Fall 2021 SS Magazine

World Series umpire Ted Barrett finds worth in Jesus behind the plate

It all comes down to this.

Then again, maybe it doesn’t.

There are no brighter lights for a Major League Baseball umpire than those of the World Series. That applies even to Ted Barrett, a man who’s virtually made a living out of historical moments behind the plate. At age 53, he’s already become the first MLB ump to ever work the home plate for two perfect games, handed Bobby Cox his MLB-record 132nd ejection, called Greg Maddux’s 300th career win, and worked the Chicago Cubs’ first National League-clinching win in more than 70 years.

But the Fall Classic is still the Fall Classic. Just like the Super Bowl is as much a championship for referees as it is for players, the World Series remains the biggest showcase for umps on the diamond.

Barrett has worked three — the 2007 Boston Red Sox sweep, the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals comeback and the seven-game 2014 San Francisco Giants victory. He’ll work a fourth starting this week, when the Red Sox take on the Los Angeles Dodgers in a title clash for the first time since 1916.

The anticipation and excitement for overseeing the 2018 Series is probably on par with some of his earliest adrenaline rushes: His first MLB game back in 1994, when Roger Clemens was pitching for the Red Sox, or his first home-plate job at Yankee Stadium on Memorial Day.

In fact, these kinds of special assignments are one of the main reasons Barrett went from viewing umpiring as a hobby to grinding through more than a decade of training on the job.

“While I was playing in college, I was umpiring high school baseball,” he said last year on the Sports Spectrum Podcast. “[But] I was boxing at the time. I worked as a sparring partner. My dad never really liked me boxing, so he said, ‘Hey, I’ll pay for you to go to umpire school.’ And I thought it would be a nice little break from getting my head knocked in around the ring … [but] there are 300 to 400 guys attending umpire school every season, and they take [only] about the top 20 to 25. The odds of even getting into the bottom level of the minor leagues are really tough.”

And much like his memories of breaking into the majors, those present-day opportunities like World Series also help Barrett endure the rigors of an umpire’s travel and sleep schedule.

“I think the average fan would be shocked if they looked at our schedule and they saw we’re on a plane every three days,” he said. “Many times, it’s night games and then we get up at the crack of dawn the next day, and we’ll fly the majority of the day and then get in and work a 7 o’clock game. So it’s funny, because sometimes I might have a 4 a.m. wake-up call, now it’s 11 p.m. and I’m in extra innings. I’ve got to be mentally sharp and so it’s difficult … crisscrossing time zones and losing sleep.”

Yet Barrett, who umped for six years before moving to the majors and another five before landing a full-time gig in MLB, doesn’t live for the perfect games, the personal accolades or even the World Series. All of them are nice, and all of them play a role in his journey to baseball’s biggest stage. But while the Fall Classic will demand his interest, attention and in-game judgment, it won’t serve as his deepest accomplishment.

Outside of baseball, Barrett is also an ordained minister, recently graduated with a master’s in theology from Trinity College and Seminary. He’s the co-founder of Calling for Christ, a ministry serving pro baseball umpires. He is a man living for Jesus. So even though, from a sports perspective, it really does “all come down to this” in the World Series and especially pertaining to his profession, Barrett’s mission keeps God as priority No. 1.

“I looked up to major league umpires so much,” he said. “I wanted to be them, I wanted to be accepted by them, I wanted to be loved by them, I wanted them to say, ‘You’re one of us,’ and so many times I wouldn’t take my stand for God when I needed to. And God showed me that you’ve got to go all in. ‘You’re either going to follow me or you’re not. You can’t have one foot in the umpire world and one foot in My world. It’s got to be all Me’ … And finally I surrendered. Then God said, ‘I put you as an umpire for a reason. I want you in ministry, but as an umpire.'”

Now, with his fourth career World Series about to get underway, even the man calling the shots behind home plate of America’s biggest baseball series of the year knows that his worth lies beyond the diamond.

“Anything we accumulate, it doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “It’s all about Jesus. He’s got me looking toward eternity. Like the Israelites who wandered in the desert for 40 years before entering the promised land, I feel like we’re just wandering on this earth through the desert until we get to Heaven.”

For Barrett, wandering the earth just may include overseeing the baseball field.

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