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Umpire school on tap for Pelicans’ ballpark custodian

Justin Fletcher

Here’s your first really feel-good story of 2016: the Myrtle Beach Pelicans (High A; Carolina League) are making a Field custodian’s dreams come true by sending him to umpire school in Florida.

Here’s the full story directly from the Pelicans:

The Myrtle Beach Pelicans are sending Justin Fletcher on a trip to fulfill a lifelong dream of attending umpire school. Fletcher, a part-time club employee, will depart Myrtle Beach on Tuesday, January 12th to attend the Minor League Baseball Umpire Training Academy in Vero Beach, Fla. as a VIP Guest on Wednesday and Thursday.

“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.

Fletcher, who is intellectually challenged with autism, began working with the Pelicans during the 2014 season after becoming the first person at the Vocational Rehabilitation of South Carolina to earn a custodial certification. Following his morning and afternoon work at 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.

“(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 would say I am going to be an umpire one day, I want to do that as my job,” Eoff said. “His mother and I told him if he practices, one day he possibly could. Justin has put a large calendar in his room and marks off the days left until we go to make his dream come true.”

Image courtesy Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

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