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Patrolling the plate: Local officer named to Sports Officials Hall of Fame

Sal Gambino behind the plate at Petco Park
(Courtesy of Sal Gambino)

Sal Gambino of the RSF Patrol will work the Junior League World Series next month

Rancho Santa Fe Patrol officer Sal Gambino has been tapped to umpire the Junior League World Series in Taylor, Michigan in August, just one month before he will be inducted into the San Diego County Sports Officials Hall of Fame. His induction recognizes nearly 30 years of service as a youth sports umpire and referee.

Gambino has been an officer with the Rancho Santa Fe Patrol for 13 years since retiring from a 30-year career with the Oceanside Police Department, where he was a detective.

The 63-year-old Fallbrook resident stays incredibly busy. During his entire time with the RSF Patrol he’s worked the same graveyard shift, from 7:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. When he gets home from work he goes to sleep and then gets up around 1 or 2 p.m. depending on his game schedule.

With rested eyes, he’s off to call baseball or basketball games, tournaments and double headers. Fridays he has off, which allows him to referee high school football games in the fall for the San Diego County Football Officials Association.

There is no off-season for Gambino—baseball season rolls into football, which passes into basketball season and back to the ballfield again. He additionally serves as treasurer for three leagues: the Pacific Baseball Umpires, the North County Basketball Officials Association and the Margarita Officials Association (high school softball).

Sal Gambino, umpire and RSF Patrol officer.
(Art Valdez )

This year due to a shortage of officials he was called to pick up some high school softball games in addition to his regular load of baseball games. In three months this spring, he worked 60 games.

“He’s one of our best plate umpires,” said Tim Fillmore, an assignor and recruiter with Pacific Baseball Umpires. “He wears many hats on and off the field and Sal is always there to help others.”

First meeting on the baseball field 13 years ago, Fillmore said the two have become close friends and they talk almost every night. “He’s a funny guy with a quick wit,” Fillmore said.

As a kid growing up in Alhambra, Sal loved playing all sports. He umpired his first game right out of high school at age 19 for the East Alhambra Little League.

“I felt like, ‘This is pretty good, people are listening to me!’” remembers Gambino, who for the next two years umpired little league and high school baseball in the San Gabriel Valley.

After a break from officiating while working in law enforcement, he volunteered and joined the Oceanside American Little League in 1998. He umpired and served on the board of directors as league president. Following his service on the board, Gambino was selected and currently serves as an assistant district administrator for Little League District 70.

“I enjoy being involved with the kids and still being involved in sports,” said Gambino, a father to two adult sons. “You get some satisfaction watching these kids play and some of them end up going to the professional level. At little league, you don’t get paid, it’s all volunteer, so it’s another way of giving back to the community.”

This year, he umped the high school CIF Division 1 finals and on June 12, he had the plate at the High School All Star game at Petco Park. It was his third time calling balls and strikes at the home of the Padres.

“It’s a pretty good feeling on that big field,” Gambino said. “It’s a thrill for the kids to play and for the umpires also. It’s an honor to be in that field.”

To get the Junior League World Series ( the 13-14-year-old group) has been a very long ride. Gambino was originally evaluated and recommended to ump the Little League Western Region Tournament in San Bernardino in 2010 and the Junior League Regional Tournament in Dana Point in 2015. Gambino was selected to umpire the semifinals, and finals, and received a recommendation to advance to the World Series for both tournaments.

When you are selected to umpire a regional or world series, you only work each level once in a lifetime. His next stop would be Williamsport, Penn., for the Little League World Series with the 12-year-old group: “That would be the ultimate goal,” he said.

The Junior League World Series is a 10-day tournament and Gambino can expect to work two games a day. He is paying his own way to Michigan to support young ballplayers from across the country.

Sal Gambino behind the plate in Petco Park.
(Courtesy of Sal Gambino)

Gambino was initially supposed to both umpire the world series and go into the hall of fame in 2020 but both were postponed to this year due to the pandemic.

Being selected to the Hall of Fame is a huge honor for Gambino and he and the classes of 2020, ‘21 and ‘22 will be celebrated at a dinner in Sept. 13 at the Scottish Rite Event Center in Mission Valley. That night Gambino will join the impressive ranks of officials who have dedicated their lives to officiating sports in San Diego, everything from gymnastics to ice hockey, water polo to NFL football.

“I didn’t feel like I deserved to be in there but it’s also about the community and how you get involved…and I do get involved,” Gambino said. “Like my wife says, the word ‘no’ is not in my vocabulary.”

As there is a shortage across all sports, anyone interested in working as an official can contact Gambino at sgambino4@gmail.com.


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