By Rob Rains
Through a lucky break in the major league schedule, St. Louisian Ron Kulpa will be umpiring behind the plate in Monday’s game between the Indians and Red Sox at Fenway Park in Boston.
Assuming nothing unusual happens that makes the game run longer than normal, Kulpa will have just enough time after the game ends to make it to TD Garden across town in time for game one of the Stanley Cup Final between the Blues and Bruins.
For a diehard Blues fan like Kulpa, it will be a moment he intends to cherish.
“How excited do you think we are?” Kulpa said late Sunday night from Boston. “I’ll be going with my jersey to the (baseball) game and as soon as it’s over putting it back on and heading to the game.
“I’ve been a fan since I could walk. My dad had season tickets since I was three years old and he used to take turns taking me and my brother Donny. He took us to games for 15-18 years. I can’t wait.”
Kulpa was born in 1968, a year after the Blues entered the NHL. He wasn’t old enough to remember their last trip to the Final, also against the Bruins, in 1970.
“I hoped it would happen,” he said. “I bleed blue. I’m so excited. I didn’t know when it would happen but I have so much confidence in this organization and this team. I’m excited for everybody involved. I’m excited for the town. I’m excited for my dad, Joe. His birthday is coming up and he’s going to be 77 in a couple of weeks. I want him to see the Blues win the Cup.”
This will be the only game Kulpa will be able to attend during the series as the other games conflict with his baseball schedule. That has already happened during this current playoff run.
The night of game six of the Western Conference final against San Jose. Kulpa was working a game in San Diego so he was able to watch the first two periods on television in the umpire’s dressing room before his work night began.
Umpiring at first base, Kulpa had one of the bat boys instructed to run out each half inning during the final period to update him on the score and the time remaining in the game.
“It was 3-1 when I walked on the field and when he came out he told me to guess the score and I said 3-3,” Kulpa said. “He said no it’s 5-1. I said ‘right on.’ I had the ball boy at CitiField in New York running me out scores a couple of weeks ago. We were there today (Sunday) and he walked out to bring me a cup of water and I asked him who he was rooting for Monday night and he said the Blues.
“It’s just one of those stories, being a diehard sports fan like I am, I am so ecstatic about something I want to see in my lifetime come true. I hope it happens.”
Kulpa had season tickets for years and went to about 20 games this year when he was in St. Louis over the winter. He was at games three and four against San Jose while on vacation.
“I can go back to the days of Bob Gassoff,” Kulpa said. “When he was killed in a motorcycle accident my dad woke me up to tell me. I remember crying as a kid. I got a Brian Sutter jersey every year growing up for Christmas. I finally got to meet him about seven years ago and we’ve become good friends.
“My wife moved to St. Louis from New York and she’s now a diehard Blues fan and we are going to the game in our Sutter and Bernie Federko jerseys. We’re going to be representing.”
Sutter was Kulpa’s favorite player, and his role model for the 17 years he played the game.
“He was my idol.” Kulpa said. “I always wanted to play like Brian Sutter and I was a tough left winger just like him.”
As loud as Kulpa and his wife Corey will be cheering on Monday night, one thing he won’t be doing is boo an official. He calls it professional courtesy, because he knows how hard the job is from his 20 years of umpiring major-league baseball.
“It’s a tough job, as I know,” Kulpa said. “I was there for the hand pass. I was disappointed as a fan but as an official I knew that was a tough call and nobody saw it and that’s why nobody called it. I understand the frustrations from the fans because I’ve missed calls in the playoffs in my career. The guys were trying to do the best they could.
“As an official I felt for those guys because I’ve been there.”
Where Kulpa hasn’t been is where he will be on Monday night, watching his favorite team try to take the next step toward winning the Stanley Cup.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains