Berkshire Baseball Looking to Honor Local Baseball and Softball Greats
Berkshire Baseball Looking to Honor Local Baseball & Softball Greats with the Berks County YRF Renovation Project

April 11, 2013 (MMD Newswire) -- Berkshire Baseball is looking to pay homage to some of the greatest baseball players with ties to Berks County by naming several of the items at the Berks County Youth Recreation Facility in their honor. Next Friday, April 19, 2013 at 5:00 PM, during a re-dedication and celebration that will feature the Berks County Commissioners, the Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Reading Convention and Visitors Bureau, a remote broadcast by Y-102 and many other community leaders, the organization will officially be renaming the four baseball fields and four walking paths to honor some Berks County's baseball and softball greats.

When the organization started negotiating with the County of Berks in 2010 to make some improvements to the facility, those negotiations took on a new light when county officials suggested that opposed to just making some improvements to the facility, that they actually take over the management and maintenance of the facility as well.

 

So as plans of how the organization wanted to tackle this new endeavor began to unfold, one of the things that came to the forefront of the idea was a way to incorporate honoring some of Berks County's favorite baseball sons.

"I'm a big proponent of educating today's young players of baseball's rich past." Said Dan Clouser, who is the founder and current President and General Manager of the organization.

"I'm always asking my players questions about old ballplayers to see how much they know about the game, so as we did this I didn't want to just hang a few names on the fields, but I wanted to educate those who come here as to why each field and pathway is named after a certain player and what that player's ties were to our area."

And so it began, the task of honoring the local greats and preserving their legacy in the game. It was actually much easier said than done. There were only four fields at the facility and more than four deserving ballplayers with local ties.

One of the fields at the facility, Field #3, was already named Rocky Colavito Field in honor of the outfielder who is best known for his years with the Cleveland Indians. During his 14-year Big League career, he also played for the Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Athletics, Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees.

Colavito was a career .266 hitter with 374 HRs, 1,159 RBI, 971 runs, 1,730 hits, 283 doubles and 21 triples. He was a six time All-Star or nine time All-Star if you consider that Major League Baseball played two All-Star games per season from 1959-1962.

In 1976, Rocky was voted the most memorable personality in Cleveland Indians' history. He was elected to the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 1981, and was inducted into the Cleveland Indians' Hall of Fame in 2006.

Colavito was born in New York City and first came to Reading in 1953 as a member of the Reading Indians, Cleveland's AA affiliate at the time. In Reading, he met his wife Carmen and they later called Reading and Berks County their home and still reside here today.

So with Field #3 already being named, there were three more fields, but several more deserving candidates.

As plans for the renovations began to unfold and we realized that Field #2 would take on very familiar face of that of Boston's Fenway Park, complete with a 30' "Green Monster" replica wall in left field and a Pesky Pole in right, it was a no-brainer for Field #2 to bear the name "Charlie Wagner Field" in honor of Reading's own "Broadway" Charlie Wagner, who was a life-long employee of the Boston Red Sox as a player, coach, scout and consultant of the club.

Dubbed "Broadway" because of his stylish way of dressing, Charlie Wagner was the second oldest living former Red Sox player, the longest serving. He was born December 3, 1912 right here in Reading, Pennsylvania and was 5 years old when the Red Sox won the 1918 World Series. "Broadway was a spry 91 years old when Boston won it again in 2004.

Charlie Wagner's major league debut was April 19, 1938. Not so ironically, 75 years to the day, the re-dedication ceremony of the Berks County Youth Recreation Facility will take place renaming Field #2, which will be the Fenway Park replica, Charlie Wagner Field.

After being used by the Red Sox in both starting and relief duties during his first three years in the Big Leagues, the young hurler had his first full season as a starter in 1941, the second arm in a pitching rotation that included Dick Newsome, Mickey Harris and Lefty Grove. Finishing with a 12-8 record, three shutouts, Wagner posted an ERA of 3.07 that was the best on the Boston pitching staff and the 3rd best in the American League.

Wagner played six years in the Major Leagues from 1938 to 1946 losing three prime years from 1943 to 1945 while serving in the military. He compiled a 32-23 record with a 3.91 career ERA.

