Rick Roder
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Human Interest - Ted Barrett



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    This is a human-interest piece I wrote for the World Umpires Association (Major League umpires' union) website. You should be able to find a stable of my writings on the "Articles" page of their site at http://www.worldumpires.com/articles.html.

    "Teddy Bear?" Well, I'd be Careful
    By Rick Roder

    It takes a bear of a human being to be a Major League umpire, to walk into a high-pressure situation and face it head-on. So don't let Ted Barrett's nickname - "Teddy Bear" - lead you too far into the woods.

    Ted is a bulk of a man, a tower of strength on a six-foot-four frame. He looks like one of those guys that could load your truck by hand so fast that you wouldn't bother shutting off the engine. Between the ages of sixteen and twenty-two, "Teddy Bear" Barrett was an amateur heavyweight boxer. Opponents quickly learned that there was a second type of teddy bear, nothing like what they knew in their youth. Barrett ran up a record of 36-6 and was considering turning pro. "I had been to Las Vegas and was sparring with Greg Page, the former world heavyweight champ. He was helping me out with some options." Barrett also sparred with Evander Holyfield, a bronze medallist in the Olympic Games. Holyfield became the undisputed world champion a few years later.

    It could be said with ironic accuracy that Barrett gave up the ring in favor of the diamond. "My dad didn't like me boxing, and he knew I was interested in umpiring. He said he'd pay for umpire school if I went. I thought, 'Great. It's Florida. A great vacation.'" Ted was married on the last day of 1988, took his honeymoon in the Orlando area, and drove out to Cocoa in the first week of 1989 to attend Joe Brinkman's umpire school. "I never thought that I would get a job," Barrett said. He not only got a job, but in only his sixth professional season, Ted worked his first major league game on May 26, 1994, at Arlington Stadium in Texas. Three days later, on Memorial Day, he worked his first big league plate job at Yankee Stadium in New York City. Ted became a champ in his own right in 1999 when he became a full-time member of the Major League Baseball staff. During that year he worked the plate for David Cone's perfect game on July 18. Although Ted is currently working his fourth season as a contracted major league umpire, he is considered a six-year veteran due to the large number of big league games he worked as a Triple-A "reserve" umpire, filling in for vacations and injuries.

    Ted Barrett has cultivated a commitment to the advancement of young people. His ministry to the young extends back over ten years, to the time just before he broke into the big leagues. He used his Bachelor's degree from Cal State Hayward to work as a substitute teacher in the Phoenix area, where he and his family reside. He continues to substitute teach in the off-season. "Through substituting I have a new-found respect for teachers. They work hard and they are not paid much. Then there is the politics-it is not easy."

    When Higley High School opened near the Barrett home in Gilbert, the school needed a basketball coach to assist the varsity and lead the junior varsity. Ted stepped in and has worked hard to promote sportsmanship. He knows what it is like to officiate, so he tries to lead the players into understanding and respecting the referees.

    Ted and his wife, Tina, are raising three children, Andrew (11), Amanda (9), and Adam (6). Andrew has taken an interest in boxing. Ted said, "I was going to the gym to stay in shape by boxing, and when Andrew was three or four he started to tag along. Then I quit going and Andrew finally asked, 'When are we going back to the gym?'" Local gyms in the Phoenix area often host youth tournaments to raise funds. While mentoring his son, Ted remains active. "Boxing has always been a good workout for me. During my years in the minors, I sparred with contending boxers in Arizona, like Obed Sullivan, a ranked heavyweight contender. I also worked as a corner second for fights. Now I box to stay in shape, and spar with younger fighters."

    Barrett takes about ten speaking engagements each off-season for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. When Ted walks into a high school, he is living proof that an avid Christian can be cool. "I try to tell them and show them that they are wrong about the stereotype of a Christian-that a Christian is not always the square guy in the corner with his face in the Bible." He says a large part of his ministry is to help students overcome peer pressure and to muster the courage to openly live a Christian lifestyle. And he lets them know point blank that they don't have to be pincushions, "I tell them that a Christian is not always soft. For instance, a Christian can be a football player, and a good one. He can knock an opponent flat on his back…he just needs to help him up afterwards."

    When speaking to teenagers, Ted likes to use baseball as a parallel for life. "As a major league umpire, you try to be perfect. It's the same in life. Yeah, you're going to miss a pitch now and then, but you have to always keep trying. When you miss a play, when you make a mistake with family or friends, you have to find out why it happened, and make sure it doesn't happen again."

    A tremendous opportunity arose for Ted and his friend, fellow major league umpire Alfonso Marquez, during this past off-season. "We met a group of five families who moved to the Phoenix area from California. They moved out here to minister to the growing population of the city. We started to attend their Bible study group, and learned of their plans to start a church." Ted was initially skeptical. "I was thinking, you're going to start a church?"

    However, Ted and Alfonso quickly recognized the good that could be done, and became involved. The Rock Point Church held its first service in a high school auditorium in February and the congregation has since grown to include about 400 people. They are currently seeking land in the Gilbert area upon which they can build a new church building. Rock Point Church is affiliated with the Baptist General Conference.

    The name "Rock Point" was in keeping with a general "mountain" theme that has been ongoing. Ted said, "Our mission statement is 'to know, to go, to grow,' to know God, to grow in God, and to go forth to spread his Word. We use mountains for symbolism, such as growth being compared to climbing a mountain. The growth can be a struggle, and when you stumble you have the friends tied to you with climbing ropes to help. They stop your fall and help you along." The children's ministry uses different mountains, such as Everest and McKinley, for different age groups. Children strive to climb to progressively higher "heights."

    Ted is genuinely pumped about the possibilities of the new church. "It has been exciting to get in on the ground level and watch our church grow." Ted continues to grow in his own personal faith life, as well. He plans to attain his master's degree in Theology from Trinity University and eventually become an ordained minister. He will be able to take classes online, and can also receive credit during weekend seminars during the off-season. A person working full time can achieve the degree in three years; Ted's work and travel as a professional umpire will cause him to spread it over a longer period.

    Ted has joined Marquez in another venture, which Ted calls "Fonzy's Kids." Marquez is from Zacatecas, Mexico, where there is no shortage of shortages. Ted and Alfonso have collected donated clothing, baseballs, gloves, bats, cleats, uniforms, and other items to take to the Zacatecas area for distribution to the Mexican children. Their trip to Mexico last year was thwarted in large part by the September 11 tragedies in America. Undaunted, they have continued to collect items and plan to make the trip next off-season.

    Ted likes to read, especially about the varied experiences of people and their resulting philosophies of life. His favorite book ever is "The Power of One" by Bryce Courtenay, which is about a little boy growing up amidst daunting challenges in South Africa. The boy, Peekay, learned valuable life lessons from his youthful love of boxing. He aspired to become the welterweight champion of the world. One of Ted's adopted life philosophies comes from Peekay's mentor: "First with the head, then with the heart." Ted said, "I recommend that book every chance I get."

    Ted Barrett admits that he is not exactly sure where his life and his ministry will take him, "There could always be churches that branch out from Rock Point. We'll have to see what God has planned." One gets the feeling that the Almighty had better have a plan with plenty of room for this stand-up man, this boulder of a Christian.

    Copyright © 2002, Richard J. Roder. All rights reserved.


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© 2002 Rick Roder