MARQUETTE - Steve Ritenour is passionate about umpiring. So much so, the Marquette man works 200-250 games a season, from Little League baseball and softball to American Legion baseball.
"It adds up after a while," Ritenour, 51, said after umpiring a Marquette Blues Legion doubleheader, one of the games behind the plate.
"But baseball has been in my blood forever. As an umpire, you're pretty much in on every play. I just love baseball and this is a way to stay involved in the game."
Home plate umpire Steve Ritenour cleans off the plate on June 13 during an American?Legion baseball game between the Marquette Blues and Mid-County Mavericks at Haley Memorial Field in Marquette. (Journal photo by Matt?Keiser)
A Marquette native and 1979 Marquette Senior High School graduate, Ritenour began umpiring as a youth while he was playing Senior League baseball in Marquette.
"I was a 'baseball rat,' watching a lot of games," he recalled. "One day, someone - I don't remember who - said he needed an umpire to do the bases at a Minor League game, that someone didn't show up.
"So I hopped on my bike and rode over to the old Whitman Field (in Marquette) to do the game. That's how I got started."
Ritenour didn't umpire during a four-year stint in the Navy, then returned to the post irregularly before umpiring "full time" beginning in 1996.
At the Little League level, he volunteers his time umpiring girls softball or baseball 20-50 games a season.
"It's something I can give back to the community," he said, "giving my time."
For high school and Legion games, he'll sometimes go to the Gladstone-Escanaba area to umpire.
For Little League softball or baseball, especially for postseason tournament play, he sometimes goes as far as Ironwood to make the calls.
"Wherever they need me," Ritenour said.
Since 2000, he has been the crew chief for umpires in Marquette County Legion ball, scheduling umps for games involving Marquette, Ishpeming and Negaunee teams.
"It's time-consuming, especially when you throw in tournaments and rainouts," he said. "But I work with a great group of (fellow umpires), a small core of guys who help out immensely.
"When I need a fill-in and call at the last second, they're willing to come in and help me out."
Blues manager Derek Swajanen, who played for Ritenour when the latter coached the Marquette Reds with the late Dave Turenne, is appreciative of what Ritenour does.
"He does a good job organizing the umpires," Swajanen said. "You never have to worry about an umpire not being there (for a game).
"Sometimes, you go to other places to play and you don't have umpires for your game(s), or they pull someone out of the stands to ump."
Ritenour describes himself as an "impartial" umpire.
"Even though I'm from Marquette, I'm pretty fair," he said. "I do games all over the county and usually, nine times out of 10, coaches see me coming and are glad I'm doing their game(s)."
Count Swajanen as one of them.
"He's real calm and doesn't get upset about anything," he said of Ritenour, who is the Backroom Supervisor at Walmart in Marquette. "He'll let you say your peace about something and then he'll explain why he did what he did.
"I don't have any problem with his strike zone or his calls. As a coach, you sometimes would like a call to go the other way, but usually, he's right."
One thing Ritenour won't do is issue "makeup" calls, trying to correct what some may think was a mistake on an earlier decision.
"I don't distinguish who's playing who to even a call out," he said.
The hardest part of the job for him isn't the large number of games he umpires, or the abuse some players, teams and-or fans may heap on him.
It's maintaining his focus during every game in a long season.
"Every once in a while, your concentration isn't there for games that are out of hand," Ritenour said. "There's always a tendency to relax, especially behind the plate.
"Your concentration needs to be there for every pitch."
He umpired at the Junior World Series in 2007 in downstate Taylor and is scheduled to work at regionals in age 12 softball (in Indianapolis the end of July) and Senior League baseball (in Peru, Ill., the first week of August).
Ritenour said umpires can serve at three World Series events, either in softball, baseball or both. He's eligible for the Senior League WS in Bangor, Maine.
"I'm hoping to one year get to Williamsport (Pa.) and the Little League World Series," he said. "That's the ultimate goal.
"If you do the Senior League World Series, then you have to wait four years to get in the Williamsport rotation."
After more than 30 years as an umpire, Ritenour has no plans to give it up anytime soon.
"Not yet," he said. "It's still a joy to come out and ump."
Craig Remsburg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251.