August 28, 2009

Baseball in Amish Country (Guest Blog)

Category: News — Ira @ 6:21 pm

john-schmid.jpg

Since this is my birthday week and I needed a long overdue break,
I’ve asked my good friend John Schmid to fill in for me this week.

—The Editor
_____________________________________________________

Note from John: It is an honor to be asked by Ira to be a guest writer. No way can I match Ira’s ability to keep you glued to what ever subject he writes about, but in keeping with Ira’s heritage, let me tell you one aspect of Amish culture here in Holmes County, Ohio.

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I pulled into the driveway of Bishop David Kline between Fredericksburg and Mt. Hope several years ago because he was hosting an exchange student from Texas and I knew the family, so I thought I’d stop by and see how she was doing in her “cross-cultural” stay with an Amish family. I’m sure that Amish country and the panhandle of Texas have some similarities, but I can’t think of a one right now.

As I rolled to a stop in front of the Kline house I saw David coming out of one of the sheds in the barnyard. He came over to my car to say hello. I was just turning down the radio which was tuned to the Cleveland Indians game.

“Hello, John,” he said.

Hello David.”

“You like the Cleveland Indians?” he asked. Obviously he’d heard what I was listening to.

“Oh, sort of,” I understated.

He grinned and then he went on to tell me a story that I have retold many times since. (I can’t remember if I ever checked on the exchange student or not. Her name was… I can’t remember…)

It seems that growing up David had a friend in the same church district as him who loved the Cleveland Indians. I don’t know his name, but I’ll call him “Levi.” Levi always knew the score, the batting averages, who got traded, which pitcher was doing well, his E.R.A., how many strikeouts, how many games out of first place they were… he knew everything. He was a fan. Anybody who had any questions about the Cleveland Indians just asked Levi. Anybody who thought the Indians had no chance at the pennant got more promises than a politician could give (well, maybe not that many) as to why this was the Indian’s year (usually until July. When reality set in).

One summer, when Levi was 18 or 19 years old, he joined the church. In a perfect Amish world this means he would no longer be interested in such worldly competitive endeavors such as sports, and especially professional sports, especially Major League Baseball which plays on Sundays and advertises beer and they wear uniforms and such. But, as you know, since the Amish live in the same fallen world as the rest of us, Levi continued to be a walking encyclopedia on Cleveland Indians trivia.

Then Levi got chosen by lot to be a preacher.

Then he moved to Ashland, Ohio (read: strict).

Dum da dum dum… RIP Cleveland Indians.

About ten years ago, in the late nineties, right after the Indian’s great run at two world series (oh, man, that was close!) and great players and future hall of famers such as Manny Rameriz, Jim Thome, and Omar Vizquel, Levi came to Holmes County to visit his old childhood friend, David Kline. In the course of the evening, at a lull in the conversation, one of David’s boys asked him, “Do you still follow the Cleveland Indians?”

Levi’s response was quick, definite, abrupt and final: “No!” as if to say, “Of course not. You know better than that! What a dumb question!”

The young Kline boy said, “Well, it’s just as well that you don’t. They’ve lost nine games in a row.”

Levi stared at the boy over his wire rim glasses and pointed his finger at him in a gesture that was a cross between judgment and triumph and with raised eyebrows and in a victorious and confident voice said, “Yeah, but they won last night!!”

I told this story to my good friends, Marvin and Erma Hershberger who live just south of Charm. Erma told me that a couple of years ago she was tying her horse to the hitching rail at the Charm store just as an older Amish man right beside her was getting off of his buggy. This man was not untypical in that he had a reputation similar to David Kline’s friend, Levi. He followed the Indians as best as one can without TV or radio. The next best thing is the Wooster Daily Record.

Erma said she watched him hustle over to the newspaper box and cram a couple of coins in the slot and rip open the door and grab a paper and quickly open it up to the sports section. He was reading intently as he walked past her buggy on the way to the front door of the store when suddenly his face turned sour and he balled the paper up and threw it into his buggy and stomped into the store to buy his groceries. True Indians fans know exactly what he read. And how he felt. Ever since 1948.

In Holmes County, the Amish love baseball. I have often wondered what the local high school, Hiland, would be like if the Amish attended. Hiland has won several Division IV (the smallest division) state championships in basketball, both boys and girls, and gone to the state finals in baseball a couple of times. And they did that with close to half of the potential athletes in the district not going to high school.

When I played fast pitch softball, the best teams were always made up of Amish boys who had quit school after eighth grade and hadn’t joined the church yet. Several of those teams won the State and then the USA National Softball Title in their respective divisions! At the annual Ft. Wayne softball tournament the last few years, the girls champions have been local Amish girls whose uniform is their everyday dresses. The local Amish businesses will sponsor them but only if they dress appropriately. It sort of tickled me to see a team of girls from Florida who had expensive flashy spandex uniforms and who looked like a mixture of professional athletes and Hollywood movie stars get beat by our local Amish girls wearing dresses and head scarves.

