LIMA — Few knew what the Lima Locos (Blues then) were all about when they kicked off their first season in 1987.
Lima, a charter member of the Great Lakes Collegiate League, began play in the wooden-bat league in 1987 before a scattering of curious fans.
College players were coming from all over the country to play in Lima?
Why were they coming here?
Now 30 years later, Locos fans not only understand the concept, they’ve fully embraced it.
Yes, college players come from all over the country to play in one of the top wooden-bat summer leagues in the United States.
The goal is to play in a top-flight league, improve your skills and hopefully get noticed and signed to play professional baseball.
And with players hustling to get noticed, winning becomes a priority, as well.
At least it has with the Locos.
Lima has won four GLCL championships (1993, 2004, 2011 and 2015). That stands second all-time in the GLCL behind Columbus, which has won eight, but no longer has a team.
The late Barry Ruben and Tom Francis deserve an enormous amount of credit for taking the team over in the second year and moving it from OSU-Lima to Shawnee where the Locos could play under the lights.
With Ruben, Francis and coach Rob Livchak, the team won the 1993 and 2004 titles.
Then came owner/general manager Steve Meyer in 2005, who has consistently produced a championship-quality team nearly every year.
Meyer has won titles in 2011 and 2015.
His Locos have put together six straight winning seasons, including winning a franchise-record 29 games in 2011 and putting together the best winning percentage (.800) in 2015 at 28-7.
Over the last three years, the Locos have compiled marks of 28-13 (last year), 28-7 and 27-13.
That’s a three-year record of 83-33.
And since 2011, the Locos are 158-78.
The last two years they’ve met Hamilton in GLCL championship series, winning in 2015 and falling in Game 5, 2-1, of the best-of-five series last year.
Last year’s final game was played in front of a jammed-packed crowd of close to 1,800.
And with the team winning, many overall goals have been achieved.
Each year former Locos are drafted or sign free agent deals with major league teams.
In fact, last June’s Major League Baseball draft was a banner year for the Locos, who had eight players drafted. Of those eight, three were taken between rounds one and five.
Former Locos outfielder Kyle Lewis (Mercer) was taken in the first round (11th pick overall) by Seattle. Pitcher Mitchell White (Santa Clara) was taken in the second round by the Dodgers and pitcher Kyle Roberts (Henry Ford CC) went to Texas in the fifth round.
Over the years, there have been 12 former Locos play in the major leagues. Among those are now-retired Burke Badenhop (from Perrysburg High School and Bowling Green State University) and Craig Stammen (from Versailles and the University of Dayton), who both had solid bullpen careers.
There have also been several classic characters play in Lima over the years.
One of my favorites was Middle Tennessee State outfielder Buford Brewer, who could hit line drives in any situation for the 1993 title team.
“Just call me Mudcat,’’ Brewer said to me when I first met him. “Everyone has called me that since the third grade.’’
And sure enough, if you check out baseball reference’s minor league player directory, Brewer is officially listed as “Mudcat Brewer.’’
Another was Jody Ashley, who took a bus from Hobbs, New Mexico, to Lima to arrive in time for one of the first games of the year. He arrived looking like he had slept under a rock after the multi-day trip with only a few coins in his pockets.
He literally stepped off the bus, took a cab to Shawnee and retired the only three batters he faced that day.
Kevan Cannon, from Ohio State, had a golden left arm, but not much in the way of team loyalty. He left the team one weekend for a “wedding,’’ only to be found pitching in northeast Ohio for a semi-pro team.
The day after Cannon won his start in the middle of the 1993 championship series, he turned in his uniform and left the team for good.
Then there was Brian Hangbers.
“Big Hang,’’ the Locos first baseman, not so gently stuck out his elbow and “nudged” a Licking Country runner who was crossing first base. The two scuffled and both benches emptied and exchanged several pleasantries.
Who can forget the speedy Tyler Grogg setting the league stolen base record with 41 in 2013?
And somehow, we’ll have to move on without Marty Glazier, who did publicity for the Locos since 1987. The Brooklyn-born Glazier, who passed away in the offseason, was a walking encyclopedia of Locos facts and trivia.
This season’s for you Marty.