In a life that travels like the speed of sound, the players and young coaches of the 1970 Police Pony League Braves can’t believe how quickly 50 years have passed since they defeated the Optimist League champion Redwings, 17-2, at Faurot Park’s Diamond No. 2, to win a city championship.
They are now men of 63 and 64 years old, many of whom chose to stay right here in Lima to pursue their careers. Dan Moening, the winning pitcher that day, remembers Diamond 2 was held in reverence because of its fence, lights and announcer’s booth.
Besides Moening, the other Braves were Jeff Bailey, Scott Cygan, Tim Donovan, Tim Falk, Charley Gasperetti, Jim Graham, Matt Linneman, Kevin Mangas, Chris Moore, Mike Mowery, Dave Nartker, Joe Raymond, Jay Sheets, Kevin Tierney, Denny Vondrell and Tom Wukusick. As for the coaches of the team, like many youth teams of that time in a Lima far more populous at just shy of 54,000 residents compared to today’s less than 37,000, there was the head man and some assistants.
At season’s start, the lead man on the bench was Bob Linneman, returning for his 11th season of coaching kids. The assistant office supervisor of Lima’s utilities department had become a fixture since he first began coaching in Little League with his oldest son, Pete, on the team. For the first time in five years, he would again have a son on the team, Matt. Assisting him in the coaching duties that season were a couple of parents of players, Don Cygan and Jim Falk, and a trio of 19-year-olds just home from their first year in college, Bob’s son, Pete, and his two friends and frequent Friday evening Wiffle Ball competitors, Gary Bohnlein and Tom Cullen.
As for the details of that championship game, Lima News Sports Editor Chuck Dell provided those in his story back in a time where great emphasis was placed on covering youth baseball. Moening’s winning mound effort was aided by some nifty relief pitching by Tim Donavan. Using the parlance of the national pastime, a sport that in 1970 stood toe to toe on the sports landscape with football, Moening helped his own cause with three hits and three RBIs.
During the regular season, the Braves, all St. Gerard boys, defeated their neighborhood rivals, the Dodgers, all from North Junior High, twice in league play, which both doubled their bragging rights and also gave them the Police League title by the thinnest of margins. The Braves finished the regular season 13-2; the Dodgers 12-3.
In 1970, as many sexagenarian men will recall, youth baseball was different than today. Nowadays the teams are organized by area schools. The Recreation Department’s Brett Roehm serves as youth baseball’s commissioner and oversees the off-season rules meeting, creates schedules and organizes the playoffs for two different age divisions with the help of Deputy Director of Parks Ric Stolly.
Fifty years ago, youth baseball was a city-centric operation sponsored by Lima’s service organizations, Optimists, Kiwanis, Lions, Sertomas, Fraternal Order of Police and American Legion. It wasn’t unusual back then to walk around town and see on boys’ heads and backs the multifarious colors of team caps and T-shirts, with the names of the service clubs emblazoned on the backs of those shirts. Moening remembers the Braves wore green, St. Gerard Gerries’ green.
The head of youth baseball back then was the iconic Lima Senior coach, Joe Bowers, who each summer directed Lima’s summer youth baseball. Bowers wasn’t merely a titular director. Rather, he made it a point each weekday evening to make an appearance at each diamond to ensure games were running smoothly and, perhaps, to advance scout just a bit some future Spartans.
In a season that included 52 teams spread over Little, Pony and Colt leagues, a season where more than 660 games were played, many followed the action, both by attending games and by checking the weekly standings that Dell prioritized each week. While games were often twice a week, for Bob Linneman, he expected more of a commitment from his players. There were also at least two practices a week interspersing those games, sometimes three if an upcoming opponent was dangerous enough.
Linneman wanted his players to know instinctively how to hit the cutoff man and how to square around and slide the hand up a bat, level it and lay down a perfect bunt, not by jabbing at the incoming ball but by letting the ball travel to the bat.
This was a time when bats were made of wood, ones that would produce a crack when the ball was met squarely rather than a ping. Moening certainly remembers his Repps-purchased bat, a 33-inch thick-handled Jackie Robinson model that he treated as if it were made of gold because to him, well, it was.
Despite the memorable nature of that championship game played on the Elysium Field that Diamond 2 was thought to be, there was one other game that summer even more salient, one played on the diamond at West Junior High on a humid Wednesday, July 1, one against the first-place Reds, who would finish that season 10-4, good for third place.
And what happened on that evening three days before that pyrotechnical Fourth of July 50 summers ago had a profound effect on all who were there, especially on those young Braves players.
Next Wednesday, I’ll take you back to that dusty diamond.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.