BOTKINS — If the kids who frequent Cole Field in Botkins these days stand very still, are extremely quiet and listen really hard, they might be able to hear a distant echo of cheering crowds and the crack of bold wooden bats.
Or perhaps its just the older residents who can hear the echo. They’re the ones who remember when 800 people filled the ball park on hot summer nights to roar for the Botkins Reds.
The echo will become louder, Aug. 5, when an exhibit of Reds mementos opens during the annual ice cream social of the Botkins Historical Society, and memories of those long-ago games come flooding back.
The ice cream social will run from 2 to 4 p.m. in the Shelby House, 403 W. State St., Botkins. It is free and open to the public.
The exhibit is a recent donation to the society by Botkins resident Pat Elsass, who played for the Reds in his youth and has been collecting Botkins Reds memorabilia for several decades. It includes uniforms, posters, photographs, ball caps, newspaper articles and a hand-tooled bat.
It also includes a ledger of information going back to 1910.
The Botkins Reds were a semi-professional ball club who played in the Western Ohio League. Botkins played a roster of games against teams in the Negro League, prison system teams and clubs from Kettlersville, Montra, Russia, Anna, Fort Loramie and others.
“Every little town had (a team),” Elsass said. “(The Reds) had pinstripe red suits” and different uniforms for home and away games. He played for the Reds in the 1970s, “but (the league) was about over” by then, he added.
His ledger shows that former pro players who had been injured or aged out of the big leagues played for the Western Ohio League clubs. Teams members were paid 25 cents for meals and some made salaries. The Botkins Redlegs paid pitchers and catchers long after it stopped paying other players.
“We got $8 a game,” said Carl Geis, of Botkins, who was on the team in the 1950s and 1960s. He recalled Bill Guice, a pro player from Lima at first base, Donnie Miller, a pitcher from Elida, and Tom Clay and John Snavely, from Sidney.
“We had a good team,” Geis said. “I got out of high school in 1955 and went to play for the Botkins Reds. I was the only one from Botkins.” The manager at the time was Bus Schamp. When village residents complained that more Botkins boys should be on the field, Schamp left. Geis followed him to Minster.
Way before they were players, Geis and Elsass, along with lots of other Botkins youngsters, chased foul balls and grabbed broken bats.
“For foul balls, they’d give you a quarter. You’d take dibs on the first broken bat. You’d take it home and nail it together,” Elsass said.
Geis remembers when a school building sat where the village swimming pool is now. That meant “there’d be some balls bouncing off the school. You could knock a window out and get a double. I enjoyed it,” he said.
In those years, there wasn’t much besides baseball to do, so games brought crowds of 600 to 800 people. They each paid 50 cents to get in. Teams played about 20 games per season.
“I don’t know if people that weren’t alive to see it realize how big a deal the Western Ohio Leauge was at the time,” said Geis’s nephew, Greg Geis, who is president of the historical society.
“It involved the whole area. Baseball was the big thing at that time,” Elsass said. That’s why he decided to donate his collection to the historical society.
“It’s something that needs to be shared,” he said. Originally, the collection was to supply information for a book Elsass hoped to write.
“What he researched, you can bank on it,” Carl Geis said. A Western Ohio Baseball League championship trophy has been on display in the Shelby House for awhile. It was donated by Carl.
“The trophy was put in the Cartwright’s filling station. When it closed, they gave it to me,” he said.
It’s important that items like the Reds collection be displayed, he added.
“The younger kids have no idea what we did. At the time, it’s all we had. We didn’t have water skis and jet skis and soccer. I’ve got a grandson. He doesn’t even know I played baseball except for what I tell him. All the old stuff we save for them. I think it’s very important,” Carl said.
“It means a lot,” he said. “People are always really excited about Botkins Reds items, as they bring back a lot of memories for those who remember playing or watching the games. It is a great collection, and I think it shows that people are starting to trust that we will provide the proper care of their collections, and hopefully it leads to more donations like this so that they can be appreciated by a larger audience.”
In addition to the unveiling of the new exhibit, the ice cream social will feature free ice cream and soft drinks; a presentation by Nancy Steinke, of the Shelby County Genealogical Society, “Genealogy 101,” about how to start genealogy research; a bounce house; a free raffle for gift cards from area restaurants and a Pilates class at 1 p.m. There will be a $5 minimum donation required for the Pilates class.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.