The true MVP of Wednesday night’s game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Tampa Bay Rays was not one of the players on the field, but rather the man behind the plate. Earlier in the day, Major League Baseball umpire John Tumpane saved a woman’s life by preventing her from jumping off the iconic Roberto Clemente Bridge just yards from PNC Park in Pittsburgh. That evening, he served as home plate umpire for the Pirates-Rays matchup.
“It’s a sad day, but it ended on a positive note,” Tumpane said of the experience. “Hopefully it’s an eye-opener for her as well, and it can help her get back on track.”
At around 3pm on Wednesday, Tumpane said he was walking across the bridge after going for a run when he noticed a woman about 30 feet in front of him climb over the railing and look down toward the Allegheny River below.
“Obviously, that grabbed my attention,” Tumpane told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I asked a couple in front of me, ‘What’s this lady trying to do?’ and they said, ‘I don’t know.’”
Tumpane recalled the bridge was mostly empty of people at the time, so he rushed toward the woman, who has since been identified by police as a 23-year-old from Munhall, Pennsylvania. While the 34-year-old Chicago native said the woman appeared outwardly calm, their conversation quickly revealed she was struggling.
“I just wanted to get a better look of the city from this side,” she said, according to the umpire’s recollection.
“Oh no,” he said as he hooked his arm around hers. “You don’t want to do that. It’s just as good over here. Let’s go grab some lunch and talk.”
“No, no, no,” she answered. “I’m better off on this side. Just let me go.”
“I’m not going to let you go,” he said. “Let’s talk this out. We’ll get you back over here.”
“No one wants to help me,” she repeated. “Just let me go.”
“No, we’re here to help you.”
“You’ll forget me tomorrow.”
“I’ll never forget you,” he said. “You can have my promise on that.”
In the meantime, Tumpane was able to get the attention of a passerby who called 911. As they waited for authorities to arrive, others came to Tumpane’s aide, with someone restraining the woman’s arms and another pinning her ankles against the bottom railing. All the while, she continued to resist help.
“I was thinking, ‘God, this has got to be a good ending, not a bad ending,’ and held on for dear life,” Tumpane said. “She said, ‘You don’t care about me.’ I said, ‘I care.’ She said, ‘I just want to end it right now. I want to be in a better place.’ I said, ‘You’re going to be all right.’”
Police arrived on the scene along with a boat, helicopter, ambulance, and fire truck. They put a life preserver on the woman and handcuffed her wrists to the bridge, while Tumpane continued to remind her that she was not alone.
“I was just trying to tell her it was going to be all right. There’s help,” he said. “We’re going to be better if she can get back on this side. I said, ‘All these people are here. Look at all these people who want to help you. We’re all here for the right reasons. We want to get you better.’”
Once the woman was safety lifted back over the railing, the Post-Gazette reports that she was taken by ambulance to UPMC Mercy hospital on “an involuntary commitment for emergency evaluation and treatment for persons who are a danger to themselves or others,” but not before Tumpane got in one last word of support.
“I told her, ‘I didn’t forget her, and we’d be here, and she’s better off on this side than the other side.’ ” he recalled. “I just want her to know that.”
The umpire is in Pittsburgh until Thursday, when he will head to his next MLB assignment. He hopes to be able to meet the woman before he leaves and humbly said the experience served as a sobering reminder that you just never know what other people are going through.
“You never know what somebody’s day looks like,” he said. “It’s a nice day, everyone’s out for a walk, and somebody’s not having the same day you’re having. I was just glad to help.”