A Visit to the Old Neighborhood

We all came from somewhere.
For me, it is the mid-sized, mid-western town of Akron, Ohio.

Millbrook St. “House of My Youth”

I spent the first 25 years of my life growing up & living there. Got married in Akron, and bought my first house there as well. Maureen & I moved to Mansfield, Ohio in 1980. Our 2 oldest sons were born while we lived there. We moved to Auburn, Indiana in 1988, and have lived here ever since. Our third son was born while living here.

As I grow older, many times my thoughts harken back to the days of when I was young, and to the old neighborhood where we lived when I was very young.

I had to travel to Akron on Monday night to go to the calling hours of a family member who had passed away. The funeral home was not too far from my old neighborhood in Akron. This area, when built in the mid to late 1950’s, was known as “Castle Homes,” and is located in an area of Akron called Kenmore.

With a short amount of time on my hands before going to the funeral home, I decided to make the turn off of Manchester Rd. and onto Carnegie to make the quarter mile or so drive to Millbrook St. We lived in the 13th house on the left hand side of the street, at 2951.

We moved into this house in November of 1957, and stayed living there until April of 1968. I was almost 3 when we moved in, and was 13, and just finishing 7th grade when we moved. Almost everything I can remember from my early childhood took place while living there.

The times spent with my Dad & Mom, and sister & brothers. The family Christmas get together’s with extended family were always at our house. Going to Guinther School and Highland Park School. The neighborhood of people who till this day, I can still remember names, and which houses they lived in. As I alluded to in an earlier story, the baseball playing with my Dad in the backyard. The making of lifelong friends (my 2 best friends, other than family, Gary Ilijevich & Bruce Frazier, grew up in this neighborhood as well. I keep in touch with them to this day).

The street is still in “kept-up condition,” for being as old as it now is. There are still a few of the people living there who have lived there now for going on 60 years. The old Young’s Restaurant is now gone, as is Guinther School. Highland Park School has been torn down and replaced by Sam Salem Elementary. Many of the people who helped to shape my early life as good friends and good neighbors have now passed on.

I could go on and on. There are so many memories, and so many stories to tell. For me, it is always nice, but somewhat poignant to go “back to my roots.”

Dekalb Health’s Annual “Healthy Halloween Fair” – A Great Time For All

Maureen & I had the pleasure of being at the Dekalb County Fairgrounds on Tuesday evening to take part in Dekalb Health’s annual “Healthy Halloween Fair.”

Bernie Interviewing at the HHF

The Mad Ants Mascot was on Hand

It is a truly great event that has become part of yearly fun that takes part around the Halloween festivities here in the Auburn area. Kids can attend and participate in games, events, and win prizes in a very healthy manner. Even on a night when the weather wasn’t the best, there was a wonderful turnout of young people.

What we have done in the many times that we have participated is to set up one of the cameras that we use for videotaping the programs that we air on Dekalb TV, and we interview the kids and let them watch themselves on the TV monitor. It is a lot of fun, and the kids, as well as their parents, really seem to enjoy it.

We usually ask names, ages, about their costumes, if they like being on TV, etc. You would be surprised as to some of the answers that we get. Some kids that might seem shy at first, once on camera, really start to “preen” as they see themselves on the screen.

The event is organized by Cheryl Clark & Terri Christiansen from Dekalb Health. I’ve known both for many years, and they do a tremendous job in getting this event “off the ground” each and every late October.

Dekalb Health has been a loyal supporter of ours at Dekalb TV since our inception back in 1998. We truly appreciate what they do for us. Like I am wont to say during our game broadcasts, “we would not be able to do what we do without the help and support that they give us.”

The Knightstown Gym – A Wonderful Place to Visit

In the state of Indiana, there are numerous places to see and visit with a sports related theme, that don’t cost an arm and a leg,and are just a whole lot of fun.

The Team poses in Front of the Knightstown Gym

I had the opportunity to visit just such a place a few years back with my Summer league baseball team.

If you grew up in Indiana, what is one of the biggest things that we are known for? Well, besides corn, it is the game of basketball. Even though it was invented on the East coast, it was here that high school and college basketball was nurtured and grew into what it is today.

Saying that, what is one of the first things that comes to mind when thinking about Indiana high school basketball? For me, it is the movie “Hoosiers.” Released in 1986, it starred Gene Hackman, Dennis Hopper, and Barbara Hershey.

The scenes in the movie that take place in the “Hickory Husker” gym, were filmed in a small gym in Knightstown, Indiana, which is about 20 miles or so East of Indianapoolis, a little ways off of I-70.

