"Thrill of a lifetime"…Portland umpire earns nationally televised dream assignment

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Portland’s Steve Schwartz calls balls and strikes during the championship game at last week’s Little League Softball World Series in Portland, Oregon.

Portland umpire Steve Schwartz’s souvenir pin from the Little League Softball World Series.

Stephen Schwartz is a Renaissance man.

In everyday life, he’s a husband, father of three sons and a principal in the Schwartz and Schwartz law firm, specializing in the areas of personal injury, criminal and traffic defense, including OUIs, and wills and probate.

Schwartz, 55, a Portland native who is jokingly referred to by family and friends as “The Mayor” for his abundance of friends and contacts, also serves as the voice of Portland High School football and basketball on WPPS Channel 3 public television.

But it was his volunteer work as a softball umpire that propelled Schwartz into the spotlight last week, not in Portland, Maine, but in Portland, Oregon, the site of the 2016 Little League Softball World Series.

Schwartz not only got to umpire several games between the best U12 players around, as one of 11 umpires from around the world to do so, but for the championship game Aug. 17, televised live on ESPN2, he earned the plum assignment of calling balls and strikes as the home plate umpire.

“It was really the a thrill of a lifetime,” Schwartz said. “It ranks right after getting married (to wife Susie) and the birth of my kids. I would have felt that way even without the plate assignment, but the fact that I did made it that much sweeter. It exceeded my wildest dreams. It was a tremendous honor and privilege.”

Schwartz coached his sons Lenny, Andrew and Jack in Little League while dabbling in umpiring, but for the past seven springs and summers, he’s devoted countless hours to dressing in blue and has become recognized as one of the best youth softball umpires around.

“My sons all went over to lacrosse, so being an umpire allowed me to stay in the sport,” Schwartz said. “Umpiring is a brother- and sister-hood of like-minded people who get to test their skills and use their judgment. It was a natural progression for someone who loves baseball and softball.”

Schwartz’s ability behind the plate and on the basepaths earned him an opportunity to travel to Bristol, Connecticut last summer to umpire the Little League U12 regional tournament.

Following that tournament, Schwartz was recommended by his district administrator, Steve Cole, for the honor of traveling to Portland, Oregon for this summer’s World Series.

“In December, I got the letter that I was going and I was shocked,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz looked forward to his trip for many months and it was everything he hoped it would be.

“I got to umpire about 12 games overall, three behind the plate,” Schwartz said. “I got to do the first game and the last game of the tournament at the plate and I think I got better each game working with some of the best umpires in the world.”

Schwartz worked down the rightfield line for the semifinal game between Helotes, Texas and Grandville, Michigan, then was pleasantly surprised when he learned he would have home plate duties for the championship game between Helotes and the defending champions from Salisbury, North Carolina (Helotes prevailed, 5-1).

“There were more experienced umpires there, so it was a tremendous honor to be chosen, extremely gratifying to be thought of so highly by the evaluators,” Schwartz said. “When you’re a volunteer, you aspire to be one of the best. I was anxious the first inning of the final, but I settled in nicely.”

Other than the home states of the participating teams, it’s likely that Maine had the most viewers for the title tilt.

Schwartz, who is familiar with being in front of the camera due to his WPPS work, said that the final game was quite the television production.

“I was mic’d up,” he said. “ESPN had six fixed cameras there. Luckily, I’m used to being in front of the camera, so I wasn’t fazed. Everything with TV is timed. There was a director with a headset on. He told me when to have the girls warm up and when to have them step in to bat to start the half innings.”

Schwartz wasn’t bothered by having the TV lights upon him, but he was nervous nonetheless.

“The fact that there was a large crowd and that the two best U12 teams in the world, teams that had won nearly 50 games and lost none, were playing for a championship was nervewracking, but when I got in the slot (the area behind and between the catcher and batter), all I thought about was evaluating pitches,” Schwartz said. “I was able to concentrate and overall, I think I was consistent. My fellow umpires and the evaluators gave me positive feedback, as did the coaches from both teams. We didn’t get to talk to the evaluators during tournament games except during the championship game, so that was helpful. It was an incredibly positive environment. An exciting atmosphere.”

Schwartz is back in Maine and reality has set in. After a stint of being on camera on the biggest sports network in the country, his day job is once again coming first.

“I’m going to hang up my spikes and practice law again,” said Schwartz, who is listed in New England Superlawyers and Best Lawyers in America. “I’ll take the winter off, then I look forward to doing it again in the spring. There’s plenty of work waiting for me.”

By rule, Schwartz won’t have the opportunity to serve as an umpire at the Little League Softball World Series again (it truly was a once in a lifetime opportunity), but he could work regional tournaments or every four years, a Junior, Senior or Big League Softball World Series, or even try his hand at baseball.

Regardless of what the future brings, Schwartz’s trip from Portland to Portland and his 15 minutes of fame will never be forgotten.

“I got a lot of encouragement and support from everyone,” Schwartz said. “From my fellow District 6 umpires, to my local league (Schwartz is the Umpire in Chief of Portland Little League) to friends back home. It was great to know I was supported back in Maine. It truly was one of the best experiences of my life.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.