Vietnam veteran, ex-FBI agent won't let cancer keep him from umpiring
By DAVID FURONES | Sun Sentinel | Published: May 11, 2018
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — When Steve Torres is umpiring a Broward County high school baseball game, a player may ask him how he’s doing.
Even as Torres, 71, is fighting stage 4 prostate cancer, a typical response might be: “I’m on a field, breathing fresh air and watching a baseball game. It doesn’t get better than that.”
Torres appreciates those simple pleasures, even after 36 years of officiating fall football, winter basketball and spring baseball locally.
While it would be easy and perfectly reasonable for the retired FBI agent and U.S. Army Vietnam veteran to just stay home through three years of constant chemotherapy, he refuses to live any less of a life than he would if he didn’t have the disease.
“I’m not going to let it control my life,” Torres says. “I’m not going to sit home, sit on the couch, watch Oprah and eat bon bons.”
So he goes out and umpires games. He likes to call it “supervising the youth of South Florida.”
Torres learned three years ago of his cancer in the last of three health “shockers,” all related. He also has diabetes and had a mild heart attack. The cancer has metastasized into his bones, so he also has bone cancer.
“Compliments of Uncle Sam,” Torres says.
Doctors have told him he contracted all due to exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. Agent Orange was the herbicide widely used during the war to eliminate the cover that the lush forests would give the enemy.
His cancer has never been in remission, active the entire time. He says the chemotherapy itself isn’t bad, but it’s the aftermath and collateral damage done that’s debilitating. He doesn’t allow it to keep him away from what he enjoys, however.
“In the Army, we used to say, ‘Just push through it.’ It may be difficult. You may be hurt. You may be sick. You may be injured. Push through it,” Torres says. “I like what the Navy SEALs do when somebody’s wounded. They don’t ask, ‘Are you hurt?’ They ask him, ‘Can you still fight?’ That’s basically the attitude I’m taking. I’m still fighting.”
Others who know him have taken notice.
“It’s really amazing,” says Byron Walker, a longtime area football coach, currently with Archbishop McCarthy, and friends with Torres for 27 years. “You can tell he doesn’t feel good. He’s having a tough time. He’s fighting, and I admire that.”
Doctors told him he has a 50-50 chance with the “very aggressive” form of prostate cancer he has. He replied, “I’ll take those odds.”
On top of using military sayings as motivation to fight, the former Military Police Officer also draws parallels between that, his post-Army career and officiating.
“As an MP and as a federal agent, we enforce the law,” Torres says. “On the baseball field, basically you’re doing the same thing except the rule book gives you the authority where – not only do you enforce the rules – you are the judge, jury and unfortunately, sometimes the executioner when someone gets out of line.”
Torres likes to speak to captains pregame and appoint them to enforce among their teammates during the heat of battle.
He views athletic competition as an extension of the classroom. Although he may not have as much time with each individual he comes across, he finds opportunities to teach things as simple as manners and common courtesy.
If an infielder asks him to move to give the player a sightline toward home, he won’t do it unless he hears “please.” He notices how later on a teammate may ask him for a favor that way, likely because word spread in the dugout about the first player’s interaction with Torres.
Torres is meticulous in studying the games. Officials undergo constant testing on rules, and he’s proud he scored 100 percent on his most recent baseball exam.
“I always thought Steve was just a very knowledgeable official. He knows the rules,” Walker says. “Whether you like the way he calls something or not, I always felt like I got a fair shake from him.”
Enlisting in the Army at 19, Torres was a private in Fort Benning, Ga., for basic training. Following a series of exams, he qualified for Officer Candidate School quickly.
In Vietnam he was assigned as the Provost Marshal of Ben Hoa Sector, and Torres ran his own police department at 23. He says this opportunity, along with a Master’s degree in Management of Public Service, catapulted him to being selected by the FBI, where he handled drug offenses and white-collar crime.
Torres once ran into Don Johnson, the actor who played detective James “Sonny” Crockett in “Miami Vice.” He flashed his FBI business card to him and said, “You play it; I live it.”
Love of the game
“I just love baseball. Love playing it, love watching it, love umpiring it,” Torres says. “I’m 71 years old; I can’t play anymore – [umpiring] gives me an opportunity to stay in the game. I have the best seat in the house because I’m on the field.”
District baseball tournaments last week marked the completion of Torres’ run through the academic calendar after also calling flag football games in the spring. He’ll officiate youth basketball games this summer before August hits and the new school year starts back up again, beginning with football on Friday nights.
When the time comes that he can no longer “supervise the youth of South Florida” on the ball fields, Torres hopes his legacy is that several of the officials he has taken under his wings carry on with the values he instilled in them.
The same values that have guided him throughout his life.
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