Ten days ago I attended and enjoyed Sidney’s high school baseball tourney win over Fairborn at SHS. The visitors had a player who caught my eye.
Their center fielder didn’t have a right hand. Ben Stewart was hitless in two at-bats. I don’t recall any fly balls to his area but his presence in center implies ability. I applauded in admiration following his first plate appearance, and appreciated a nice personal memory that he rekindled.
Back in 1968 I was a 14 year old catcher for Holiday Lanes in “B” League at Custenborder Field. I had a fine time with fine teammates playing for Ron Emrick and Bill Lonsbury who were both in college. We had a winning regular season, then won the league tournament.
We had a player a lot like Ben Stewart. Jim VanTilburgh also had to compensate for a missing right hand. Jim played center field, just like Ben. As the proverbial “table setter” for a good lineup, Jim batted leadoff. He could also pitch effectively with that single left hand, an early version of future major leaguer Jim Abbott.
This got me to thinking about that enjoyable 1968 season. Wow, that was 53 years ago. A few minutes later, almost on cue, a voice behind me asks if the Fairborn center fielder reminded me of Jim VanTilburgh. I turned to find Bill Lonsbury who was there due to his leadership role with Sidney American Legion baseball. Many Yellow Jackets play Legion ball during the summer.
Bill’s presence wasn’t surprising but the timing was perfect. We reminisced about Jim’s many quality roles on our 1968 team. He was respected by both teammates and opponents, resulting in his selection for the annual sportsmanship award named for deceased “B” League Commissioner Tom Short.
I caught every inning of every game back in 1968, usually receiving the fastballs of Dale Apple, whom I’d caught two years earlier in “C” League for the Optimist Club. Dale was our best player, top pitcher, and cleanup hitter. The fence was 250 feet from home plate and Dale cleared it three times to lead the league in homers. He was later a solid player for SHS and Sidney Legion, and then was a second team all-league third baseman in college for Army.
When the tournament title game ended 53 years ago, the Apple and Ross families walked toward the parking lot together to cap off a special season that furthered my love of baseball.
Thanks to Fairborn’s Ben Stewart for reviving these memories. I’m told he also plays hockey. Seems to be quite a young man.
Fort Loramie’s Jared Hoying hopes to be playing “AAA” minor league baseball within another week after the outfielder reported to the Toronto Blue Jays camp in Dunedin, Florida earlier this week. Assuming he gets sent to the Buffalo Bisons, he’d actually report to that team but in its temporary location of Trenton, New Jersey. Beginning June 1 the Blue Jays major league club will move from Dunedin to Buffalo, forcing Buffalo elsewhere. The parent Blue Jays can’t play in Toronto during the pandemic.
Got all that? Also…..With the reorganization of the minor leagues, Buffalo/Trenton will no longer play in Columbus, Indianapolis, Louisville, or Toledo, which would have been enticing for some Loramie fans..
Five years ago, Jared became Shelby County’s first major leaguer, playing parts of two campaigns with the Texas Rangers. He spent the last three seasons in South Korea. Before heading south, Hoying admitted great excitement and proclaimed, “This old dog ain’t dead yet.” He just turned 32.
Sports Extra appears each Friday. Dave Ross is a lifelong baseball fan who has worked 45 years in local sports media.