Wagner, who loved to tell stories, once commented on how he got the nickname, "Broadway", by saying, "The Boston writers hung the name "Broadway" on me. People said it was because of the stylish way I dressed, still dress, I guess. But I wasn't a rowdy. My second year we got Ted Williams. We were sitting at our lockers one day, Lefty Grove was next to me, Jimmy Foxx next to him and Ted comes in bellowing: "Okay, who doesn't smoke, doesn't drink, doesn't chase girls and goes to bed early?"

The office of manager Joe Cronin was next to us, and he came out and said 'Ted, Wagner's your man.' A lot of these guys played with him, but I lived with him, and it was a joy."

"I first met Charlie over July 4th weekend in 2002 at the Robesonia Playground. He had come up to see a family friend from Maryland play in one of our 14-U tournaments. He got out of his car, decked out in a suit and I knew who he was immediately." Said Dan Clouser, reflecting on Wagner. "After a little while, I went over and introduced myself to him and told him that I was a lifelong Red Sox fan. Ted Williams had passed away the day before and man was I in for a treat."

"You could see that Charlie was saddened by his friend and roommates passing, but the glow in his eyes when he reflected on Ted was amazing. We sat there and he told me story after story as if he had known me for his entire life. It is a moment that I will never forget and cherish forever."

One of Wagner's proudest feats in his life is that he could say that he only ever collected a paycheck from one employer his entire life. Following his retirement as a player, Wagner became the Red Sox' assistant director of minor league operations from 1947 through 1960. He then scouted for Boston from 1961 to 1969 and from 1971 to 1992. He was the Red Sox' major league pitching coach for the 1970 season. He later worked as a special assignment instructor in the Red Sox minor league system, and was still consulted about the organizations prospects into his 90's. He worked for 70 years for the Red Sox organization.

Like Johnny Pesky, Wagner was one of the most beloved members of the Red Sox organization right up until he passed away on August 31, 2006.

On a whim, Clouser reached out to the Red Sox organization to inform them of the Charlie Wagner Field project.

Charlie was so beloved by the Red Sox organization that the Red Sox Foundation did not even hesitate to make a small contribution to the project even though it is located well outside of their standard New England footprint of charitable giving.

"The Red Sox Foundation thanks you for supporting youth baseball and seeking to honor our beloved Red Sox family member, Charlie Wagner." Stated Meg Vaillancourt, former Executive Director of the Red Sox Foundation.

"One of the funniest things about the Charlie Wagner Field project is that everyone thinks that it was my idea because I am such a diehard Red Sox fan, however, truth be known, it wasn't my idea at all." Confessed Clouser. "Brian Kistler of the Berks County Parks Department is actually the one who came up with the idea to build a "Green Monster" replica retaining wall into the existing bank that leads up to Multi-Purpose Field #1, but it certainly didn't take much to sell me on the idea."

So with two fields down, the decisions started to get a bit tougher.

As the organization took on the task to convert the two smaller 70' fields (Fields #2 and #4) to 90' fields in 2012, there were some obstacles to overcome. Cutting the infields from 70' for 90' was the easy part, figuring out how to overcome the shorter outfields was a little more difficult. Field #2, Charlie Wagner Field, was addressed with Kistler's idea of the Green Monster replica, making an otherwise chip shot down a 270' left field line a bit more difficult by building the 30' high wall, not to mention making it very unique in its own right.

Field #4 would be a little more difficult as it was a smaller field that already had lights on it, which significantly restricted what could be done with the design of the outfield fence. In order to play 14 and 16 year old baseball on that field, the organization had to come up with a plan to make the fence deeper at some spots.

So as things began to take shape, the outfield dimensions of Field #4 started to become very unique and quirky. Directly down the left field line is only 261'. There is then a "hump" in left field to make the power alley a little more legitimate. However, as leftfield comes into centerfield, the fence coils back in to wrap around the existing light pole and then takes a sharp turn to get to about 360' to the deepest part of the park and then takes an almost straight line to the right field line, which measures out to about 278'.

So while not an exact replica of old Polo Grounds in New York, it certainly has the characteristics of centerfield at the Polo Grounds.

With that in mind, Field #4 got to be re-named Vic Wertz Field.

Why? You ask.

Even the most novel of baseball fans has seen the highlight of Willie Mays' over-the-shoulder catch in centerfield of the Polo Grounds in the 1954 World Series. However, few people probably know who hit that ball. Well, it was Vic Wertz and after Wertz hit that long fly ball that Mays caught in the 1954 World Series, which is also known as simply, "The Catch", it went over 450 feet to dead center of the Polo Grounds and a sportswriter at the time said, "It would have been a home run in any other park, including Yellowstone."

