Nordbrook returns baseball's passion with hug for youth

June 03, 1994|By John Steadman

His passion for the sport is such that Tim Nordbrook, who played his way to the major leagues and stayed for parts of six seasons, is eager to make a contribution of his own.

"I just want kids to have a chance to fall in love with baseball," is how he explained the desire. When the words are measured for their significance there's a realization they couldn't be said with more eloquence or sensitivity.

Nordbrook heads a project involving inner-city youth that surely will serve a need. He's embarking on the establishment of organized leagues to introduce youngsters, ages 7 to 10, to the ABCs of the game -- how to throw, catch and swing the bat.

The fields will be scaled to size to fit their physical abilities because there's no reason to have the normal base-line dimensions of 90 feet and the pitching distance of 60 feet, six inches, overwhelm them.

"I know what we're trying to do is a momentous effort," he admitted. "It's not going to be easy, but those of us so eager to see this happen will not be discouraged."

Next Saturday, Nordbrook will be heading Baltimore's first affiliation and opening of the Babe Ruth League, named for the game's greatest player and personality. The concept is to allow children the chance to understand baseball at the elementary stage.

"Over 800,000 kids play in the Babe Ruth Leagues around the country," said Nordbrook. "It has been going on since the early 1950s, or shortly after Ruth died in 1948. This is the Babe's hometown and now that we have a Babe Ruth League it has special meaning for all of us."

He says the children will be given T-shirts, caps and gloves. The Abell Foundation, Major League Baseball, the Maryland Professional Baseball Players Association, the Babe Ruth League Inc., and the Babe Ruth Museum are providing the funding of $30,000. Baltimore's Department of Recreation and Parks, the St. Ignatius Loyola Academy and the city's police and fire departments are associated with the undertaking.

"I feel Sheriff Fowble, who coached baseball in Baltimore from 1946 until he died in 1991, left me a legacy," Nordbrook said. "Sheriff was the man who helped Al Kaline, Ron Swoboda, Phil Linz, Jim Spencer and others get to the major leagues. I played for him when I was only 11 years old and his death made me realize someone should try to carry on what he represented to amateur baseball."

Nordbrook says the Baltimore Orioles, according to Julie Wagner, director of community relations, are interested to see how the start-up effort works. If it is accepted by the players, then the Orioles will participate in a meaningful way in the future. Meanwhile, Nordbrook has promises from such former Orioles as Dick Hall, Ron Hansen, Tippy Martinez, Paul Blair and Ross Grimsley that they will help with seminars and clinics.

The actual coaching, plus the umpiring, will be handled by volunteers and the implementation and structuring of the effort will be supervised by Nordbrook, James "Bucky" Ward, Mike Gibbons and Ray Weinstein, the latter two the executive director and president of the Babe Ruth Museum. A schedule of 14 games will be played at Druid Hill and Herring Run parks.

"We are aware the inner city hasn't produced the number of baseball players as it has in football and basketball," commented Nordbrook. "That's what we want to change. Our ideal is to create an interest. Growing up, we played informal games of stickball and curb ball but you don't see that much anymore. It's our hope the kids will wear the caps and T-shirts in their neighborhoods and this, in turn, will encourage more young people, girls and boys, to join.

"We have six girls registered for the league. Overall, we'll have about 100 players this year. If all goes well, and I see no reason why it shouldn't, then we'll double or triple the size next year. And, in the future, just keep on growing. The Babe Ruth leagues deserve to be in Baltimore. It will fill a void, believe me."

Nordbrook, who managed four seasons in the minor leagues after he left the majors and then was an instructor for five years, insists the effort isn't geared at this point to developing players for professional opportunities but more in giving children an opportunity to take part in the finest of all games.

Yes, and as he so insightfully puts it, to offer the children the chance to "fall in love with baseball" -- the finest of all American games. Such motivation is worthy of applause.

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