A call for tryouts for American Legion baseball was printed in the Sidney Daily News in the summer of 1948.
Sidney wasn’t much of a baseball town in 1948. Lots of softball, no baseball. Sidney High did not have a baseball team, and neither did Holy Angels, the Catholic high school before Lehman.
Quite a crowd of young hopefuls showed up to try out. If memory serves me properly, you could play until your 17th birthday. Whatever the age limit may have been, all the young wannabes were of high school age.
The ball field was just across the river from Julia Lamb football field. There was a service station in deep center field and a line of trees well behind first base and third base. Chicken wire fencing backed up first and third base lines. The field was available till football season started, because it was the practice field for Sidney High School’s football team.
The American Legion was quite active in Sidney in 1948. The World War II vets were young and vigorous, and the organization bought a large house on Ohio Street, between Rockies Tavern (Tables for Ladies) and the Rainbow Grill.
Elwood Young was the Legion Commander, Teeny Counts was the baseball coach and Pudge Griffith was his loyal sidekick. Whitey Gibbs showed up at practice every now and then and did a little coaching. Counts and Gibbs were ex-amateur /semi-pro players in years gone by.
The immediate challenge for Teeny Counts was to get a team ready to play for the county championship because the county representative team would move on to tougher tournament play.
The first game to determine the county championship was against Fort Loramie’s Legion team. Fort Loramie had a strong small-town baseball tradition and had an established Legion team.
Sidney’s 1948 lineup featured Jack Bales at shortstop and Jack Kerce at first base. Both played football and basketball for Sidney High School. Bales played right halfback on offense and Kerce played in the defensive backfield. Jerry Zimpher of Anna played second base, Donnie Schultz of Holy Angels played third, Dick McCoy of Sidney High basketball fame played left field, and I played center. Memory fails me on the other positions on the team.
The first game against Fort Loramie was played on the road at Houston or Newport, again memory is not precise. What is precise is the fact that Fort Loramie won the game rather handily. The second game was played in Sidney on the field near the river. Again, Fort Loramie won but the game was closer. Sidney was within striking distance in the last inning but failed to drive in key baserunners. I know because I popped out to shallow left to end the game.
The team was organized and mobilized so quickly that we played these two games in “civvies.” No uniforms. Bales and Kearce wore Smith Electric softball uniforms, the rest of us played in an assortment of jeans and khakis.
Those games pretty well ended the season —there may have been a few more games but not many.
The Legion sponsors took the team to a ball game in Cincinnati to see the Reds play. The trip was made in a City of Sidney Transit Bus — sort of bumpy and bouncy, but hey, it was fun. And the Legion invited the team to a night at the Legion home to hear the new Sidney High School football coach, Wayne Gibson, do the color narration of a Miami (of Ohio) University football film. Good stuff.
The next baseball season was even better. New uniforms — light blue with Sidney Legion on the shirt front. More new players, the Snavely brothers from Perry Township, Bill Grilliot and Lee Elsass from Anna, Doyle Elsass from Botkins, Jim Sherman from Holy Angels. Lots of games, still did not beat Fort Loramie to advance in the Legion tournament.
One game stands out in memory — against Lima Legion, played on the Anna ball yard. Cleo Vaughn was the colorful Lima outfielder the fans came to watch. The game was close but Lima won. Another was against Bellefontaine. Sidney won this one easily.
Legion Baseball in Sidney was good, clean recreation and competition for high school age boys back in the days before Little League baseball and people still did things out of doors before television took over.
The Legion Baseball shot on the Sidney Daily News website reminded me of those days gone by. I hope boys today enjoy and play American Legion baseball with the same joy and enthusiasm we put forth back in 1948 and 1949.
The writer is a 1950 graduate of Anna High School who now resides in Colorado.