Rounding the plates for 50 years

WAY BACK WHEN

Baseball: Roland Park Little League got its start back in the '50s, when passing trains interrupted practices .

April 21, 2001|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

In 1952, when the first baseballs of the newly formed Roland Park Midget Baseball League Inc. were sailing through the air at Gilman School, the diminutive, passing steam engines of the old Maryland & Pennsylvania Railroad proved to be a constant source of amusement to players and consternation to coaches and umpires.

It was quite common for games or practices to momentarily explode in unauthorized time outs if players heard the blast of a steam whistle riding the wind.

That meant only one thing, a slowly chugging Ma & Pa train was nearby and preparing to blow for the Belvedere Avenue crossing.

Like the fabled charge at Balaclava, players raced from the field and ran to the railroad track which coursed on its right-of-way at the eastern edge of the school's property.

There they would watch the train creeping along and anxiously hunt for the pennies or dimes that had been laid down on the tracks earlier in the day. And after finding coins that had been smashed into bizarre creations featuring distorted Abe Lincolns and elongated Monticellos, they returned to the field and resumed play.

The locomotives of the Ma & Pa are long gone along with the railroad. Belvedere Avenue is now Northern Parkway, and has been expanded into a four-lane mini-cross-town expressway.

However, the Roland Park Midget Baseball League, now Roland Park Little League Baseball, endures. It is one of the oldest little leagues in continuous operation in the nation.

Ceremonies commemorating its 50th anniversary begin at 10 a.m. today at the new baseball diamond directly behind Roland Park Elementary-Middle School at 5207 Roland Ave.

The field, which will be jointly shared by the school and the league, will be dedicated by Mayor Martin O'Malley.

Assisting him will be C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, former Roland Park Little League slugger and now Baltimore County executive.

A family cookout, parade and reunion of former and current players, coaches and supporters will round out the day's events.

"We have spirited volunteers and parents who realize the No. 1 priority is building a kid's esteem," said David Novak, commissioner of the Roland Park Little League, who had played on the Bearcats and Kings as a youth.

"I'm looking forward to the 100th even if my son has to push me there in a wheelchair," he said, laughing.

The driving force behind the founding of the league in late 1951 was Merwin W. "Jake" Jacobson, who had played center field on seven winning International League Orioles teams between 1919 and 1925.

What began in 1952 as a six-team operation with 115 boys playing a season of 45 games beginning in May and ending in August, has now expanded to 32 teams with more than 400 boys and girls playing ball.

Girls began playing in the 1970s, and today the league has a team, the Tigers, coached by a woman, Kathryn Rudo.

Today, the season begins in April and ends in June, and the league fields teams in the International, American and National leagues.

On opening day at Gilman School in 1952, Gov. Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin threw out the first ball. Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro looked on as spectators and players were serenaded by the Colts Marching Band.

Other celebrity and real-life baseball players in those early years who threw out the first ball or appeared at player-parent dinners included Clint Courtney, Bob Turley, Gus Triandos, Milt Pappas, Jim Palmer and Elrod Hendricks.

In the early years, Ernie Harwell, who later became the famous voice of the Detroit Tigers, acted as opening day master of ceremonies. He was later succeeded by Bailey Goss and Vince Bagli.

Of the original six team names - Hornets, Chevroliers, Tigers, Bearcats, Guys and Telecats - three are still in use, the Hornets, Tigers and Bearcats.

Mary Bready, who served as league secretary from 1958 to 1962 when her three sons were players, recalled the era when players wore heavy flannel uniforms, several mothers always showed up dressed for post-game social events and the fields were filled with wandering dogs.

"It was such fun. I love baseball whether it's good or bad, and there were many funny moments during those games," she said.

"The games started at 6 p.m., and there were always several mothers dressed up for dinner parties. Several of the dogs would go into a nearby stream and get muddy and wet. When they came back, they would invariably go right to the dressed ladies. It really was so funny," she said.

Louise Macsherry, who has been league secretary for 30 years and is considered the grande dame of Roland Park Little League, is assisted in her work by husband, Charlie, a Mercantile Trust Co. banker, and daughter Caroline. Of her seven children, five were on Roland Park teams growing up.

The front porch of her Roland Avenue home for years has served as league headquarters and Hall of Fame. She and Charlie used to handle all of the equipment, but that task is now handled by a younger volunteer.

"What's kept it going is good sportsmanship and being cooperative and low-key. We try to work with family needs in placing children on teams and meeting their requirements such as carpooling. That's what we're in business for," said Macsherry.

"We don't allow for politics or outrageous behavior; if we did, it would change everything," she said.

Macsherry says that she spends a lot of time thinking about the league and what has to be done: "It takes a lot of coordination. It used to be six or eight teams, but today it's like running a small company."

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