Sat, Jun 02, 2007 - Page 18 News List

Female umpire earning respect in Cuban league

AP , HAVANA

Umpire Yanet Moreno, right, adjusts her mask before a baseball game at the Changa Mederos stadium in Havana, Cuba, on Tuesday.

PHOTO: AP

Baseball players looking to harass Cuban umpire Yanet Moreno don't scream insults or burst from the dugout to kick dirt.

Those who really want to get under her skin propose.

"Beautiful," they call playfully. "I'll marry you," they say.

Moreno is the only Cuban female umpire to crack the National Series, the island's major professional league. She worked her first game in December at the start of the most recent season.

"The crowd applauded, the players congratulated me," the 32-year-old said recently. "I wasn't nervous, just excited because getting to that level was like a dream."

Ariel Pestano, a catcher for Villa Clara and for Cuba's national team, said Moreno wields even greater authority on the baseball diamond than her male counterparts.

"We have to respect her as an umpire and as a woman," he said.

No woman has umpired an American major league regular-season game. Ria Cortesio works in Double-A ball and became the first woman in nearly 20 years to work an exhibition in March, when she called a game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago Cubs.

Moreno umpired 90 games last season in Cuba's top league, including the playoffs, during which she worked quarter-final and semi-final series. The baseball season in Cuba runs from December through April.

"The key is to assert authority without abusing it," she said.

She played third base and shortstop and often batted cleanup as a youngster. Moreno became an umpire in part because of her frustration at not being able to play in organized leagues.

"Since I was little, I played with the boys in Alamar," she said, referring to the crowded Havana neighborhood where she grew up. "My father would punish me, but I kept it up, anyway."

She began her career umpiring softball, then moved on to youth baseball games. She eventually enrolled in the National Umpire School in Villa Clara. She is not scheduled to graduate for a few weeks, but already has a season of National Series experience.

"She knows how to command respect on and off the field," said Erasmo Torres, an umpire who will graduate with Moreno.

Moreno, who hopes to become certified for international competition in Cuba after graduating from umpire school, said she still considers every game she works a learning experience.

Even when she makes a mistake, Moreno said with a smile, players' reactions are more mischievous than angry.

Yes, Moreno is single. But, no, she has yet to accept an on-field marriage proposal.

"There are a lot," she said. "I don't remember them all."

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