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He's found his calling

Scott Letendre, left, makesa call Sunday during the second of his three visits to Medford.

As a catcher for Rogue River High School's baseball team, Scott Letendredeveloped an appreciation for umpires. That appreciation has turned intoa professional calling.

The 22-year-old Letendre is a rookie in an organization that providesumpires to all levels of professional baseball, including the major leagues.

He and his partner, Dave Falkavage, concluded the second of three NorthwestLeague trips to Medford on Monday. They then hit the road for an all-nighttrip to their next series.

He's one of the few umpires in the league who has his own rooting section.

My parents and friends come, Letendre says, and a fewteachers from (Rogue River) middle school.

A talkative sort with a pleasant demeanor, Letendre has the classic squatcatcher's build and bulldogish determination.

His playing days extended to College of the Siskiyous in Weed, Calif.He didn't have the physical tools to make it much farther than that, buthe loved baseball enough to find another way to stay in the game.

He enrolled in Jim Evans' Academy of Professional Umpiring in Orlando,Fla., two winters ago but wasn't placed in the national association.

Instead, he worked games in the independent Western Baseball League thathas teams in Washington, Oregon, Nevada and California, for the first halfof the season.

At that point, Ed Lawrence, executive director for the umpire developmentprogram, suggested he go to British Columbia and work in the Pacific InternationalLeague ­ a college all-star league. After another stint in the WBL,he was asked to work the Continental Amateur Baseball Association WorldSeries in Eau Claire, Wis.

I was told I was going to make good money for a week, but by thetime I got home, I just broke even, Letendre says. But it wasgood for the resume.

He spent the off-season officiating football and basketball in the Salemarea before returning for a second round with Evans' school. This year,Letendre ranked among the top 20 students and was assigned to the NWL. Rightout of school, he worked spring training games in Arizona, then was assignedto the Seattle Mariners' spring training camp at Peoria, Ariz., where hestayed until May 31.

Unlike many of the players, the umpires aren't recipients of hefty signing-bonuschecks. They drive their own cars and don't get that occasional day offafter a couple of long nights.

After Boise and Yakima struggled on for 19 innings last month, Letendre­ who worked behind the plate ­ and Falkavage had to jump in thecar and drive from Yakima, Wash., to Medford.

If it's more than 350 miles to our next town, we're required toleave that night, Letendre says. We left at 1:50 a.m. and gotto Medford at 9 a.m.

Beyond the travel, NWL umpires and their counterparts below the AA levelhave to work behind the plate every other night; that's hard on knees.

You learn to pace yourself, Letendre says.

At first, you're gung-ho and anxious to get to the ballpark. Yougo to sleep late and get up early.

The umpires try to avoid contact with the players and managers in restaurantsand bars, but in relatively small NWL cities, that isn't always easy.

It's usually the pitchers that want to talk, he says. Wetry to give them straightforward answers because you don't want things turnedaround on you after you've been with coaches and players.

Although they're taught two-man umpiring mechanics ­ where each manshould be on a given play ­ from day one, it's virtually impossibleto be in the perfect spot all the time.

However, they don't get a lot of grief from the managers, who file writtenreports on umpires following the season. The young arbiters are also reviewedtwo or three times a season by roving evaluators.

We actually get report cards in November, Letendre says.It involves what we did, what they saw, how we did in situations andhow we could have done better.

Unlike players, minor league umpires can't jump two or three levels ina season. And when umpires reach the big leagues, they tend to stay arounda long time.

You've got to be realistic and hope for some luck, Letendresays. When you reach the Midwest League or the South Atlantic League(the next step up), you get insurance.

There is no job security until umpires reach AA ball, and then an umpis guaranteed only two years.

My main goal is to get to AAA, Letendre says.Once you're there, the American League and National League supervisorscan see you.

He's found his calling