Many great scenes from the movie take place there. One of my favorites is when Coach Norman Dale (Hackman), refuses to let one of his players back in the game for not following instructions. He then has to play with only 4 players. According to that player, who is named Rade Butcher in the movie, and is played by Steve Hollar, it took 4 days to shoot that game & that sequence.

Our Baseball Team in the Very Locker Room Where Coach Dale Talked With the Team

Another of my favorite scenes is when the coach “talks from the heart” to his team in the lockerroom after that first game.

When you get to the Knightstown gym, which is now used as a community center, you would never know that this is the famous gym. It seems so small. But once you get inside, it is still almost identical to how it was in the movie.

You are allowed to play hoops, go into the lockerroom, recreate some of the famous scenes from the movie, and all in all, just have a lot of fun.

If you are ever in the area, don’t miss out on a golden opportunity to visit a true “mecca” for basketball fans, the Knightstown gym.

As a sidenote, our family visited the Knightstown gym about a year or so after our baseball team did, and my 3 sons and I played a seven game series of two-on-two. We had the whole gym to ourselves for over 2 hours.

Rieke Park Hosts District Ten Little League Baseball

A few weeks back I wrote an article that featured the old home of Auburn Little League Baseball, Thomas Park. On Wednesday night, my son Ethan and I had the chance to go to the new home of Auburn Little League, Rieke Park, and take in a couple of fun games.

Both games featured 9-10 year old all-star teams, in what is called the “District Ten President’s Tournament.” On one field, one Auburn team was hosting a team from Leo, and on the other field, a different Auburn team was hosting a team from Don Ayres (Homestead area).

Matt & Mike

I had a rooting interest in both games, as in the game with the Leo team, a friend of mine who works at CK Technologies, Matt Obrien, his son Mike was the starting catcher. The other game had Dekalb’s baseball coach, Chris Rhodes as an interested spectator, as his son Easton was playing shortstop.

Both games had their ups & downs, as well as ebb & flow, but for 9-10 year old’s, I saw some pretty good baseball. I kept going back and forth between the fields just so I could enjoy the action from each contest.

Easton

If you haven’t been out to Rieke Park, take an evening to stop by and have an enjoyable time in an enjoyable atmosphere. It has developed into a very nice & comfortable facility. League President Mike Stafford and his core of volunteers have done a tremendous job in helping to make this one of the top-notch facilities in NE Indiana.

Payton Rhodes, Coach Rhodes, Ethan Prebynski, and Sam Yarian

When the evening was winding down, and the sun was setting off to the west, Leo rallied for 4 runs in the bottom of the last inning to eke out a 13-12 win, and to move on in pool play.I said my good-byes to Matt and his family, and I hurried over to the other field to watch the last half inning of a solid 7-3 win for Auburn.

Mike & Easton both played well for their respective teams, and most importantly, seemed to have fun, and to enjoy themselves while doing so.

No truer words were ever spoken when we say that “Little League Baseball is about the kids.”

 

Baseball Rules, Written & Unwritten

I was talking with my good friend Larry at lunch the other day, and the topic turned to the rules of the game of baseball, and the enforcement of those rules by umpires.

Larry and I have both umpired a number of youth baseball games over the years, as well as both of us doing our fair share of coaching. I’m talking 20+ years of experience for each.

We’ve both seen and heard some comments from fans, as well as coaches that just want to make you shake your head.

One of the most common things that you hear is “the tie goes to the runner.” Years ago, I had a coach come up to me after a close game that his team lost to my team, and his comment was “I can’t believe that that umpire who worked our game would not admit that the tie goes to the runner on a bang-bang play at first base.”¬† What this coach, or any coach who utters that phrase is only showing ignorance of the rules. If anyone can show me a rule book that states that “the tie goes to the runner,” I’ll eat the rule book on the spot. There is no such rule. In baseball, there is no such thing as a tie. It’s either safe, or out. No questions asked.

Spot Behind Centerfield Fence at Thomas Park in Auburn

A situation happened the other day down at the Little League¬† where a coach was screaming for his first baseman to tag a runner who had just been called safe at first because the runner had turned to his left to go to first base. When the umpire would not call the runner out, the coach was irate. If he had read his rule book, he would know that the runner has to make an “athletic” move towards second before the umpire can deem that he was trying to advance.

I’ve seen parents sit behind the fence in centerfield at old Thomas Park in Auburn berating the umpire for missing balls & strikes calls. The umpire is about 2-3 feet from home plate when he makes his call. Those parents were more than 200 feet away.

Something else that grinds my gears that you are seeing more and more of, is that when a runner is on second base, and he signals to the hitter what he thinks the pitch is going to be, that means that the next time up to bat for that baserunner, he is getting hit by a pitch. It happened just the other night in my son’s Summer league baseball game. This is something that goes on all the time. You try to figure out the other teams signals. Sorry Mr. Catcher, or Mr. Coach, if you can’t change your signs when there is a runner on second, I guess you really probably aren’t smart enough to be coaching.