Wertz was actually born in York, Pennsylvania, but his family moved to Reading when he was 11 years old. He was a star for the Reading High baseball team as well as Gregg Post American Legion. He signed a minor league contract in 1942 and made his Major League debut with the Detroit Tigers on April 15, 1947. During his 17 year Big League career he also played for the St. Louis Browns, Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins.

Wertz was a four-time All-Star and batted .277 for his career, compiling 1,692 hits with 289 doubles, 42 triples, 266 home runs and 1,178 RBI's. Notably, he also hit for the cycle during his rookie season with Detroit on September 14, 1947.

Wertz passed away during coronary bypass heart surgery on July 7, 1983, at the age of 58.

The fourth player to be honored by having a field named after them at the complex was a three time World Series Champion with the St. Louis Cardinals, George "Whitey" Kurowski.

Kurowski was born on April 19, 1918, the date of the re-dedication ceremony would have been Whitey's 95th birthday.

Kurowski was a third baseman and like Wagner, played his entire career with the same club, the St. Louis Cardinals from 1941-1949. Kurowski batted and threw right-handed. He debuted on September 23, 1941, and played his final game on October 1, 1949. In a nine-season career, Kurowski posted a .286 batting average with 106 home runs and 529 RBI in 916 games played. Kurowski's childhood nickname came from his already white hair.

A native of Reading, Kurowski overcame several personal problems before making it to the Big Leagues. Kurowski overcame childhood osteomyelitis, which made him lose a part of a bone on his right forearm. Before he started his baseball career, his older brother died in a mine accident, and his father died from a heart attack during spring training in 1942. His most productive season came in 1947, when he posted career-highs in average (.310), home runs (27), RBI (104), runs (108), doubles (27), slugging % (.544) and on-base % (.420).

An All-Star during five consecutive seasons from 1943 through 1947, Kurowski exceeded the 20 home run mark three times to set a major league record for a third baseman (1944-45, 1947), and hit over .300 three times (1945-47). He also led the National League three times in putouts, twice in fielding %, and once in double plays. In four World Series appearances, Kurowski hit .253 (21-for-83) with one home run and nine RBI in 23games, as the Cardinals were World Champions in 1942, 1944 and 1946. His only home run in the Series came in 1942, off of Red Ruffing and it broke a 2-2 tie in the ninth inning of Game Five to clinch the title for St. Louis over the New York Yankees.

In 1949, Kurowski developed arm and elbow problems and his playing career ended. After that, he coached and managed in the minor leagues for 18 years until 1972. He gained induction into the National Polish-American Hall of Fame in 1988.

Kurowski passed away on September 9, 1981 at the age of 81.

With the four fields at the complex being renamed, it was now time to figure out a way to honor some of the other deserving local ballplayers at the complex.

With that in mind, it was again Brian Kistler who came up with the idea to name the walking paths at the complex in honor of a few of our other Berks County ballplayers.

The walking path that will be extended as part of the $1.5 million renovation project from the parking lot to between Charlie Wagner Field and Rocky Colavito Field into the baseball field area will be named Carl Furillo Way.

Carl Furillo was nicknamed "The Reading Rifle". He played his entire career as a rightfielder for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers. He was member of seven National League champions from 1947 to 1959 and he batted over .300 five times, winning the 1953 batting title with a .344 average - then the highest by a right-handed Dodger since 1900. Noted for his strong and accurate throwing arm, he recorded 10 or more assists in nine consecutive seasons, leading the league twice, and retired with the fifth most games in right field (1408) in NL history.

Furillo was a teammate of Jackie Robinson when he broke the color-barrier on April 15, 1947.

He finished his 15 year Major League Career with a .299 batting average and was two time All-Star while winning two World Series rings with the Dodgers in 1955 and 1959.

Furillo passed away on January 21, 1989.

The walking path that runs from the drive way in between Charlie Wagner Field and Whitey Kurowski Field into the baseball field area will be named Dick Gernert Way.

Gernert was a first baseman and outfielder who played for the Boston Red Sox from 1952-59, the Chicago Cubs for part of 1960, the Detroit Tigers in 1960 and and part of '61, the Cincinnati Reds for the remainder of 1961 and the Houston Colt .45's (1962).

