Be the Best
Just about every athlete that I ever played ball with (including soccer, as well as other individual and team sports) always wanted to be the BEST. One of my most competitive sports was perhaps swimming. I used to train with Reds Hucht, coach of Knights of Columbus Orchards (KCO) back in 1980-81 when I was at the climax of my athletic career. I even made it to the Junior Olympics qualifying in 50 backstroke. Reds coached at Calvert Hall and KCO for over 50 years. Read Legacy and MD Hall of Fame.
However, baseball was always and remains to be my favorite sport. In fact, this article is a tribute to Duane Ryan, my good buddy growing up together in Bel Air, MD. I remember playing baseball with Duane just about every day and hitting balls into a “homemade batting net” he built in his backyard. He was a superstar at Bel Air High School and went on to play for some top colleges.
Well, the biggest RISK in life is not trying something you might be afraid of. At least I gave it a shot and tried out for the Baltimore Orioles back in 1985 after I graduated Boys Latin High School. I also tried out for the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates that same year. Interestingly, a noteworthy teammate of mine, Brian Kowitz went on to play in the Major Leagues for the Atlanta Braves. Also, that year our Cockeysville travel team won the Maryland State Championship and went up to the Meadowlands in New Jersey to compete in a regional tournament. Duane played short stop on the team. Some other great baseball players during that era were Brian Bark (MLB player from Randalstown), as well as Mark Belanger and Terry Crowley who both had sons that I ran into on the ballfield.
Perhaps the highest level of baseball I competed in was in the All-American Amateur Baseball Association (AAABA). I played for Wagners Baseball who typically always gave Johnny’s a run for the money. Often we split a series. Brian Bark I recall was their star pitcher and I faced him a few times. In case you are not familiar with AAABA, here is a little history.
Johannes Peter “Honus” Wagner (February 24, 1874 – December 6, 1955) was an American baseball shortstop who played 21 seasons in Major League Baseball from 1897 to 1917, almost entirely for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Wagner won eight batting titles, tied for the most in National League history with Tony Gwynn. He also led the league in slugging six times, and in stolen bases five times. Wagner was nicknamed “The Flying Dutchman” due to his superb speed and German heritage.
In 1936, the Baseball Hall of Fame inducted Wagner as one of the first five members. He received the second-highest vote total, behind Ty Cobb and tied with Babe Ruth. Although Cobb is frequently cited as the greatest player of the dead-ball era, some contemporaries regarded Wagner as the better all-around player, and most baseball historians consider Wagner to be the greatest shortstop ever. Cobb himself called Wagner “maybe the greatest star ever to take the diamond.” In addition, Wagner is the featured player of one of the rarest and most valuable baseball cards in the world. Read more
Everyone remembers Earl Weaver from the 80’s. Well, another semi-pro team that I competed against was Johnny’s. Now it’s called Youse’s Maryland Orioles and the All America Amateur Baseball Association (AAABA) tournament in Johnstown, Pa., will be seeking an unprecedented fourth straight national title by Youse’s Orioles. They have continued a tradition of excellence that has lasted more than a half-century. For the last five years the team has played under the name of Youse’s Maryland Orioles, in honor of the late legendary coach, Walter Youse, who guided the team the previous 46 seasons. Dean Albany, the most recent of the impressive list of assistants who served under Youse, is in his fifth year as the team’s leader. He is only the third coach in the team’s 55-year history. References: Facebook | Twitter | Wikipedia | Baltimore Wire
Over that period of time, Baltimore’s AAABA representative has won 23 national championships and finished second eight times. At last count, 48 former players have gone to the big leagues, including two Hall of Famers. Two others went on to become major league general managers.
Ray Muhl was the manager of the first Leone’s team that featured Al Kaline. He turned over the reins to Youse in 1957. Youse ran the team under three different names until he passed away five years ago. The team operated under the Leone’s banner until 1972, then had long runs under the names of Johnny’s, sponsored by Johnny Wilbanks, and Corrigan’s, with former Leone’s pitcher Bill Corrigan backing the team. The club has operated as the Maryland Orioles for the last eight years, with the support of the major league team. Read more and Press Box article
Yankee Rebels Baseball Club
In spite of getting a glimpse of the AAABA league, the most memorable experience growing up was when I played for the Rebels.
Once again, Duane Ryan was on the team. I definitely have a lot of pride mentioning that team and it will forever remain in my heart! As a matter of fact, I ran into Joe Palmer, my old coach at Extra Innings last year.
This marks the 43rd Year Anniversary of the Storied Yankee Rebels Baseball Club. In 1969 Young Joseph and Francis Palmer fresh out of the US Air Force launched a series of Yankee Rebels Baseball Clinics, while piloting a new 14u Ball Club. The 1969 team had a rough start, finishing with a record of 5-22. Things improved quickly with the decision after 1972 to have Joe manage the 14u team and Francis to head up the new 16u team. By 1976, the Yankee Rebels Babseball Club began recieving national attention by winning births to three consecutive World Series. The Palmers became Pioneers in their cutting-edge teaching techniques that gave Young Rebel Players the clear advantage over their counterparts. College Coaches and Pro-Scouts were now bombarding the Coaching Staffs for recommendations on players for their specific programs. Francis stepped in to assume the duties of State Commissioner of AABC in 1978 to rescue the troubled program from folding. This program became the pre-cursor for the Baltimore Metro Baseball League that was turned over to Rebels Coach Roger Faw.
