If you walk around Switlik Park just off of Fisher Place, you can feel the history in every blade of outfield grass and grain of dirt on the infield. The dugouts are home to some of the most cherished memories in former players’ lives.
For the past 70 years, young boys in Hamilton have indulged in playing Babe Ruth baseball, while making lifelong friends in the process. Now, Hamilton Babe Ruth will host an Alumni Weekend for any former player that wants to grab a bat and step back into the batter’s box that they called home from ages 13 to 15.
The inaugural weekend is being hosted at Switlik Park on June 11, 12 and 13. Planned festivities include a Hall of Fame induction ceremony, a home run derby, and alumni games (AKA old-timers’ games).
“We just want to give people the chance to dip into the fountain of youth and feel like a kid again,” said executive board member Chris Whalen, who played at Babe Ruth from 1986 to 1988.
Games will feature players from their twenties all the way up to their sixties and seventies — alumni of any age are welcome to participate.
“It’s going to start out as fun and friendly but once you get out there the competitive juices will start to flow,” Whalen said.
That competitive nature has been evident in many players that have stepped onto the field at Switlik Park, dating all the way back to 1951 when the Little Bigger League was founded. In fact, the Hamilton Little Bigger League (renamed Hamilton Babe Ruth in 1954) was the first ever Babe Ruth League in the country and the National Headquarters still resides in Hamilton, right off of Whitehorse Mercerville Road.
The Little Bigger League was founded by nine men in Hamilton who felt that boys shouldn’t be deprived of the opportunity to play baseball after they grew too old for Little League.
The Hamilton Babe Ruth Executive Board is now planning to honor these men, as well as any other individuals who have greatly contributed to Hamilton Babe Ruth throughout the years, with the foundation of the Hamilton Babe Ruth Hall of Fame.
Jim Hodge, Jerry Salzano and Larry Kleinz, all of whom were drafted by MLB teams, are just some examples of Hamilton Babe Ruth Alumni who used the league as a launching pad in their baseball careers.
Other players such as Brian Maglione, Tom Rockhill and Gary Leonardo have all contributed to the great play that has been on display at Hamilton Babe Ruth over the last 70 years.
You can’t discuss great play at Hamilton Babe Ruth without mentioning the budding young stars like Mac Meara, Austin Boddie, Nate Means and Isaac Acosta who were among the top players on the most recent Hamilton team that made the finals of the state championship last August.
While they didn’t win last year, Hamilton Babe Ruth is no stranger to championship games. This goes all way back to 1963, when the Hamilton American All-Stars went all the way to win the state title.
This winning attitude is due to the universal feeling among Hamilton Babe Ruth players that they were now in the “big-time.”
“We thought we were in the pros,” Whalen said, “and every night we went out there and played our hearts out.”
As good as any player is, even the best need solid coaching in their lives to mold them into the players they wish to be. An example of this would be George Goldy Sr., who coached Hamilton P.A.L. for sixteen years, starting in 1972 and retiring in 1987.
Goldy Sr. described his time at Hamilton Babe Ruth as “totally enjoyable.”
“I enjoyed the 16 years I spent there and I hope the boys enjoyed their time at Babe Ruth as well,” he said when asked about his years spent both coaching and managing.
For Goldy Sr. and many others like him, it’s all about the love of the game and teaching it to young boys, all while instilling beneficial values that they will use for the rest of their lives.
“Baseball is a lot like life; it doesn’t always go your way, it’s not always fair but everyone’s got their strengths and weaknesses,” Whalen said, who’s been coaching his son since he was four years old. “If everyone pulls together, you’ll have success.”
As was typical in 2020, the pandemic had an affect on the Hamilton Babe Ruth season. Many players opted out of the season, leaving only enough players for four teams. But the kids who did choose to participate went out there and left everything out on the field every single night.
Whalen says the upcoming 2021 season is looking up.
“It’s actually one of the bigger turnouts in a while,” said Whalen. “It’s a young group, but they look pretty talented.”
There are 98 players set to duke it out this year, which equates to seven “evenly matched teams.” The teams are: A & G Tax Service, Breeze Fitness Club, Villa Mannino, Liedtka Fuel, Little Bigger League, and two teams were unsponsored at press time.
The league is still accepting players for 2021. Anyone eligible who is interested in playing can register on their website.
Furthermore, if you have any pictures, articles or stories about Hamilton Babe Ruth over the years, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additional information, including nomination forms for the first Hall of Fame inductions, can be found on Hamilton Babe Ruth website.