When people scream and yell, especially at the youth levels of baseball, and they are let’s say, mis-informed on rules, it’s only an embarrassing situation not just for the person doing it, but for their children as well.

 

 

 

Brown & Brown, Little League Champions

I was working at my office yesterday when I realized that the date of June 14th had some special meaning for me. It was 8 years ago to the day that my Major Little League team had won the Auburn City Championship.

Brown & Brown, 2004 Auburn Little League Champions

There are obviously special moments or times in all of our lives. But that night was truly magical for a number of young men who worked tremendously hard to accomplish a sports related goal that at one time seemed so far off and impossible to get to.

Just two short years before, my first year of coaching this team, we went 0-19. At that age, do you think that this group of kids didn’t take a lot of heckling from some of their peers at school?

But you know what, that year’s 12 year old group continued to work hard, and the 10 & 11 year old’s stayed focused and worked hard as well, and the team started to develop a “vibe.” We might not have won any games, but we had fun, and we learned the game of baseball – together.

During the Winter, the kids & I would get together on Sunday’s, at the old McIntosh gym, and we would do baseball related stuff, and we further developed that team “vibe.”

That next Summer, led by our now 12 year old’s Nathan Haley, Taylor Ladd, Phil Michlow, Kevin Laher, Adam Middleton, and Kyle Wehr, Brown & Brown promptly lost their first 2 games of the season.

Then it started to click, and the hard work started to pay off. A 13 game winning streak followed, and Brown & Brown was sitting atop the standings. They would finish 14-3, which was the best record in the league. A championship game loss to Jim Tremble’s Elks team still did not dampen what this team had accomplished in the course of a year.

We would continue our workouts over the ensuing Winter, and when the 2004 season started, Brown & Brown was on a mission. The team once again finished 14-3, which was good for overall 1st place.

After a semi-final win over Auburn Motors, Brown & Brown would face Wible’s in the championship game.

Wible’s got out to an early 2 run lead thanks to a Scott Baker home run. But then in the first 2 innings, Brown & Brown would put 10 runs on the board, keyed by a Shea Parrish grand slam home run, and Brown & Brown never looked back. They would win the game 11-7, and they will always have on their resume the 2004 Auburn City Little League Championship.

I am forever grateful, and will always have a special place in my heart for Ethan Prebynski, Casey Weaver, Shea Parrish, Zach Vance, Karl Scattergood, Jake Hammel, Landon Emenhiser, Tyson Stewart, Sean McGuiggen, Nate Hinrichsen, and Andrew Davis.

Also, to my coaches throughout those 3 years, Dan Middleton, Bill Weaver, and Ernie Vance, thank you as well.

As a side note, Prebynski, Weaver, Parrish, Vance, & Emenhiser all went on to play high school baseball for Dekalb, and Davis was a team manager.

Thanks again, and God bless all of you!

Little League Cathedrals

During my life, I’ve had the true honor of being able to be part of Little League Baseball at 2 very different, but very unique baseball facilities.

Sign at Thomas Park in Auburn

One, Hamlin Field in Akron, Ohio, where I played in the mid 1960’s. And two, Thomas Park here in Auburn, In., where I coached for many years during the 90’s & 2000’s.

Speaking nostalgically about my youth, it was truly a different time and place. From early Spring, to late Summer, the world revolved around Hamlin field. At that time, there were 6 “major league” teams. You had to try out. Unfortunately, many kids were cut, something that you don’t see today. I was cut the first time that I tried out after my third grade year in school. I was so devastated, that I didn’t try out the next year. Then after my fifth grade year of school, I tried out again, made the Dodgers, and played 2 years in the “majors.”

Even though the Dodgers had two sixth place finishes, some of my best memories from childhood focused on those 2 years of Little League baseball.

Visitors Dugout at Thomas Park Along 3rd Base Line

When my sons started playing here in Auburn, I got involved in coaching. I derived just as much enjoyment, if not more, from coaching as I did playing. I certainly look back with a sense of accomplishment on how many young lives that I hope to have touched in even a small, positive way.

Unfortunately, they stopped playing baseball at Hamlin Field in Akron many years ago. It’s now just a weedy, grown over field sitting next to the Hamlin Steel Co. Part of it is also a parking lot.

With the new Rieke Park in Auburn, Little League Baseball moved away from Thomas Park a few years ago. Some teams still practice there, but I’m sure that in a few years, it will go the way of Hamlin Field in Akron.

So many great memories, so many great times. Rest in peace Hamlin & Thomas.