Cortesio first woman ump since Postema in exhibition

MESA, Ariz. -- Ria Cortesio hustled all over the infield and made her calls with an emphatic fist pump. Always in the right position, she did what every umpire hopes to do during a ballgame: She blended in.

Cortesio became the first female umpire to work a major league exhibition game since Pam Postema in 1989 when she made calls on the bases Thursday as the Chicago Cubs beat an Arizona Diamondbacks split squad 7-4.

Her performance before a HoHoKam Park record crowd of 12,917 was pretty much like the sunny 64-degree day. It was flawless.

"It was pretty uneventful. I didn't have much," Cortesio said.

At least not on the field. Her phone started ringing early Thursday morning as the hype surrounding her assignment began to build.

"When I found out I had this game, my plan was to sneak in, work the game and sneak out and hope no one noticed," she said. "That didn't happen."

Working with major league umpire Mike Winters on the bases while another minor league ump, Jason Kiser, handled the plate, Cortesio was at first base for the first two innings before she switched across the diamond to third and then back again a couple of times. The moving around from side to side is standard for spring training games.

With a dark blue hat, light blue short-sleeved shirt and gray slacks, Cortesio looked very much like the other two umps -- just a bit thinner.

Cortesio knew several players in the game because they were also in the minor leagues where she worked.

"I got a lot of, 'Hey, Ria, where are you going to be this year?' That's the question. As of right now, I'm going back to the Southern League, but that's subject to change at any minute. As soon as a spot opens up at Triple-A, it's mine," she said.

Early in the game, she reached down to tie her shoe and minutes later was in action when Donnie Sadler dropped down a bunt and raced to first. She signaled safe as the throw from Chicago's Mark DeRosa sailed past first for an error.

Later on, positioned between first and second, she hurried across the basepath to call Mark Reynolds out at first on a grounder. There were only three umps instead of the usual four, so Cortesio was forced to cover more ground in the infield.

When Kiser ran from home to third base in case there was a play there, Cortesio alertly raced to the plate to cover for him.

She had one close call in the third inning when she signaled Chicago's Ryan Theriot safe at second on a steal attempt as the ball and runner arrived almost simultaneously.

"I was visibly out, but she was on top of it and saw he missed the tag and I came back around and grabbed the base and was safe," Theriot said. "She's good. She's breaking down barriers and she's persistent and she makes all the right calls and that's what they are supposed to do. I just couldn't imagine being in her shoes."

Cortesio is the only female umpire in professional baseball. At 30, she is starting her ninth year overall and fifth in Double-A.

Once she makes it to Triple-A, she'll be evaluated by major league umpire supervisors.

If she's judged good enough, she would be invited to the Fall League, then to a full schedule of major league spring training games and finally to a spot as a fill-in in the majors.

No female umpire has ever worked a regular-season game in the majors. Cortesio obviously hopes to be the first. That's her plan.

"Absolute best-case scenario, we're looking at 2009 to get a couple of games," she said.

Cubs manager Lou Piniella, known for his run-ins with umpires over the years and tantrums that included kicking dirt and throwing bases, saluted Cortesio's pursuit.

"I think it's good. I really do," Piniella said. "I think there is a place for women in the umpiring ranks -- they're certainly as qualified as anybody else. I'm sure if they get the same opportunities, the same schooling that their male counterparts do, they'll do a really nice job."

Then Piniella pledged he would not visit or get in an argument with Cortesio. And he didn't.

"I'll stay right in the dugout," he said.

Game notes
Michah Hoffpauir hit a three-run homer in the seventh for the Cubs. The game featured numerous minor leaguers.