Which brings me to my favorite Holmes County Amish Baseball True Story (the others are also true, but this one is so unbelievable that I thought I’d better mention the word “true”).

Leroy Kuhns lives about two miles from me, between the little crossroads of Fryburg and the village of Mt. Hope. He wrote this story for the September 2003 issue of The Connection , an Amish publication from Indiana. Leroy grew up in the Fryburg Amish Church district. The district just to the East of them, between Fryburg and Mt. Hope, is called Elm Grove. The Elm Grove boys were a little older than the Fryburg boys and for several years the two groups used to play ball every Wednesday night from July through early September. Abe Troyer, one of the Elm Grove all-stars, called them the “Fryburg Windsplitters” even though Leroy claims that Fryburg won every game (at least he has a hard time remembering that they ever lost).

So, here is my favorite story and I’m just going to quote Leroy from his 2003 article:
Of all the games, the one I remember best was one night while Pete Merv was pitching. I was catching and it was bottom of the last inning. We (Fryburg) were ahead by several runs. It was too dark to be playing, already at the beginning of this inning, but I knew that Elm Grove would never acknowledge defeat unless we got the last three outs. Merv quickly put the first two batters down, but by now the clouded western horizon was bringing on total darkness. Players from both teams aggressively objected for us to pitch to another batter. It was just too dark. Somebody’s going to get hurt.

But we only needed one more out and I was determined to get it. Every player seemed to be saying, “It’s no way safe anymore!”

Rising from behind home plate, I raised my hand in protest. “O.K.” I said, “Only one more batter. We’ll be real careful and I can practically guarantee that nobody will get hurt.”

It was now so dark that I, being the catcher, had to call the balls and strikes myself. Our ump lacked the proper equipment for playing in the dark.

I ran out to the mound and said to Merv, “Okay, Merv, here’s the plan. You go through your full wind up and motion, and so will I, but don’t you dare throw the ball! We’ll try to strike the batter out without throwing the ball.”

“O key dokee,” said Merv with a mischievous grin.

Back behind home plate now, I checked who was the batter. Jerry Miller, a soft spoken, left handed hitter, stepped into the batter’s box. Once Jerry was all set, Merv “rocked and fired.” I held off for a second, then smacked my fist into my mitt. “S-t-r-i-k-e one!” I heard a few soft grumbles from the Elm Grove bench. “They’re using the dirty ball on purpose, so it’s hard to see!”

I now noticed several of their players taking position behind the home plate backstop, apparently to check on my honesty in calling balls and strikes. Jerry’s face showed nothing but confusion as he lowered his “stick.” But then as I rose up and went through the motion of throwing the ball back out to the mound, Jerry again got set and ready in the batter’s box. Again Merv “rocked and fired” and upon the “smack” of my mitt I called out, “S-r-i-k-e two!”

“NO!” came from behind the backstop. “That was way outside!”

“Oh, but it wasn’t!” I replied. “It was right down the pipe!”

Now they really started to get on Jerry’s case for just watching the ball go by.

“Don’t just stand there! Three called strikes is as bad as three swings and misses. You might as well at least try!”

Jerry now showed a renewed determination to get his bat on the ball. Giving his bat a couple of short quick swings, he stepped back in the batter’s box, dug in, put his elbows up a notch and totally concentrated on the pitcher. Merv again reared back for the third empty delivery. With smooth motion he followed through with his arm down the front of the mound. Just as I was ready to smack my catcher’s mitt again, I sensed a rush of air as Jerry put all of his weight into a hefty swing that split the cool night air across home plate.

“S-w-i-n-g… and a miss! Strike three! Game over! Fryburg wins!”

And that’s Leroy’s story. I found out later that it was a couple of months before the Elm Grove boys realized that they had been schnookered! Several years ago I was singing at a benefit auction at Mt. Hope when someone in the crowd yelled, “Tell that baseball story!” About one minute into the story I saw some of the Elm Grove boys, now in their 50’s & 60’s, casually stroll out of the tent.

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(16 Comments) »

  1. Ira your friend John should be a sports writer! All sports lovers have a few best moments, I’ll share several of mine. Years ago when I was about 40 lbs. lighter I played outfield, in the bottom of the ninth the opposing team had 2 out and 2 on, down 1 run when a flyball came out to the right of me and I took off running as fast as I could and just before I got there I stepped in a hole and fell flat on my back! Well needless to say you could of heard them scream a mile away. I took one look saw the ball coming at me stuck my glove out caught the ball and we won! Of course I made more noise then their whole team!

    Comment by Rudy Yutzy — August 28, 2009 @ 6:58 pm

  2. Great story! I heard you tell the story a few times but it is even funnier on paper. Give your family a big hello!

    Comment by humdinger — August 28, 2009 @ 7:22 pm

  3. Most of my sisters played baseball/softball who are now in their 50ths, Anna, Clara, Betty, Mary Ann & Dena. I think they played on the Apple Creek teams, as we lived a couple of miles north of town.

