“I was getting ready to pitch when I fell over and died,” he said this week in anticipation of the 10th anniversary of the event.
Fortune indeed was looking over his shoulder that day, partly because the team his over- 40 softball team was supposed to play didn’t show up, and was replaced by a team made up of EMTs.
Klumpp is well known for his sports activities over the years, having started with the Bayonne Little League in 1978, and over the last four decades become a much respected umpire throughout Hudson County.
A Teamster truck driver by trade, he has left a significant mark as a leader, coach, umpire, Bayonne Commissioner of the Little League, and was primarily responsible for the construction of a new Little League stadium in Bayonne.
In 1997, Klumpp umpired the 1997 Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA, an event that also stands out in his mind.
He has umpired for the Amateur Softball Association and New Jersey high schools, working games throughout the area. He was also President of the Bayonne PAL Daycare Center and a member of the Bayonne Community Cancer Support Group.
He started umpiring in Little League in 1978, and is a member of the Hudson County Umpires Association. He was honored by The Jersey Journal as one of the paper’s Everyday Heroes for the work he did running the Bayonne Little League.
“Over the years I did a lot of things,” he said. “I didn’t get paid for any of it. All these people you see that are called heroes these days, most of them get paid.”
Retired after 34 years as a truck driver, Klumpp also raised his children alone since 1975. He said one of the proudest things in his life is the recent promotion of his son to major in the U.S. Air Force. His son teaches ROTC at Montana University.
“He worked his way up,” Klumpp said.
He said he is very proud of having umpired at the 1997 Little League World Series, and at the 1994 Girls Softball World Series.
Although in 2005 Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise gave money to help fix up Klumpp Field near the foot of the Bayonne Bridge, Klumpp and those associated with the Little League years earlier were responsible for its construction.
“We built that field; we put our money into it,” Klumpp said. “It took us two or three years, but we did it as a joint effort. I stayed two years extra as a commissioner to make sure it got done.”
The field was eventually named after him in gratitude for his input in getting it constructed.
Over the years, a number of people helped him, but he said former Councilwoman Dot Harrington, and former Mayor Dennis Collins were especially helpful.
“Even when Dennis was a councilman, I could call him up and get whatever I needed,” Klumpp said.
A lover of the game, Klumpp said he would stop to look in on a game for a few minutes and end up watching the whole game.
He continues to work in the game as an umpire. Over the years he has worked games for a number of schools in the county, and in Bayonne for Holy Family Academy, Marist High School, and others. He has also been instrumental in raising funds for the Bayonne Little League.
The day he died on the pitcher’s mound
Klumpp recalled that his team had played the day before, part of a weekend series in which teams come back the next day.
His team was supposed to have played a team on Saturday sponsored by one of the local taverns, but that team did not show up. So his team played a team made up of EMTs instead.
At the time, he was 57, and said he wasn’t in the best shape, but he felt strong enough to play in the over-40 league, and did well on Friday.
“We won on Friday,” he said. “The next day was the finals, and then we have a picnic afterwards.”
For some reason, Klumpp had a feeling someone was going to get hurt that day. He just didn’t know it was him.
When he went out to pitch the second inning, he said, “I died. But by the time I hit the ground, Mickey [McCabe] and others had already gotten the defibrillator out of the car. That’s what saved my life.”
The EMTs knew immediately the signs of the heart attack and had handled so many situations they jumped into action the minute they saw it.
“I don’t know what would have happened if the other team had shown up that day,” Klumpp said. “I guess I wouldn’t have made it.”
Klumpp celebrates his life every year by holding a party. He said he hopes to get a lot of the EMTs and nurses to come out, although as time passes, it’s harder to assemble everybody.
“Mickey is supposed to come,” he said. “And we’re going to have a five-year-old girl sing. She’s very talented and is going to be a big-time singer some day. That whole family is talented. Her father is going to DJ for the party.”
Was it a miracle?
Fate certainly played a role in saving his life, Klumpp says.
“I only have five minutes after I went down otherwise it causes brain damage,” he said. “They brought me back within 45 seconds.”
Klumpp already had great respect for the EMTs, but from his own experience, he came to realize just how good they are at doing their job.
Every day, he said, is a gift of life.
“I was in ICU for six days after that. I had a big operation,” he said, noting that there was significant blockage that had to be bypassed.
“I’m lucky to be here,” he said. “But I don’t think I’ll be here in another ten years.”
He still goes out on the field to umpire and will likely continue to do that.
He will be honored on Sept. 13, at the American Legion Post in Bayonne at 7 p.m.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.