The next twenty-five years included the creation of High School Fall Ball Leagues and the East Coast Premiere Fall Showcase Program. The Yankee Rebels Fall Showcase Program was designed for Graduating High School Seniors. By 2001 the Yankee Rebels Baseball Club included players from all over the State of Maryland with over 90% of them continuing their play at the collegiate or pro levels. Thirty-eight former Rebels Players signed Major League Baseball Contracts over the past 43 years. The Rebels have won 61 State and 24 Regional Championships, while competing in 47 World Series. The Yankee Rebels Professional Tree remains strong today with former players representing coaching at the High School, College, and Professional Ranks. Rebel Players are also currently positioned in areas of Pro-Scouting, College and Professional Umpiring, and Front Office Personnel in Colleges and Major League Baseball. Joe Palmer remains active in the Yankee Rebels Organization today, serving as President with General Manager Sherman Reed, Sr running the day to day operations of the Club. Read more
Yankee Rebels president Joseph Palmer said he has noticed a distinct difference between kids today with kids five years ago. Palmer said that kids today don’t have great baseball skills because of a lack of dedication. “If I challenge a kid like I did five or 10 years ago, he walks away. They want everything with a snap of a finger and don’t want to work for it. It’s mainly because parents put their kids on a pedestal, and the kids then think they don’t have to practice the skills part of the game.”
“People wonder how a scrawny kid like Dave Johnson [from Middle River] made it to the major leagues,” Palmer said. “He made it with hard work and by gaining baseball skills. All you need to do is be willing to work.” Palmer said some kids want to play games more than they want to learn the game. For that reason, more kids now are choosing to play in summer leagues than joining baseball camps. “Kids don’t realize that no one is going to remember who won yesterday’s game,” Palmer said. “They are focused on the winning and losing part of the game, but they can put that time into developing skills that will help them in the future.” Read more
Sterling “Sheriff” Fowble
Class of 1936 McDaniel College
Although he was a four-sport Green Terror, he excelled in soccer and baseball. After playing semi-pro baseball, he scouted for the New York Mets and Cincinnati Reds, discovering greats like Al Kaline, Ron Swoboda, and Dick Boswell. He also was noted for working more than 30 years with 15- to 17-year-olds in Baltimore’s amateur leagues.
Fowble, coach 46 years on sandlots, dies at 76
Sterling “Sheriff” Fowble was a baseball man to the end. Only a few weeks ago he was saluted by a national organization as amateur coach of the year for Maryland. He went to a Western Maryland Hall of Fame affair and attended Carroll County and Patterson Park old-timers functions.
On Friday, Fowble, who managed 14-16 age group sandlot teams for 46 years in Baltimore, died of congestive heart failure at the age of 76.
For decades, when you thought of amateur baseball in this area, you thought primarily of two men: Fowble and Walter Youse, general manager of Johnny’s in an older age group.
When Orioles general manager Roland Hemond spoke at an old-timers’ banquet last year, he said: “If there were more men like Sheriff Fowble and Walter Youse in other cities, baseball would never have to worry about anything.”
More than 800 boys came under Fowble’s guidance. Last summer, even when his health was failing, he was general manager of the Harbor Federal Savings and Loan team and his wife of 51 years, Virginia, as always, was scorekeeper. Bill Becker, who played under Fowble in 1955, was manager.
“We had no children of our own, but every year we kept 18 boys out of trouble,” Virginia Fowble said. “We were the richest couple in the world.”
Fowble worked as an accountant for Bethlehem Steel for 42 years. On the side, he scouted for the Cincinnati Reds for 15 years and for the New York Mets for 22. But his passion, and Virginia’s, was their sandlot team.
Twelve players managed by Fowble went on to the major leagues, including Al Kaline, Dave Boswell, Phil Linz, Jim Spencer, Ron Swoboda and Moose Haas. Kaline wound up in the Hall of Fame.
Swoboda wound up in the outfield of the New York Mets when they upset the Orioles in the 1969 World Series. Today he is the sports anchor for WVUE-TV in New Orleans — and a grandfather.
“Sheriff didn’t have kids, but in another sense he had a whole lot of them,” Swoboda said. “I was lucky enough to be one of Sheriff’s boys. If you didn’t play for Sheriff and Youse in Baltimore, you didn’t make it in pro ball. I’d never have been elevated to Youse if it hadn’t been for Sheriff.”
It was Fowble who switched Swoboda from third base to the outfield. Swoboda was indignant. Even his mother was upset.
“In my first game in left field, on the Patterson Park diamond near the tennis courts, a ball was hit over my head,” Swoboda said. “I ran it down and threw the guy’s butt out at third base. I thought, ‘Hey, you can win games out here, too.’
“Sheriff was relentless. When you did something wrong, you heard about it. It was the first time a coach yelled at me. He was never malicious, never tore you down.
Fowble’s teams, known variously as High’s Ice Cream, High A.C., Gordon’s Stores, G & M Scrap, Highland Lanes, Hi-Landers, Highland Federal Savings and Loan and Harbor Federal, won 24 Baltimore City championships.
He had a couple of undefeated seasons and during a stretch from 1956-58, Gordon’s Stores won 83 straight. In their East Baltimore home, the Fowbles have a baseball for every year they were active with a team, except Kaline’s year, 1951. Sheriff said somebody took it out of the display case.
It all began one day in 1946 when a group of neighborhood boys knocked on the Fowbles’ door and told Virginia they wanted Sheriff to manage a baseball team.
“He’s down at the tavern playing cards,” Virginia said. “Go ask him. It would be good for him.”
An all-around athlete at Westminster High, Fowble went on to Western Maryland College and played four sports there. An outfielder, he spent a few weeks with a Boston Red Sox farm team in the Piedmont League, but couldn’t throw a lick because of a cranky shoulder that lingered from his football days. Read more
Today, I still try to keep in shape and enjoy swimming. It’s important to have heroes in life! Nevertheless, like I said earlier, the nice thing about sports is that it builds character, because there is always someone better than you tomorrow. In 2001 I competed in my first triathlon.