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Former sports and newscaster travels country in new career/



TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Former Portland sportscaster Steve Bartelstein now travels around the country as a baseball umpire. The 53-year-old has been working local high school games, including one last week between Franklin and Lincoln, before leaving for the Frontier League season. He left a career that also included anchor gigs in New York and Chicago, after battling cancer and deciding he wanted to do something he was more passionate about.When Steve Bartelstein was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2007, it put everything in perspective. He wanted a change from his career as a sportscaster and newscaster to something he was more passionate about.

“I didn’t think I was getting any better,” Bartelstein says. “So I just decided I was going to do something I enjoy for the rest of my life.”

For Bartelstein, that love was baseball. He had played the game as a kid and into college and coached high school baseball for a couple of years. He wanted to find a way to get back onto the field.

The way was as an umpire.

It wasn’t a new concept for Bartelstein, who had umpired a few times in high school for the money. Some coaches back then suggested he should make a career of it, and his father was prepared to send his son to umpire school. Instead, Bartelstein attended the University of Evansville, in Illinois, where playing baseball and working at a radio station pushed umpiring onto the back burner.

At 19, Bartelstein began his broadcasting career as a weekend news anchor in Evansville. He went on to work at stations around the country, including KGW (8) from 1994-96, where he was a sports anchor.

“I loved it,” he says of his KGW days. “I thought the media scene was more competitive than it has ever been. You don’t see that as much any more.”

Mike Rausch was his boss in Portland, and Bartelstein says he was the best boss he ever worked with in media.

BARTELSTEIN, as TV newsman in New YorkDuring a 25-year career in television, Bartelstein also worked as a news anchor in New York and Chicago.

“Once you have been in the gossip pages of New York, you can pretty much handle anything,” Bartelstein says. “It’s a full-on assault.”

Bartelstein left the media in 2011, signing off from WBBM-TV in Chicago.

He was able to handle both the cancer, having beaten it in 2010, and the transition into a new field.

Bartelstein went to umpire school, despite odds stacked against him. The average age of a new umpire going through the affiliate system is 22, so he was behind from the start. His dream was to make it to Major League Baseball, but he settled for a job in independent pro ball.

His first job was with the

Pecos League, where he spent a year. He then went to the Frontier League, whose teams include the Joliet Slammers and Schaumburg Boomers and Normal CornBelters in Illinois, Lake Erie Crushers in Ohio, the Traverse City Beach Bums in Michigan, and the Florence Freedom in Kentucky.

Bartelstein, 53, is preparing to begin his third season with the Frontier League.

“I can’t get in the big leagues,” Bartelstein says, “but I’m having a hell of a time.”

He loves baseball and how it is played.

“There’s no clock, so the game just plays out how it should,” he says. “The camaraderie ... it’s about the relationships. You make more friends in this game than in any other. It’s a game of trust.”

Along the way, Bartelstein has had support from many people. Umpiring has a learning curve, and even those who love the game don’t understand the nitty-gritty.

“There isn’t a day that goes by where we don’t learn something, or see something we haven’t before,” Bartelstein says. “You learn the nuances of the game.”

Todd Ellis, the commissioner of the Portland Baseball Umpires Association, met Bartelstein six years ago when the former broadcaster was back in Portland.

“He’s a very good umpire and a very good friend,” Ellis says. “He has good strong mechanics, has good judgment and is passionate about the game.”

Ellis says his friend has always done well listening to constructive criticism and uses it to improve whenever he can.

“It’s refreshing to have someone who wants to learn and get better,” Ellis says.

The two talk after almost every game, Bartelstein going over video and breaking down all of the calls. Last year, Bartelstein worked 80 games in the Frontier League, and he says he and Ellis called each other after almost all of them.

TRIBUNE PHOTOS: JAIME VALDEZ - Steve Bartelstein, once a sports anchor at KGW (8), heads up the stairs to work a Franklin-Lincoln high school baseball game last week at Ron Tonkin Field.Bartelstein has had several other prominent mentors as an umpire, including Portland-based MLB umps Dale Scott and Jim Joyce. They have taken the time to speak with Bartelstein about what it takes to be a successful umpire, and Bartelstein has been able to learn a lot from watching the two of them work.

“Dale gave me the best advice of all,” Bartelstein says. “He said, ‘You’re a pretty friendly guy, and I was, too,’” Bartelstein says. “You’re going to make friends along the way who are managers and coaches — don’t get too close, because that day will come when a call goes against them and they’re no longer your friend.”

For the most part, managers are respectful, Bartelstein says, and he has learned it’s best to be empathetic to what they are saying. He tries to take the time to listen, even though it doesn’t mean he is going to change a call.

“Managers have told me in my league I am one of the guys they can talk to without getting shut down right away,” Bartelstein says. “It’s just the way that works for me — though I did have a guy come out and spit on me. That’s probably not the best way to handle it.”

Working as an umpire can be a hard lifestyle, especially for someone like Bartelstein, who travels around the country to work year-round. Last year, he went to the Florida Winter League in October, was in Arizona for about six weeks, went to the California League, returned to Arizona for spring training and now is in Portland, working high school games.

“I just love the people here,” Bartelstein says. “It’s the right vibe for me.”

Putting on the gear: Steve Bartelstein prepares to umpire a Franklin-Lincoln game. Soon he will hit the road again to return to the Frontier League and work 95 games.

“’I’m trying to catch up for all the years I didn’t do it,” Bartelstein says.

“Him beating cancer, he’s thinking ‘no one is telling me no,’” Ellis says. “I think that’s what drives Steve.”

Bartelstein also is working on an idea that would combine his broadcasting and umpiring expertise. Now that baseball is using instant replay, he is pitching the idea of television using an umpire analyst. The role would be for someone who could help educate fans and explain controversial or confusing calls.

“I interviewed at MLB TV this year, and they liked it,” Bartelstein says. “In June, I’ll be going to the Cuba versus Japan series as an umpire, and I’ll have an audience with the powers to be there. So hopefully I can pitch it.”

For now, though, Bartelstein is content to keep living his dream of walking onto a baseball field every day.

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@chriskeizur

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