July 30, 2013 | Vol. 94, No. 177

Yoopers play, ump at Little League state tournaments

ROCHESTER HILLS — As Upper Peninsula Little League teams compete in state tournaments, some of them have some company from above the Mackinac Bridge.

Jason Juno/Daily Globe
Umpire Sam Fontecchio of Ironwood shares a laugh with a White Lake player and coach during the Little League 13-14-year-old state tournament pool play game against Norway at Rochester Hills. They were checking on the player after he was hit in the head. The coach asked him what day it was and he answered correctly, Saturday. Fontecchio burst out laughing after he answered. “The coach looked at me, I looked back at him, is it?” Fontecchio said. “He answered pretty quick, so he knows more than us.” Both umpire and coach had worked a lot of games and the days were running together; and there was no doubt the player was fine. Norway won the game 10-0.

Umpire Sam Fontecchio of Ironwood is making the rounds across the Midwest, with his traveling partner, umpire Steve Ritenour of Marquette.

Fontecchio worked the 11-12-year-old boys Michigan state event in Ishpeming earlier this month. That included Portage Lake from the Houghton area, which won the district tournament in Ironwood. He figured he worked 14 of 31 games in six days.

Fontecchio just finished umping the 13-14-year-old tournament in Rochester Hills, an affluent Detroit suburb, this past weekend. He worked seven games this weekend.

Norway advanced all the way to the state final before losing 10-0 to Midland with Fontecchio stationed at second base. Norway stunned Onstead 11-6 in the semifinal with seven runs in the top of the final inning, the seventh.

The weather was cool for the Sunday final, even that far south. The locals were wearing heavy clothes.

“We tried to be tough Yoopers and go out there in our normal T-shirts,” Fontecchio said. “We weren’t trying to impress anybody, but it was cold. It was chilly even for a Yooper.”

“That Midland team, they were the team to beat,” Fontecchio said. “They could pitch. They could hit. They got a good team.

“Norway, they’re No. 2 in the state. That’s not a bad deal. They didn’t have many kids that stood out, but they all could play baseball. They all could play. They could give anybody a run for their money. I thought after the first round of games, I thought those two teams would meet for the finals.”

Since his first in 1997, Fontecchio has worked at least 20 state tournaments in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois, where he’s going for the 15-16-year-old regional tourney this weekend. He has even been invited to work a state tournament in Kentucky next year.

In 2011, Fontecchio umped at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., the pinnacle of a Little League umpire’s career. He continues to work Little League and high school games around the Gogebic Range and many miles away.