Baseball's only woman ump reflects on job

Saturday, April 14th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BELOIT, Wis. (AP) _ Ria Cortesio doesn't want be to called a female umpire.

``It makes about as much sense to me as saying blue-eyed umpire or brown-eyed umpire,'' she said. ``A ball is a ball, a strike is a strike, whether you have blue eyes or brown eyes, or whether you're male or female.''

Cortesio, 24, is the only female umpire currently in professional baseball. She's been assigned to the Class-A Midwest League this season after spending two years in the Pioneer League.

``When you come down to it, I am an umpire. I don't see myself as something different or something special,'' she said. ``But I guess there is only one of me and hundreds of thousands of people who are not me.''

Although the Rock Island, Ill., native enjoyed her tenure in the Pioneer League, she's glad to be closer to home.

``I love the Midwest and I'm definitely a Midwest girl. This season is basically me touring around the Midwest getting to see my family,'' Cortesio said. ``My partner (Scott McClellan) is from Fort Wayne and between the two of us, we have family and friends in just about every city in the league.''

Those Midwestern roots helped develop Cortesio's desire to become an umpire. She spent many of her younger days going with her cousins to watch the Quad Cities River Bandits play.

In 1993, when the team was flooded out of its stadium for the entire second half, Cortesio and her cousins still went to the games, which were played at high school fields in the area.

At one of these makeshift home fields, the local kids made a connection with the umpires _ who were forced to prepare for the game in a parking lot.

``We noticed the umpires changing in the parking lot, and us being the kids that we were, we just went up and talked to them, and it kind of became a tradition that we talked to the umpires when they came through,'' Cortesio said.

``The more I learned about the profession and the lifestyle, the more interested I became in it.''

By the time she reached high school age, Cortesio had learned that the only way to become a professional umpire was to go through umpiring school. She went to the Jim Evans school in Florida in 1999 and began her training.

After being rated among the top 10 percent at the school, she advanced into the Professional Baseball Umpires Corporation, an affiliate of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the governing body of the minor leagues.

``I haven't had any real trouble on the field, which was a big surprise to me,'' she said. ``I'll maybe draw some stares the first time I have a team, but really, I haven't been treated any different on the field by the players.''

In the late 1970s and through the 1980s, Pam Postema spent 13 years as a minor league umpire, but didn't reach the major leagues.

Cortesio said times have changed since then, and _ especially with the NBA using women referees now.

``I really don't think much about a time-scale anymore because I know it really is beyond my control,'' Cortesio said. ``I can't control how many big league umpires retire every year or how many Triple-A umpires quit every year or whatever. That's the thing about being a professional umpire, you have to wait for things to open up.''