From umpire to business owner to veterinarian, Chris Tiller has pursued a diverse range of careers during his life, always taking advantage of new opportunities to follow his passions.
As a third-year veterinary student at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS), he is currently working toward one of his childhood dreams of becoming a veterinarian like his father.
His other dream, which he followed first, was to have a career in professional baseball.
“Baseball was my first passion,” Tiller said. “I played from a young age, at junior college, and at Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University). I was a computer science major and decided two and a half years in that it wasn’t something I wanted to do anymore. I decided to try something else for a while and that’s why I went to umpire school—to figure out what I really wanted to do.”
He enrolled in the Jim Evans Umpire Academy in Coco Beach, Florida, and began a rigorous eight-week program to become a professional umpire.
“It was a lot of seeing what you’re made of and if you can handle the stress of somebody yelling at you all of the time,” he said. “It was about four hours a day of learning the rules and then in the afternoons we would go to the field and have field simulations.”
During his long days at school, Tiller discovered a passion and skill for umpiring and began his career after graduating in 2000.
He umpired his first game in Princeton, West Virginia, as part of the Appalachian League, a professional summer baseball league. He then moved into the professional minor leagues, first the Midwest League, followed by the Florida State League, Texas League, and Pacific Coast League.
“I enjoyed the goal-oriented nature of the profession,” Tiller said. “I knew on day one of my job in the minor leagues that making it to the major leagues was not guaranteed, and at minimum it would take six years to accomplish my goal. It took around 1,500 minor league games before I worked my first game in the major league.”
In 2007, he finally made the jump to Major League Baseball with his first game in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where the Milwaukee Brewers played the Atlanta Braves.
“I had worked the night before in Albuquerque and I got a call at midnight saying I needed to be on the first flight out,” he said. “I called my dad, who also flew out from Texas the next morning to watch my first major league game.”
As much as he loved umpiring, Tiller began to notice the toll that his career’s schedule took on his family.
“It wasn’t a lifestyle that was conducive to being a family guy,” he said. “I went to work at 6 p.m. and got back to the hotel at 11. Then I went to bed at 6 a.m. and woke up at 2 p.m., so I was living the reverse of everybody else.”
“I finally stopped umpiring because I missed my second son being born while I was flying from Arlington to Miami for a game,” he said.
In the meantime, Tiller had started a trucking business with his brother in 2008 and when he decided to take full ownership five years later, he officially retired from his career in baseball.
He built his company up to a fleet of 60 trucks that traveled all over the country to serve the oil business; then, in 2016, he felt called to begin a new journey while visiting the mixed animal clinic in Waskom owned by his father, Dr. Robert Tiller ’76.
“I saw my second son working with my dad, and all of my childhood memories from the clinic snapped back,” Tiller said. “Being a veterinarian was a goal I had as a young kid and now the timing was finally right.
“I told my wife, ‘I think I want to go to veterinary school,’” he said. “She replied, ‘Well, it’s about time.’”
He chose to follow in his father’s footsteps by applying to Texas A&M, fulfilling another childhood dream.
Since being accepted, he has used his experiences from his past careers to help him manage the difficult and time-consuming nature of veterinary school
“I felt very blessed and fortunate to get in,” Tiller said. “I knew I’d have to work hard, but baseball taught me to take it one day at a time and set individual goals in order to achieve my long-term goal.”
Now in his third year at the CVMBS, Tiller feels reassured that he chose the correct time to pursue veterinary medicine.
“At 19 years old, I didn’t have the study habits that the young adults I’m in school with now have,” he said. “I had the drive, but my drive wasn’t for veterinary school.”
Through student organizations and a study group, Tiller has found many ways to connect with his classmates despite the age gap. He enjoys taking the opportunity to pass along the life lessons he has learned over the years to the students who have yet to begin their first careers.
“I’ve told a bunch of people here that the moment you realize you’re not happy doing something, move on,” he said. “Life’s too short to not do what makes you happy.”
After graduation, he plans to join his father’s clinic, eventually taking over once his dad retires.
“I don’t want such a great place that he’s built up to go away with him,” Tiller said. “The driving factor is that if my kids want the clinic, it will be there. I want my children to choose a life that makes them happy, and if veterinary medicine happens to be the choice they make, I’ll be holding down the fort for them.”
As he gets ready to begin what he plans to be his last career, Tiller is thankful for his family’s support, both now and since his days of umpiring.
“Every time I changed careers, my wife said, ‘You have to do what you want to do,’” he said. “I have a very supportive family and a very loving and understanding wife. It’s also been good for my kids to see me work hard and, hopefully, that will instill in them what it takes to succeed in life. Everything I do, I’m doing for my family.”
Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2021 edition of CVMBS Today.
Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of CVMBS Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; firstname.lastname@example.org; 979-862-4216