In baseball writing, spectacular plays are often miscast as “heroics.” Late-inning home runs, diving catches, and other gutty plays provide excitement and make for good stories.
But there are baseball “heroics,” which have been applied to everything from Adam Jones’s leaping catch in the World Baseball Classic to Region IV-4A high school baseball in Corpus Christi, TX, and there is actual, real-world heroism, the kind that doesn’t involve a ball or a glove.
While the Pirates showed up and beat the Rays 6-2 on Wednesday night, it was the all-too-real-world kind of heroism that should take the headlines.
Earlier in the afternoon, umpire John Tumpane was jogging across the Clemente Bridge when he saw a woman throw her legs over the roughly four-foot-tall railing, holding herself precariously high above the Allegheny River below.
The 34-year old umpire hurried over, careful not to startle the woman, and asked what she was doing. She claimed that she had just wanted to see the river from a different vantage point. Then he reached out to her.
“I put my arm around her shoulder and said, ‘It’s the same view over here,’” Tumpane said. “At that point, I knew she wasn’t just taking a look at the other side. She said, ‘Let me go, it’ll be better off that way.’”
Tumpane did not let her go. Instead he wrapped his arms around her, holding her onto the bridge. He offered to buy her lunch to talk things over, biding time until other pedestrians walked by and offered to help. One of the pedestrians dialed 9-1-1. Another helped grab the woman by the arm.
A third person, who would later be identified as Mike Weinman, a multimedia production manager for the Tampa Bay Rays, grabbed the woman by the ankles as police boats docked underneath and emergency vehicles began to fill the bridge on Sixth Street.
Eventually, Tumpane and the emergency personnel were able to coax the woman off of the ledge and back onto the bridge.
“After she came back onto this side, she said, ‘You’ll just forget me after this,’ and I said, ‘No, I’ll never forget you,’” Tumpane recalled. “This was an unbelievable day and I’m glad to say that she can have another day with us.”
This all happened at around 2:30 in the afternoon, about an hour before players start filtering out of the clubhouse for pre-game stretches and batting practice. There was still a game happening on Wednesday night and Tumpane, a native Chicagoan who made his major league debut in 2012 and became a full-time commissioned MLB umpire last year, was to be stationed behind home plate.
“I just tried to regroup and go back out there to work, but it’s hard when you stand behind home plate and you see the bridge in the distance,” Tumpane said. “In between innings, just thinking about how things may have been, I’m just glad they worked out this way.”
Tumpane got through it, did his job, and then spoke to an appreciative group of reporters in the conference room afterwards. It’s not often that an umpire receives this kind of attention after a baseball game.
Even though a significant portion of his profession involves diffusing arguments between large, angry men on the field, Tumpane said that he has never been in a situation like this before. The umpire said that he was “just in the right place at the right time” and made it clear that this day should not be dedicated to him, but to the woman on the ledge.
“This isn’t about me,” Tumpane said. “I appreciate this opportunity, but this is for her. People care about her. This is a positive story and not a sad story today.”
That’s some hero-level modesty, for sure. But the point he makes is exceptionally valid.
According to the World Health Organization, 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression. As one of those 350 million people, I can attest that it’s not always easy to deal with. Sometimes it’s just a little bit harder to get out of bed in the morning. Other times, it’s much worse.
Not everybody will find his or herself in the position that Tumpane found himself in today, literally holding a person back from suicide, but there are other ways to be heroic when confronted with a similar situation. If a friend or a family member talks about suicide, take him or her seriously. If help is needed, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.