Gernert spent the 1950's with the Red Sox, and was a teammate of fellow local honoree, Vic Wertz in 1959. A powerful right-handed batter, he was signed to take advantage of the Green Monster at Fenway Park. He batted a career-high .291 in 1956 and topped the 20-homer mark in 1953 and 1958.

In 11 MLB seasons, Gernert played in 835 games and had 2,493 at bats, 357 runs, 632 hits, 104 doubles, eight triples, 103 home runs, 402 RBI, 10 stolen bases, 363 walks, .254 batting average, .351 on-base percentage, .426 slugging percentage, 1,061 total bases, 10 sacrifice hits, 13 sacrifice flies and 12 intentional walks.

He helped the Reds win the 1961 National League pennant. However, in that World Series, the Reds lost to the New York Yankees in five games.

After his playing days ended, Gernert was a coach for the Texas Rangers, a minor league manager, and longtime scout for numerous teams, most notably the New York Mets.

Gernert was part of the inaugural class of the Reading High Athletic Hall of Fame in 2012 and is also a member of the Berks County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame.

The final two honorees are the only two that didn't spend any time in the Major Leagues, but due to their impact on the games of baseball and softball locally, the Berkshire organization felt that they just as deserving as the honorees of the complex.

They are Paul "Cooter" Jones and and Rocky Santilli, respectively.

The walking path that runs between Rocky Colavito Field and Vic Wertz Field that will eventually tie into additional walking paths at the complex will be named Paul "Cooter" Jones Way.

"Cooter" Jones is best known for his leadership of the Reading High baseball program from 1973-1996. Jones guided the Red Knights to a 327-192 (.630) mark in his 24 seasons at the helm, capturing three Central Penn titles ('76, '80, '82) and the same number of Berks County crowns ('83, '87, '93). The highlight of his coaching career came in 1983, when Reading High finished 27-2, winning the District 3 title and the crown jewel of Pennsylvania high school baseball, a PIAA Class AAA championship.

Originally from North Carolina, Jones came to Reading in 1954 as a member of the Reading Indians, who were a single-A affiliate of Cleveland at the time. He spent the better part of the next six seasons with the Indians, displaying a blend of power and speed. He accumulated a total of 90 stolen bases and still ranks second to Dan Held on the all-time Reading list with 51 career home runs. In 1956, he tied for the Eastern League lead in doubles (29) and was tied for third in home runs (16).

Like Gernert, Jones was part of the inaugural class of the Reading High Athletic Hall of Fame in 2012 and is also a member of the Berks County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame.

The walking path that runs from the driveway between Whitey Kurowski Field and Vic Wertz Field into the baseball field area will be named Rocky Santilli Way.

Rocky Santilli was a long-time men's fast pitch softball coach who started his managerial career in 1959 with the Rising Sun Sunners. Over the course of the next 41 years, he amassed over 2,000 victories along with dozens of trophies and honors.

Santilli, was the face of the legendary Sunners teams that dominated the local and regional softball scene from the 1960s through the mid-1990s. With Santilli at the helm, the Sunners captured three ASA national titles (1975, '77 and '79) and a share of the ISF Men's World Fast Pitch Championship in 1976. They also won gold medals at the Olympic Festival in 1978 and '79.

Santilli's success with the Sunners earned him the honor of piloting the United States softball team at the Pan Am games on four occasions. In 1979 and '91 he served as an assistant and in 1983 and '87 he was the head coach. The U.S. brought home silver medals in all four Games, finishing behind Canada each time.

In 1991, Santilli was rewarded for a remarkable career by being just the third American inducted in the ISF Hall of Fame. Two years later, he was enshrined in the ASA National Hall of Honor and the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame.

Santilli, a 1944 Reading High graduate, returned to coaching in 1998 as the head coach of the Schuylkill Valley High School girls' softball squad.

Even more so than other sports, baseball has always been a game where the deep roots of its past always intertwine with the present day game.

By naming these items at the Berks County YRF after these local players, the organization hopes that those who come and visit the complex will get a better education and understanding of the rich baseball history that exists in Berks County.

* * * * * * *

For more information on this release, please contact:
Dan Clouser, President & General Manager
Berkshire Baseball Club
1098 County Welfare Road
Leesport, PA 19533
Phone: 484-577-4133
FAX: 484-577-4205
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