Three strikes and you’re out?
Tell that to Tony Cartagena, the umpire from Porterville who never missed a game through six heart attacks, a few mild strokes, one leg amputation and the loss of four left-foot toes.
“I don’t want to miss a single game, no way,” Cartagena said. “I’m basically walking on two sticks, but that hasn’t stopped me.”
With that, his marbled voice sighed. The Porterville Little League championships were played Saturday, and he was resting at home. That seventh heart attack – his fourth since the day after Christmas – finally got through his hulking chest protector.
Cartagena, 57, missed an umpiring assignment for the first time in 37 years. The games went on without him, it’s just that they weren’t the same.
I don’t care who wins, I don’t care who loses. Just play the game right and let the kids have fun.
Porterville umpire Tony Cartagena
This is crazy. Since when did we start liking the ump in the first place?
Umpires and referees are the most reviled people in sport. They are obviously always against our team, and always paid under the scorer’s table by the other side, we just know it. As for that vision of theirs, if they had one more eye, they’d be a cyclops, right?
As a kid, I loved to hate the umpire. You haven’t lived until Selma legend Will Goldbeck tossed you out of the game with three hops and a flying index finger.
It’s not like that here, not with Tony. The kids love him because he calls them by first name. The coaches respect him because he knows the rulebook enough to always be right, but won’t embarrass them when they come hustling out of the dugout to lose another argument, 1-to-1.
Know who doesn’t like him? Drunks. Screaming moms. Overbearing dads. Those are the ones he’ll give the boot, and thank goodness someone will do that job for the rest of us.
After 2,000 games, he’s now calling strikes on the kids of the kids he started with as a 16-year-old rookie.
“Over the years, I’ve learned if you know your call, know the game and disrespect nobody, that’s the way it should be. I don’t care who wins, I don’t care who loses. Just play the game right and let the kids have fun.”
In Porterville, when the umpire goes missing, it’s the bleacher buzz. Where’s the ump with one leg? How come Tony’s not here?
Parents took their kids to the hospital with handmade cards. After 2,000 games, he’s now calling strikes on the kids of the kids he started with as a 16-year-old rookie.
To see the kids smile when they get their first hit, to see them grow up, it’s my therapy, it’s why I go out there.
Cartagena on why he’s still umpiring into a fourth decade
Coaches came to make sure he was OK. A Strathmore summer league pushed back the start of the season, just to wait for his return.
And yes, Cartagena will make his comeback, because of course he will. Every city needs a local legend, whether it’s Goldbeck in Selma, or Chuck Knox in Exeter, or Paul Mitchell in Reedley, or Harry “from Tulare” Kargenian.
These are umpires and announcers and scorekeepers who are as much a part of their city fabric as the water tower and school mascot. Here’s hoping to see Cartagena standing behind home plate when my boys kick off the 2018 baseball season, even if that last third strike looked a little too off the plate to one of us overbearing dads.
“To see the kids smile when they get their first hit, to see them grow up, it’s my therapy, it’s why I go out there,” Cartagena said.
“If I ever die, I want to die on the field doing what I love.”
1. LeBron James is no Michael Jordan, for the same reason Jordan is no Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who is no Wilt Chamberlain. You can only be the best player of your era, because all things are never equal beyond that. Arguers like you are why Skip Bayless happens, so stop. But if you must, we’re going with Kurt Rambis, final answer.
2. Wrong headline of the day: “Braves shut down Giants.” No. The Giants, and only the Giants, shut down the Giants. Even then, you can’t shut down something that never started up.
3. The NFL relaxed its boarding-school rules on touchdown celebrations, which is great for the 49ers. They’ve been waiting three years for a chance to celebrate one of those 7-point thingies.