Former Little Leaguers pitched their stories
MONTGOMERY – While the eyes of the world focus on Little League baseball as the organization celebrates its 75th anniversary, so will five former Montgomery players who gathered to share their baseball experiences. These men were Don Bergerstock, Phil Hartranft, Glen Shadle, James Stahl and Harry Riddell.
It was Riddell who arranged the gathering while doing some research to add to a ledger he holds of game statistics kept for years 1946, 1950, 51, and 52. The men came with photos and news clippings documenting their glory days of yore.
First and foremost is the pride Montgomery claims as the first site outside Williamsport to establish Little League teams. Carl Stotz, the game’s founder, first met with town locals in Dick Stahl’s barbershop. To involve boys ages eight to twelve, meant contacting parents, finding coaches and locating sponsors.
Montgomery began with four teams whose names indicated the sponsor’s occupation. Barber Dick Stahl’s team were known as “Stahl’s Clippers.” Players representing the upholstery shop of Lester Page were “Page’s Tackers”; furniture store owner Mr. Leonard’s group were called the “Leonard’s Dinettes” ; and the team sponsored by hotel owner Roy Koons was dubbed the “Hotel Royals.”
The emerging teams’ initial coaches were Harold Tobias of the Royals, Horace “Lefty” Lovelace, the Dinettes, Dorsey Claudfelter, the Clippers, and for the Tackers, Elmer Hessell.
Among the five-man group, Bergerstock was the earliest player joining Stahl’s team in 1947. He was coached by his dad and Charles Barto Sr. Some fellow team members were Blaine, Bill, Ken and Wayne Wertz; and Gene Foust. “I went on to play in the West Branch league and also joined Williamsport’s city league in fast pitch softball. I continued playing into the early 1980’s in a group for those age 40 and over,” the current Williamsport resident said.
Being the same age and joining Little League in 1950 were Hartranft, Riddell and Shadle. Hartranft said, “All I did the first year was decorate the bench; I didn’t even have a uniform,” said the Tacker team member.
Most agreed they pretty much had the same experience except Shadle who has the distinction of being the first team member from outside town. The Elimsport area native and son of a farmer said, “My father drove 40 miles each time I went to practice or play. Four round trips of 10 miles each way. During harvest time the coach’s wife was sent for me,” he said. Shadle has spent much of his life in Little League, coaching players in Elimsport and seeing two sons and four grandsons through Little League. Shadle also played for the West Branch League.
Jim Stahl and Harry Riddell have in common the fact that ball fields were given their surnames. Max “Mick” Bennett spearheaded the drive to name Elimsport’s field for 20-year coach Harry Riddell who also mowed the field situated on Petersburg Road near the Elementary School on grounds then owned by the school district.
“The site was completely sponsored by the community without aid from businesses or industry except for initial work by construction contractor Paul Miller who prepped the grounds. Lumber was provided by sawmill owner, Bill McCormick. “Gene Pauling was also instrumental in the effort,” Riddell said. The former coach recalled that even before the international organization included girls, he’d coached Robin Hannan, a player of three years beginning in 1976. “Robin’s positions were short stop and pitcher which tells you the caliber of her talent,” Riddell said. Eventually teams were required to play all games in Montgomery and currently the dug out at Elimsport has been replaced with a chicken coup while free range chickens roam the grounds.
Stahl’s Field named for Jim’s father and barber Dick Stahl, remains part of the town park and was Montgomery’s original Little League Field. Later, a second diamond was placed in the park which was often ravaged by floods. While these former sites continue to be used, currently official games are played in a field adjacent to the Clinton Township building along Route #54.
With the exception of a few former players gathering to ride a parade float in 1976 during the country’s 200th year, no reunon gathering has occurred. To that end, the public is invited to meet, greet and exchange stories with these former players and any others who come and be the upcoming program for the Montgomery Area Historical Society meeting Tuesday evening, October 21st at 7 p.m. at the Montgomery Borough Building.