    Comment by Katie Troyer — August 28, 2009 @ 8:27 pm

  4. Happy birthday, Ira, and great choice of a guest blogger. Readers should know that John Schmid is a talented and entertaining singer, guitarist, and songwriter who honors his Creator via his musical ministry. He has written for Plain Interests, and he has recorded some records in Deitsch. Nice to read you on here, John! Take care, Ira!

    Comment by Katie H. — August 28, 2009 @ 8:28 pm

  5. GREAT story! When we were in Jamesport, MO, an Amish mom was telling me her sons were big fans of the Kansas City Chiefs football team (well, I think it’s football – whoever the Chiefs are, that’s who they liked!) ha ha Welcome, John, and thanks for the guest post!! Happy Birthday, Ira!! :)

    Comment by Bethrusso — August 28, 2009 @ 8:36 pm

  6. Great stories, John. Thanks for writing! Ira, Happy Birthday – wishing you all the best.

    Comment by Amos Smucker — August 28, 2009 @ 8:55 pm

  7. Thanks for the entertaining stories. I like all sports and I enjoy hearing “true tales”!
    Happy Birthday to Ira. You deserve some rest!

    Keep up the great writing.

    Comment by Doris Vetter — August 28, 2009 @ 10:19 pm

  8. Sure enjoyed the read as always, Happy Birthday, Ira.

    Comment by Bear — August 28, 2009 @ 10:33 pm

  9. Loved the story, and hope that you have a wonderful birthday Ira.

    Comment by Erin — August 28, 2009 @ 10:50 pm

  10. John, wonderful stories on the ball playing from the Holmes County area.

    My first memory of how ingrained baseball is in the Amish culture was as a young teenager in the mid 1970s when I would listen to Cleveland Indians baseball games on 3WE 1100 under the covers in the dark of night, somehow convinced that we were the enlightened ones.
    When on a fall day during the pleasant task of silo filling a middle aged gentlemen expounded on the finer points of the 1948 World Series champion Cleveland Indians, naming the players by the position they played and with a bunch of stats added for good measure. He was especially intrigued by the 40 something pitcher Satchell Paige who was a key component.
    Somehow after hearing those stories the luster of listening to the lowly Indians was gone. Caused by the reflection that they could actually win in days gone by and the fact that we were not really the elightened ones.

    Happy Birthday Ira!

    Comment by John Yoder — August 28, 2009 @ 11:03 pm

  11. John, you’re getting carried away like an Amishman now. I’ve always heard that after an Amishman goes through an exciting baseball season with tall tales and all, he packs up and heads down to Florida. (Because that’s where the baseball Teams winter at, too, we suppose).
    Good writing, there. Hopefully we’ll see you in Pinecraft, in Jan.

    Comment by Grandpa Jess — August 28, 2009 @ 11:08 pm

  12. We always like a good story!

    Happy Birthday!

    Comment by Ann — August 29, 2009 @ 4:56 am

  13. HAPPY BIRTHDAY IRA and thank you for sharing John with us. Thank you, John, for your wonderful writing. You two are such gifted communicators and we are so very fortunate to be your readers.

    Comment by Robert Miller — August 29, 2009 @ 6:03 pm

  14. I live in Dallas Center, Iowa. Just to our south is a little city next to I-80 named Van Meter. To you Indians fans, that is a Mecca of baseball delights for none other than Bob Feller still lives there. He will come up to Dallas Center to visit with one of his pro baseball friends who played for the Detroit Tigers in the 1940s. Men of baseball, now gone on, would brag how they had hit off of Bob Feller until pressed for details and needed to admit he was 12 at the time. By the time he was 16, no one in Iowa could possibly have hit any of his balls. I am now a Cubs fan but my father was and still is a lifetime Indians fan since he listened to their games in the 1930s from his home in Erie, PA.

    Comment by Mark Hersch — August 30, 2009 @ 8:06 pm

  15. Great Story, John.
    It reminded me of an old bishop from the church where I grew up. He grew up in a very conservative (I don’t think it was Amish, but close) church in Ohio. He and some friends were in Cleveland on a Sunday afternoon and, in his words, they followed a large group of people and ended up at an Indians game. This, of course, required confessions in front of their church among other sanctions.
    Years later, after he retired from being a Bishop, he still followed the Indians, and would still tell the story with a gleam in his eye.

    Happy Birthday, Ira! Here’s to many more!

    Comment by Gary Swartzentruber — August 31, 2009 @ 9:32 pm

  16. John, good story! I am good friends with Marti Miller. She said she knows you from a long time ago! :) Also, my husband, Jerry Kindy had the privilege of getting to know you through his years working for Bible Memory Ministry. It is a small world isn’t it?

    Comment by Dawn — September 1, 2009 @ 9:30 pm

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