Sports
92 Babe Ruth team: Overachievers

By Bill Barrows

I happened upon an ESPN 30 for 30 about the kids from Maine-Endwell (NY) Little League that won last year’s Little League World Series over a powerful and highly favored Seoul, South Korea, team.  This coupled with the fact that our Wabash Little Leaguers reached the championship game of the recent Indiana State Tourney a couple of weeks back, beckoned my thoughts back to another time in Wabash youth baseball history.

Wabash Little League won the first of several State Championships in 1983. In the 1990 season, a group of upstarts comprised the 13-year-old Wabash Babe Ruth All-Stars. Most had played on the 1989 Little League All-Stars, but this was a different game. In Babe Ruth, the dimensions are of major league proportions — 90 foot bases and the pitching rubber is 60 feet, 6 inches, a third larger than before and therefore a different game in many ways.

I was fortunate to have a front row seat for the next three summers to enjoy probably the most fun I have had to date in coaching youth baseball. In 1990, this team qualified for the state tourney that was played in Crown Point. A very competitive showing in a rain drenched tourney helped the group bond and set up the next season. In 1991, the 14-year-old tourney took place in Wabash, at the West City Park Diamond. Teams from South Bend, Logansport, Terre Haute and Connersville among others were here for that tourney. All of the other teams seemed bigger in stature as well as being from larger cities.

Wabash won that state tourney, dominating the opposition with timely hitting, solid pitching and stellar defense. One opposing coach told Manager Steve Furnas and I that we had a good, solid team of overachievers, who were fundamentally sound and savvy on the field. We appreciated that complement, but also were sure of the workmanlike way that they went about their task together. The chemistry was good and they genuinely liked each other.

We beat Logansport in a best of three championships in a final game where we were literally down to our last strike against Logansport when pinch hitter Jared Cordes hit a seeing eye single in the seventh inning that sparked a 13 run inning. The next road took us to the Midwest Regional in Central City, Ky. We lost the first game 1-0 in a great pitching duel. Our second game sent us home for the year by a 20-5 score. The team we played could do no wrong. They hit the ball everywhere but at us!

That set the stage for the following year. We put in a bid for the Regional and we were awarded the tourney based on our local facilities and our history of hosting successful tourneys. It was played at both the west City Park and the Wabash High School baseball field (now known as Chris Rood Field). Twelve months of preparation both on and off the field culminated in two weeks of showcasing the Wabash community through the eyes of 15 year old boys from Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, Illinois, West Virginia and Indiana as well as their parents and fans. Wabash lost early in the tourney and had to fight back through the loser’s bracket to be relevant. There were a number of highs, lows and excitement. But alas, we ultimately lost, to a terrific Illinois team (led by future major league pitcher Mark Mulder) when we were in position to win, with the tying and winning runs in scoring position when a line drive by third baseman Freddie Miller was snared by the shortstop for the final out. Wabash finished third in that tourney but also ended up winning the hearts of the community.

Twenty-five years later, Coach Furnas and I still discuss that team, that era and reminisce in silence usually at the ballpark about what it was like to spend time coaching. Every August, I usually get either a phone call or a visit from him. But not only just the coaching, it was an honor and a complete pleasure to spend time with those young men, now about 40 years of age. Their parents were totally behind the team and served as host parents, chauffeurs, concession workers, ticket takers, support specialists and hearty fans. All these years later, I can still remember each and every player andtheir uniform number. But instead, here is each player, positions played and Wabash County high school attended. 

T.J. Tracy, OF , Wabash; Wes Cooper, OF-2B, Wabash; Mark Dubois, 1B-OF, Southwood; Joe Beamer, OF-3B, Northfield; Tyler Lisby, C-1B, Wabash; Billy Sickafus, OF, Northfield, Freddie Miller, 3B, Northfield, Kale Sparling, 2B, Northfield, James Honeycutt, P-3B-OF, Wabash; Jamie Holmes, C, Northfield; Andy Eltzroth, P-OF, Northfield; Tory Shafer, OF-P-C, Manchester; Jared Cordes, OF, Northfield; Todd Hensley, SS, Wabash; Derek Furnas, 1B-P-OF, Southwood; and Bryce Salyers, P-OF, Wabash.  Some of these guys still live in the Wabash area. Others have moved away but still have ties to town. They are engineers, sales reps, educators, business owners, coaches and maintenance techs.

There were also two other coaches. Bill Lisby was a stalwart. He scouted, offered input on all of our opponents and kept our statistics. The late Bill Hensley was the mastermind behind the scenes. He set up schedules, organized meetings, worked with the city and the school system on facilities. He also served as our travel agent and handled itineraries. All of these people worked together in a way that was very special.

Many memories of those years still are fresh in my head. The mothers gave each of us coaches memory books with a number of pictures and memorabilia. You can see items from those tourney years on the walls at our local Pizza Hut. WKUZ radio broadcasted all of the games in the 1992 Midwest regional. I have a set of those on cassette (go ahead and laugh) and if memory serves, all of the coaches had copies of those. Every once in a while, I will sit quietly alone in the dark and listen to some of the action, reliving the fun of three great seasons watching boys who lived up to the overachiever moniker as a team, but hardworking young men in real time.

Posted on 2017 Aug 22