The Lima Locos kick off their season in five weeks.
But no matter what happens at Simmons Field this year, it wonít be the same.
Longtime Locos owner/general manager Barry Ruben wonít be setting up his folding chair down one of the foul lines. Ruben passed away last October at the age of 71. He will truly be missed.
Ruben and Tom Francis took over the Locos in its second year of existence in 1988. Ruben was the teamís general manager from 1988 to 2004, winning GLCL titles in 1993 and 2004. Even after he stepped down, he was still active in helping the current ownership and staff whenever he could.
For Ruben, who owned the Lima Bargain Center, baseball was his passion. He loved the idea of recruiting his team, piecing it together and then turning it over to manager Rob Livchak to run.
Once the season started, he loved sitting back and watching his team play.
Thatís when he wasnít going in 10 different directions on game day. He oversaw everything from handing out weed wackers as bingo prizes to checking to see if there was enough toilet paper in the restrooms.
Ruben did it all.
Check his back seat or trunk and one would usually find bats, balls, hats and various bingo prizes like door knockers heíd bring with him from the Bargain Center.
Ruben loved to recruit the college players, and with the help of Major League Baseball scout Jim Martz, he was pretty good at putting a very competitive team on the field.
After the first few years, he learned a few keys to recruiting.
ďI go after pitching first, then catching and infield up the middle,Ē Ruben said to me a few years ago. ďAnd I learned that I would take a very good player from Georgetown (Ky.) or Kennesaw State over the fourth outfielder from LSU or a utility guy from a big D-I school any day. Ö The guys from the smaller schools donít complain and they even thank you when the year is over.Ē
Ruben had been burned many a time taking Division I players, especially Ohio U., who barely saw the field in the spring. But Ruben always seemed to welcome a teamís ďreclamation projects.Ē
And some time, Livchakís magic with the pitchers would turn a rag-arm starter into something special by August.
Ruben liked to project a cranky side. He would continually jab you with one-liners about your favorite team or your hometown.
But he didnít mean anything by it. For Barry, it was his way of saying hello, howís your day?
And while he enjoyed putting on a rough exterior, ask the local high schools just how much he donated each year to their athletic programs. He personally put a great deal of money, time and effort into building the Shawnee baseball field and made it one of the top fields in the area today.
And while he loved trading insults, jokes and one-liners with longtime media relations director/team historian Marty Glazier, he routinely stood up for his friends, family and Locos.
It was at Ohio Stateís Bill Davis Stadium when I nearly got arrested, when I found his Rubenís true character. It was the GLCL playoffs and I had just settled into the pressbox for the Locosí afternoon playoff game.
I had worked late in the box the night before filing a game story after a late tournament game.
Suddenly the boisterous owner of the Columbus All-Americans burst into the pressbox and told me I had to leave Bill Davis immediately. He said I didnít receive permission from him to write in the pressbox after the game the night before.
I told him, no I didnít get permission from him, but I had received it from the league commissioner. The Columbus owner didnít listen to what I said.
I sat there stunned for a minute. Then, he told me if I didnít leave in the next 30 seconds, he would call the police.
I packed my gear and went down to talk to Ruben. Ruben met with the Columbus owner for at about 15 minutes.
A few minutes later, Ruben came back and told me to return to the pressbox. Ruben said I could work there during the game and after the game.
Who knew what Ruben said?
All I know was that Ruben was there for me when I needed him.
Just like he was there for the Locos and the baseball fans of the area all those years.