Umpire Aficionado Living the Dream in Myrtle Beach
It’s a slow time of year for Minor League Baseball, but that doesn’t mean that nothing is happening. Something is always happening. Today’s something is out of Myrtle Beach, as the Pelicans have announced that they are helping one of their employees “fulfill [a] lifelong dream.”
That staffer is Justin Fletcher, an intellectually challenged autistic individual who began working with the club as a custodian in 2014. As you may be able to infer from the above photo, the “lifelong dream” in question is Justin’s desire to be an umpire. To that end, the Pelicans are sending him to Vero Beach tomorrow. On Wednesday and Thursday, Justin will attend classes at the Major League Baseball Umpire Training Academy. Some snippets from the press release:
Fletcher…. [is] the first person at the Vocational Rehabilitation of South Carolina to earn a custodial certification. Following his morning and afternoon work at TicketReturn.com Field, Fletcher attended nearly every home Pelicans game, quickly displaying a love for the Carolina League’s umpires by imitating the men in blue in the stands behind home plate.
“Justin has always said for years now he wants to be an umpire,” said his father Allan Eoff. “And when he found out that (Pelicans assistant general manager) Mike Snow and the staff of the Pelicans were helping his dream come true, he was ecstatic. From that day on, it’s been baseball every day, outside, inside and in his sleep. His mom and I even hear him calling balls and strikes in his sleep. He also only asks for gifts that would outfit an umpire.”
As part of his two-day training, Fletcher will receive a mask, chest protector and shin guards while also spending time in the classroom to work towards completing his umpire education.
“(Pelicans general manager) Andy Milovich told me about this young man at their ballpark who just loved umpiring and loved talking to the umpires that visited Myrtle Beach during the season,” said Minor League Baseball Director of Umpire Development Dusty Dellinger. “After meeting Justin and hearing others tell stories about him dressing up in his umpiring shirt and mask and making calls from the seats behind the plate, I knew we had to bring him to the academy for a few days and give him a taste of what umpiring is really like. I hope he enjoys the experience.”
An alum of Socastee High School in Myrtle Beach, Fletcher was able to meet a few of his umpiring idols prior to games during the Pelicans’ 2015 championship campaign.
He’s like a 21st-century Mark Grant.