The best time of the year

Randy Butler Contributing columnist

Randy Butler Contributing columnist

It seems like only last week. April not only meant that the school year was coming to an end, but it also meant something much bigger was coming soon. Baseball season!

It meant at least one trip to Riverfront Stadium to see Sparky Anderson and his Big Red Machine. Thinking about it now, a trip to see the Reds wasn’t even the biggest thing of the summer. The thing that was No. 11 for most boys in the late ’60s and through the ’70s was a summer of baseball at what was commonly known as the ballpark, or Hillsboro recreation park. It was a blast. Every boy had to try out by getting three balls hit to them at shortstop, we then would throw the ball to first base. We were all scared to death as if our very lives depended on our performance. Or so we thought. It was as real to us as it was to the kids in the movie “Sandlot”. There was really nothing even close to baseball as being important. I still have most of the team photos.

For me, C League started at 8 years old. I played two years there, one year in B League, one in the Pony League and two in Babe Ruth. I had coaches that I hung on every word. I remember them well and even in order: Ray Morgan, Ronnie Gilliland, Jim Dandy Cumberland, Carl Dehass and Lonnie Burns.

It was very different than it is now. I have no idea what it cost then to play, but the ballpark supplied the uniforms, bats, balls and all the equipment. The umpire was usually a boy from the next league up, so yes, there were some bad calls. From about year two about all I did was catch behind the plate. At that time a helmet was not required, just a mask. This did allow for the occasional trip to the hospital when the catcher got hit by the batter (myself included.) It seems so unfair now, but then there was only a program for the boys. Girls’ sports were not yet a thought on anyone’s mind. They were there, but only to watch.

The current director, Bruce Davis, in his 30-plus years of being there, gave me a little history on our local Shaffer Park, named after a man that spent most of his life there. It was all started around 1955 by Dick Shafer, Dan Reed and Squeak Collins, and games were originally played at the fairgrounds. In the early ’60s the city funded the program and it moved to its current location. In the early to mid ’70s my mother-in-law, Betty Bishop, Dick Shafer and Alice Cassner decided it had been only a park for boys long enough and started the girls leagues.

Today at Shafer Park there are four boys’ diamonds and three for the girls. Both play 15 games and host a large summer tournament. Approximately 500-600 kids each year play summer ball. There is also a place to get excellent hot dogs and the like ran by Sue Boatman and Sally Davis. Also available is an American Legion team coached by Scott Morgan for young men up to 19 years of age.

The entire park is a top-notch facility where all the diamonds are very well maintained and always ready for scheduled games. The park employs a few kids during the summer to make sure it is ready. You can drive by any day of the week and you will see work being done. The grass is always green and mowed. Even though it may be frustrating at times, it always amazes me that when it rains much at all, the games and practices are canceled. The condition and well-being of the fields are guarded like Fort Knox.

As a kid I started at 8 years old and came up though and watched my three kids do the same. It also brought me the same joy to coach my kids as to play. An even greater reward is to coach the grandkids.

Living in the video game era, it seems as if kids find it hard to get interested in other things. Shaffer Park is one of the best choices families get to spend time together at a very low cost. You can watch the joy it brings them to not only get better each time, but to learn the value of teamwork. It can also teach your children how important it is to you as you support them by attending games and also volunteering your time to help coach them and the team. This can be done if you’re a baseball wizard or not. You just need to have a caring heart and willingness to help.

See you at the ballpark!

Randy Butler is a lifelong resident of Highland County and a licensed real estate agent for Classic Real Estate in Hillsboro.

Randy Butler Contributing columnist Butler Contributing columnist