In the days of the old Lower Valley League, Wyoming League, Luzerne County League and later the Central League, “Mighty Casey” was never retired.
There was always “joy in Mudville,” except Mudville didn’t play in any of those leagues. The teams at the time came from Mocanaqua, Glen Lyon, Hilldale, West Side, Buttonwood, Brookside and, of course, Plymouth, home of the infamous Orchard Street Nine.
Last week I spent time visiting and talking with Jack Timko, former Plains Township Police Chief and one of the best pitchers the area has ever seen. His father, Andrew, played in the real big leagues and one of his best friends, Ron Hunt, was a major league as well.
I also spoke to John Kashatus, one of the best baseball guys you will ever meet. And I spoke to John Macko, who used to hit softballs for miles in the country. Macko was also an excellent hardball player.
Unlike the literary character Casey, who fell from hero to goat in Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s poem “Casey at the Bat,” the players of these old Sunday afternoon leagues were, as Timko put it, players “of blood and guts ”.
What does this mean exactly? Well that means these players have been playing hard the whole time. They jostled each other. They hit. They went to the field. They launched. They cared.
It was back when baseball was the American sport. It was the most adopted and revered game by fans of all ages.
As kids, we played baseball all the time. We played on real baseball diamonds and makeshift diamonds in our neighborhood. We played in schoolyards and in the streets. We played hardball, wiffle ball, ball and stickball. We played baseball all the time. We even had baseball board games like Strat-O-Matic.
We listened to games on the radio. We watched the games on television when they were televised. We knew each player’s name, batting average and uniform number.
So you can see why I enjoyed standing in Timko’s basement by looking at all the photos, posters, newspaper clippings, and other artifacts he has from baseball over the past 80 years. Hope he invites me to come back to spend more time looking at everything he has because it really is an amazing collection.
After talking to Timko, I could imagine being at one of the Sans Souci Smilers games. My memories of Sans Souci end at The Bear Cat roller coaster because we never knew there was a baseball field somewhere beyond the big merry-go-round.
But I saw the photos of large crowds, dressed in the best Sunday outfit, standing and cheering for the Smilers. I would have loved to be there with the 1000+ to watch the Smilers win again.
Or be at Weinick Park in Glen Lyon to watch the Condors play. Can you imagine what it must have been? It was the pride of the city at its best.
It all reminded me of those good old days when I realized I once experienced what it should be. In 1965-1966, Plymouth High School had an excellent basketball team. We won the District 2 title. It was the end of small town America for us. Wyoming Valley West’s “monster” join began the following year.
But in 1965-1966, Plymouth lived with the pride and spirit of its hometown. Large crowds followed the team and supported us all season. It was great to represent the city and wear the colors of the school.
That’s how it must have felt for fans of the Sans Souci Smilers or the Glen Lyon Condors and all those other local baseball teams. They were faithful people – who attended the games on a Sunday afternoon after first attending church in the morning.
They knew the names of the players. They knew their families. They were their neighbors. They were family and friends. The fans were an extension of the teams.
And win or lose, the fans came back every Sunday.
Mighty Casey knocked, bringing Mudville no joy.
But in Sans Souci, beyond the roller coaster in an amusement park, and on a hill in Glen Lyon, and in the towns of Luzerne County, joy was still present.
Because they were city boys playing for the city teams.
Little League’s commitment ends with: “I will play honestly and strive to win. But win or lose, I will always do my best.
That’s how the Smilers and Condors and all these other players from all these other teams approached baseball.
It was for the love of the game and for playing the game they loved.