Camas, WA — Longtime baseball umpire and sports enthusiast, Joe Pleckinger, officiated at his final game at Forest Home Park Friday night. Age age 87, he felt it was time to hang it up.
Friday night’s game ended an umpire career in multiple sports that started in 1958.
“I was a Parks and Rec Director, and we weren’t paid a lot of money,” said Pleckinger. “So, I found some opportunities to umpire — for the extra money. I’d take the 60 bucks I’d make as an umpire, and then I would go down to the lumber yard and finish off my basement. This was in Minnesota.”
Pleckinger then moved his family to Northbrook, Ill. and got contacted to umpire in a suburban league, which comprised eight big schools in Chicago.
“We officiated at multiple games with a four-man crew,” said Pleckinger. “We were there for three seasons, and then moved back to Minnesota.”
In the early 60s, he officiated at games in Minnesota. He umpired small college and high school baseball, basketball, and football games. Often, he’d get called on short notice to umpire games.
“It’s still like that,” he says. “You know how it is.”
In 1978, the Pleckinger’s moved to Olympia, Washington, but his job prevented him from officiating for several years. But that changed when they moved to SW Washington, and in September 2005, he resumed umpire duties for the Little League.
“I like being around the people — the fans and the kids,” he said. “I enjoy base umpiring because it’s not so physically strenuous. I enjoy honest competition. I enjoy golf, football, baseball, and a good track meet on television.”
Joe Pleckinger gets ready to officiate at his final game.
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“I think in the situation we’re in, I like the parent involvement we have in Camas,” said Pleckinger. “I think the parents do a good job of leaving the game on the field. Sometimes we have a few people upset, but it’s usually from somebody that doesn’t own the call. That’s why I make my calls loud and clear. The ball isn’t caught until it’s secured. Often the first baseman’s foot isn’t on the base.”
“I think the kids are learning they’re going to get out of it what they put in it,” he adds. “If they don’t put in extra time, they won’t excel. Parents need to be involved. It’s a good thing.”
The whole family loves sports. The Pleckinger’s have watched for years their grandsons (Jake and Zack Blair) compete, and rarely miss a game. And, Joe is affectionately called “Grandpa Joe” by those who know him well.
“Joe focuses on teaching the kids, and so does my son-in-law, John Blair,” said Carol Pleckinger, Joe’s wife. “They use each situation as a teaching moment.”
She says they do this naturally.
“Last night’s game, I was talking to kids who don’t usually play on second base — I tell them to not stand on second base because it’s interference. It’s a teaching moment.”
Little League umpires are volunteers. They’re not paid for their work, but are typically given a bottle of water, Gatorade, and a meal after their work is completed.
Calling a foul ball.
Joe Pleckinger speaks with Orioles catcher, Jackson Knuth, between innings during his final game.