Having enjoyed a 20-year Hall of Fame playing career, coupled with another 23 years behind the plate calling balls and strikes, it’s evident baseball has been a large part of 62-year-old Dave Buckingham’s life.
Buckingham hasn’t worn umpire blue since 2013 — “I’d be still at it only for a knee injury took me out” — but is still receiving accolades, the latest being Baseball Canada’s Umpire Lifetime Achievement Award recently presented at the organization’s annual convention in Ottawa.
Buckingham is one of only eight in the country to have received the award, and only the second to have received it along with a Baseball Canada umpire of the year award.
“I didn’t know what to say when I learned of the award,” he said, “and I guess I’m still surprised.”
For 20 years, Buckingham was one of the best in the St. John’s junior and senior circuits, starting at old Wishingwell Ball Park. His career wound up with the team he’s perhaps most associated with, the Shamrocks, a team with which he won nine straight St. John’s senior league championships.
Throughout his playing days, he dabbled with umpiring, in the mid-1970s and again in the ’80s with Paul Whelan and Carl Lake.
When he retired from playing in 1990, he jumped head-first into umpiring, embarking on a career that lasted longer than his playing days.
So, if Buckingham was to go into a Hall of Fame wearing the familiar baseball cap, would it be as a player or ump?
“Tough question,” he says. “That’s a tough one. I think you’d have to saw it in half. I thoroughly enjoyed playing, but I loved umpiring, too.”
He admits that being a former player “without a doubt” helped make him a better ump.
“I think the big thing was your anticipation … thinking like a ball player would,” he said. “It helps when reading situations and making adjustments.”
Buckingham was so serious about his new craft that he attended the Joe Brinkman Umpiring School in Florida on three different occasions.
“I thought on a scale of 1-10 I was a four or a five,” he said. “You get down there and you realize you’re not over a one.
“There are 68 Major League Baseball umpires, and it’s a 10-year process getting there. It’s harder getting there than playing.”
Throughout his umpiring career, Buckingham worked 19 national tournaments, and the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg.
He still keeps his hand in the game as a Baseball Canada supervisor.