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Guest column: Baseball, Ohio? almost and appropriately so

I imagine those of us who were fortunate enough to be part of successful chases to the state baseball championships at Liberty Union in 1960 and 1961 never miss a chance to recall those magic springs of our lives. How many of us have jumped in to retell the story upon passing the Horseshoe at OSU on 315 as we remind our passengers that where those two big dormitories now cover the old varsity baseball diamond our state recordsetting years culminated?

In the semi-final game in 1960 sophomore pitcher Bob Schweitzer shut out Goshen as the Lions won 2-0 to advance to the finals. Setting down the last 16 Convoy Union Batters, LU won 8-4 to become the first Fairfield County team to win a state baseball championship since Berne Union’s Rockets in 1938.

A 7-1 state semi-final win over Coldwater in 1961 put the Lions into the finals for a second straight year. The final game versus Windham saw the Lions score twice in the top of the seventh to push the game into extra innings. In the top of the ninth, senior slugger Jack Johnson baled me out by hitting a towering triple to score two runs and then we set down the 13th consecutive hitter to pull out a 4-2 victory for a second consecutive state title. (To this day LU is the only team in any division to wind back-to-back state championships while going undefeated. The Lions won 31 straight. Another state record belongs to Liberty Union baseball with its consecutive win streak of 48 games before the ’62 team lost in the state finals.)

None of us will forget the magical rides, figuratively and literally, of those years. (We will always remember the welcome home rides on the community fire trucks.) We were like the licorice candy Good & Plenty. Pretty darn Good and Plenty lucky! To a player we all recognize how much good fortune plays in reaching the state finals level.

I’ve always counted myself extremely fortunate to be the pitcher in the ’60 and’61 semi and final games. I believe my teammates share the sentiment. The baseball gods were with us.

Turning back the community clock for about 13 years from that first championship, a story unfolded that could have added quite a kicker to this community. As most locals have heard, the twin communities of Basil (original spelling Basel) and Baltimore had been feuding for over a century and a quarter when just after WWII a contentious merger took place with the naming of the consolidated community becoming a very hot topic.

Out of over a dozen suggestions for a new combined village name a Columbus “Ohio State Journal” sportswriter, Bob Hooey, provided the one that brought us national attention but also a fierce, friend-busting suggestion…”Baseball, Ohio.” By combining the first parts of Bas(e)il and Baltimore, we had a novel name that might bring us fame or infamy. Friendships were endangered and the business community was split, some feeling the opportunity was a chance for instant recognition and the opposition seeing the Baseball name as a farce that would make us appear “undignified.” One businessman even went so far as stating in his courtroom testimony that besides the “foolishness,” our community had never done anything to distinguish itself in regards to the sport of baseball. (That ’s even though Pete Moore played for the White Sox and Hall-of- Famer Mel Ott once played in a barn-storming game on a makeshift diamond behind Weidner’s Corner.) The anti-Baseball businessman might have been a bit pre-mature, about 13 years so!

Can you imagine a sports journalist’s fun in writing a column after the LU baseballers won in 1960? “State baseball champs from Baseball, Ohio!” “Baseball Title Brought Home to The Site of The Minor League Hall-of-Fame!” or “Spalding Sporting Goods Company Plans Celebration for State Champs!” (These were possibilities based on letters written to town officials during the three-year dispute over the name of the merger.)

Alas, visiting Judge Earl Parker from Waverly put the tale to an end when he decreed the name of the merger should remain Baltimore. Many Basil folks have never forgiven Parker and stories of their disgust with the judge are easily located!

Now, for a few words of gratitude. First we all want to congratulate and thank the Liberty Union softball girls for their amazing run to the state finals. Their season-long performances were outstanding and gave so many people a sense of pride and joy. I was especially struck by the eloquence and vision of senior and All-Ohio player Megan Van Almsick. Holding the trophy high on the front page of the “EG” it had a lot to say about this very special experience for she and her teammates and coaches. The “Old Timers” who had collected at the Museum were only too pleased to be able to salute the girls as they returned to town with a fire truck escort.

Boys baseball coach Jared Stewart attended our reunion and gave us an update on the current Lion baseball scene. Noting his 2011 team’s 18- win season, it is apparent Stew Dawg has the Lions on the prowl again. Stewart has shown a genuine affection for the rich tradition of LU baseball and Senior Shane Snyder continued that tradition with his selection to the All-Ohio First Team.

When all the guys’ thoughts return to their baseball careers in this community perhaps their first one is to the legacy of Little League Coach Clarence Beery. Players continue to sing the praises of the contribution Clarence brought to our lives as players and people. We never fail to speak of his sacrifices and his positive impact on our lives.

Athletic Director George Shreyer orchestrated the reunion with the support of LU officials and is making sure the guys remember the day with video and a DVD of our ’60 and ’61 teams and their 50th anniversary.

Kudos to vidographers Scott Burke and Pam Whittington for capturing the day’s events for the remembrance of posterity.

Athletic Booster Club member Brian Bibler was present to demonstrate the continued support of LU athletics by this very big contributor to the success of LU’s student-athletes.

Another “Thank You” goes to Ron Packard, curator at the Baltimore Area Museum, for helping organize this special facility to show off its “Baseball” contents.

The Christ United Methodist Church provided lunch prior to our program and thanks go to General Cookie Friesner and her troops who prepared the refreshments.

Reverend James Melter and his wife, Susan were special guests. They have always been big LU baseball boosters. Their presence was a special reminder of our 25th Reunion in 1986.

A very special note of gratitude goes to Eric and Karyl Whittington from Personal Touch Rentals and Events for their donation of setting up tents, tables and chairs and providing a sound system. Their generosity will not soon be forgotten.

Finally, but with a hope not to have left anyone out of our thoughts of gratitude, we are grateful for the people who were able to return for the 50th Anniversary. Especially we appreciate the guys and their spouses who traveled at some distance and often with less than great health. It speaks volumes of what this once-in-a-lifetime experience meant to us as kids and continues to do so.

And how can we wrap-up without a huge note of gratitude to Coach Cliff Rollins for making a second lengthy trip to his Liberty Union home since February when he was inducted into our Athletic Hall of Fame. The gathering could not have been successful without his presence and his memories of those years. We are all indebted to his leadership and being the role model he provided. We were also so pleased that his wife of 60 years, his beloved Betty, joined him.

Baseball, Ohio? Not so far off base as some might suppose.

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