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Masked man of many seasons

Masked man of many seasons

May 28, 2017 - By Scott Akanewich, Sports Editor

Lee Martinez spent nearly a half-century as a Fremont County youth baseball umpire and was honored on Opening Day.

Anyone who has played youth baseball across Fremont County for the past three generations probably saw it at one point or another.

The smile.

For nearly a half-century, Lee Martinez would strike his signature pose, standing with hands on hips, grinning from ear to ear through the bars of his mask while presiding over a youth baseball game as the home plate umpire.

On April 7, just shy of his 50th season on local diamonds, Martinez passed away due to cancer and on May 11, was honored by the community with a pre-game ceremony on Riverton Little League's Opening Day at Saban Little League Complex.

According to Riverton Little League umpire-in-charge Sean Peterson, the solemn tribute was only proper for a man who gave so much of himself to countless participants over the years.

"I think it was very fitting," said Peterson. "If Lee was here, he would've enjoyed it a great deal."

Martinez's wife, Pam, was certain her late husband was indeed present, if only in spirit, she said.

"Lee was here and his legacy will live on," said Martinez, who was presented with a game ball following a ceremonial first pitch by Riverton mayor Lars Baker, followed by the unveiling of a banner in his honor on the outfield fence of the southwest field of the complex. "I'm overwhelmed -- it's such an honor."

As for all the time her husband spent calling balls and strikes, safe and out over the years, Martinez said she was aware of exactly what she was getting into when the pair got married.

"Lee told me before we got married 36 years ago," she said with a smile. "I knew the deal."

New generation

Players from all four teams of the evening's games lined the baselines during the ceremony, which fellow umpire Jeremy Martinez found appropriate, he said.

"It was good to see all the kids there experiencing it," said Jeremy Martinez. "Lee umped most of them and their fathers, as well."

Integrity first

Jeremy Martinez said as far as Lee Martinez was concerned, it was all about the players whenever he stepped onto a diamond for a game.

"With Lee, it was always the kids and safety first," he said. "He always tried to be as fair as possible with everyone."

In fact, Lee Martinez never once compromised the integrity of his strike zone, even if the game was a blowout, said Jeremy Martinez.

"He always went out of his way to never open up his strike zone," he said. "He kept it the same even if the game was out of hand."

However, he also looked out for his fellow men in blue, said Jeremy Martinez.

"Lee always tried to protect his fellow umpires when it came to controversial calls," he said. "He just had a very positive personality."

Role model

Martinez was also a positive role model for his fellow umpires in Fremont County, as well as across the entire Cowboy State, said Cody Beers, a veteran Riverton Little League umpire.

"Lee was an institution in the Wyoming umpiring ranks," said Beers. "He was always there, always consistent and called everything like he saw it."

Martinez's genuineness was what endeared him to so many, he said.

"He truly cared about the citizens of Riverton," said Beers of Martinez, who also served on the Riverton City Council. "Lee had more influence over local youth baseball than anyone. It was always a privilege to step on the field with him."

Cool head

Martinez's sheer joy at simply being on a baseball field was contagious, said Calvin Sanders, Wyoming Little League District No. 1 umpire-in-charge.

"Lee was always happy to be out there with the kids," said Sanders. "He had fun and wanted to make sure the kids had fun."

One of Martinez's strengths as an umpire was his ability to diffuse potential trouble before it even began, said Sanders.

"He was always firm and stopped things when he needed to without getting upset," he said. "Lee was unique in that way, as a lot of us get defensive in those situations."

In fact, regardless of what would happen over the course of a particular game, Martinez had an uncanny ability to never let black clouds rain on his parade, said Sanders.

"Lee never left a game mad," he said. "He told me the kids always made him laugh."

Long haul

Little League District No. 1 head administrator Bill Sedlecek worked with Martinez for nearly two decades and knew he could always count on him, he said.

"Lee was one of those guys who was going to keep doing what he was doing as long as he was still drawing breath," said Sedlecek. "He was a proud man who knew what hard work was and was always into public service. For him, retirement was just a word -- he was going to carry on simply for the love of the game."

Martinez was the first-ever umpire from Wyoming to work games at the Little League Western Regional tournament in San Bernardino, California, in 1970, an honor umpires can only experience once in their entire careers.

Sedlecek expressed sorrow at Martinez's passing, but also acknowledged the reality of it all.

"Of course, it's sad to lose him," said Sedlecek. "But, as a Christian, I'm happy because there's no more pain."

As far as Peterson is concerned, Martinez was the bar by which other umpires will be measured, he said.

"Lee was the standard-bearer," said Peterson.

"He always had the same mentality, which was to do things right and a lot of people learned from him."

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