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North Tonawanda native umpiring in MLB All-Star Game, World Series

Be easy on the umpires while watching this year's MLB All-Star Game. After all, the crew chief is a Western New Yorker.

Umpire Ted Barrett will work the second All-Star Game of his career and his first as a crew chief on Tuesday night in Washington, D.C. It's an earned honor for the 20-year veteran, who considers North Tonawanda home despite moving frequently growing up to follow his Navy father and mother's nursing career.

His family moved to Western New York when he was four, starting in Pendleton, then Sanborn before finally settling in North Tonawanda in time for him to start kindergarten. He was a natural athlete, playing on the JV football, basketball and baseball teams at North Tonawanda High School before his family moved yet again, this time to California, after he finished 10th grade.

He'd go on to play college football at California State University, East Bay and forge a career as an amateur boxer, which included a stint as Evander Holyfield's sparring partner in 1987.

Barrett's professional umpiring career started in 1989. He was promoted full time to the majors 10 years later. Since, he's worked wild-card games, league championship series and three World Series, most recently in 2014. He's the only umpire in league history to be behind the plate for two perfect games (David Cone with the Yankees in 1999 and Matt Cain with the Giants in 2012).

Off the field, he's been ordained as a minister, founded a professional umpire ministry and earned a doctorate in theology from Trinity College and Seminary.

He took time before Monday night's Home Run Derby festivities to talk to The Buffalo News about his career, his faith and his ties to Western New York.

Having worked an All-Star Game previously, how different is it from a regular season game?

TB: It's a little better of a vibe, kind of a feel-good vibe. It becomes a family event. My family's here. I've got my grandson here. Guys have got their little kids. Parents are here. Last night they had a gala and this morning they had a brunch and different things going on. We're lucky enough, too, we get rings for World Series and All-Star Games so we're excited, especially guys who are working their first one.

Does the pressure of umping at the highest level ever go away?

TB: The scrutiny factor has been turned way up with computer generated strike zones. It used to be that you just tried to stay out of the newspaper and then it was you'd try to stay off the ESPN highlights. Now, it's everybody blogging and tweeting and guys writing from their basement with no accountability. These people write anonymously and they're just merciless. All those things, they contribute to different pressures that we're under, but at the end of the day we take pride feeling that we're the guardians of the game.

Do players and managers treat you differently now than they did at the start of your career?

TB: When you first come up, they test you, especially the older-school managers we had like your Lou Piniellas and those types. They wanted to know what they could get away with. Now, I'm one of the guys out there with gray hair so they tend to believe you a little more, and a lot of these guys I've known for a long time. A lot of the managers now I had as players.

What's the favorite memory in your career so far?

TB: One that stands out is my first game in the big leagues. I remember walking out in May 1994, Roger Clemens pitching for the Red Sox against the Rangers. I remember walking out on the field and that was pretty amazing.

Were you aware Cone and Cain were perfect during those two games?

TB: The first one, I looked up in the later innings, seventh or eighth inning, and you kind of notice something special is going on based on how people are acting. Nobody's talking. I looked up and saw that (Cone) was facing the minimum but couldn't remember if he'd walked anybody or gotten a double play. When I walked off the field, I remember asking my partner, 'Was that a perfect game or a no-hitter?' The next time it happened, with Cain, from the fifth inning I knew he had a perfect game going. Then you've just got to try and concentrate and stay in it, go one pitch at a time because you don't want to be the story.

How'd you end up being Holyfield's sparring partner?

TB: I was in the Bay Area and I was working out at a gym. There was a heavyweight there, a professional heavyweight, and they called looking for sparring partners and said, 'Yeah, we have another heavyweight, too,' and they set me up and I got to spar with him. Most of the guys that were really good start so young and I didn't start anything formal until my later teen years. I was always behind the curve with the higher-level guys but did my best to hold my own and try to make a little money.

Is it true that your dad signed you up for umpire school to get you out of boxing?

TB: He didn't like me boxing. So he said, 'Hey, I'll pay for you to go to umpire school.' I'd done a little bit of little league and some high school ball and things like that, and I figured, five weeks in Florida was better than getting beat up in the ring. The rest, as they say, is history.

How does your faith affect your day-to-day work life?

TB: It's a hard life. It's a traveling life, guys living in hotels. I just felt God calling me as a minister to the guys I was with and help them be better dads, be better husbands. As I got to be one of the older guys mentoring the younger guys, I try to tell them, 'Hey, these are the mistakes I've seen people make in this job. This is how you stay out of them.'

We don't get a lot of accolades. We don't get a lot of support. The only time we come into focus is when we screw up, so we try and support each other and build up a community and support system. We do weekly prayer calls. Sunday morning we have day games so it's hard to get to church. We do a virtual church. We get on in the morning and have a pastor or one of us takes turns bringing a message that relates to umpiring.

Do you still have strong connections to Western New York?

TB: North Tonawanda is where I was the longest, from kindergarten to 10th grade, so that's home to all of us. My younger brother moved back there and is still there. Cousins, aunts and uncles (are there). My dad is always following NT High School sports. My brother is a season ticket holder for UB basketball. I get back there quite a bit. If I get a day off, I go back home. It's where I umpired my first game. That's my roots.

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