“Conor was an amazing man with a heart of gold and a personality to match,” said Northwoods League Umpire Supervisor Larry Rose. “He had a special zest for life that’s unmatched. He left us today on his way to do what he loved doing more than anything, umpiring a baseball game which he was extraordinarily good at. The Northwoods League lost not just an umpire but a dear member of our family. He will be missed in many, many ways but never forgotten.”
The league honored Conor’s memory with a moment of silence before its July 10 games, as players, coaches, and fans paid their respects.
Now in its 30th season, the Northwoods League currently consists of 24 teams, and has become a valuable training ground for coaches, umpires and front office staff. Over 325 Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including three-time All-Star Curtis Granderson, three-time Cy Young Award winner and World Series Champion Max Scherzer (NYM), two-time World Series Champions Ben Zobrist and Brandon Crawford (SFG) and World Series Champion Chris Sale (BOS). The list of alumni also includes Marshfield native Daulton Varsho, now a left fielder and everyday player with the Toronto Blue Jays, and Chloe de Vries, former Wisconsin Rapids Rafters general manager, who is now working as the Promotions & Special Events Coordinator for Major League Baseball’s New York Mets.