Category Archives: Wallen Baseball

Youth Baseball Thrives in Northeast Indiana

Think that Indiana doesn’t complete with the rest of the nation on the ball diamond? Perhaps you should reconsider those thoughts.

Take for example, the St. Joe’s Little League. Five of the league’s baseball teams recently won Little League District 10 championships in leagues that range from 11 to 15 teams from Fort Wayne and Northeast Indiana area. Three of those squads have already advanced through far enough state tournament berths.

“We’ve got a talented group of kids,” [league vice president, Greg] Hadden said. “My 12-year-olds alone, 10 of them have been playing together since they were 9- and 10-year-olds. That’s where you start” [source: The News-Sentinel].

But in addition to the state achievements like this, there are individual standouts who are preparing to play on the national stage with the Hamilton County-based Indiana Prospects Baseball Organization.

The organization seeks to help players with their total development by providing training, knowledge and the highest level of competition possible. This year’s U16 Blue roster included Garrett High School’s Spencer Burns and Carroll High School’s Curtis Wise. The U13 roster included Montpelier (Blackford) Middle School’s Ryan Spaulding, whose team qualified for the USSSA Elite 24 national championship at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Baseball Complex in Orlando, Fla. from Aug. 3-10.

“When we went into this, we were not on anybody’s radar; teams from Indiana don’t get a lot of hype compared to Texas, Florida and Alabama,” said Shane Stout, the coach of the U13 team, as the organization had only one team reach this level previously. “You’ve got to pinch yourself to realize what has happened” [source: IndyStar].

And as local players go on to excel in Little League or High School, look also to the tremendous number of local standouts who are excelling at the college level. Several others are playing in Minor League Baseball and even at the Major League Level. These homegrown players have learned to play the game the right way through solid leagues; like the St. Joes Little League, like Wallen Baseball, like Wildcat Baseball.

It’s the coaches and parents who volunteer their time and experience to serve as teachers and mentors. Folks like, Gary Rogers, who has served the sport over two decades at Bishop Luers. His record there is a 352-302 (that’s over 600 games folks), he’s worked with Wildcat Baseball and within the SAC and the state’s coaches’ associations. He coached Luers to its first state championship with a 14-8 win over Elwood this past June, and then served as head coach of the North All-Stars in the three-game series against at Notre Dame’s Eck Stadium.

Along the way, there are a number of lives he’s touched and kids he’s developed. The same is true for the many other coaches at local high schools, middle schools and on the Little League diamonds. It’s that being the case, it’s no wonder so many of our stars are excelling on and off the field.

You say baseball is all about ballparks, money, commercialism and merchandising? I say your watching the wrong game. Look to the smaller fields with the smaller stars. You see big time talent and big time hearts of those who help build their character.

Yes, the spirit of the game is alive and well in Fort Wayne and all of Northeast Indiana.

Wallen Celebrates 50 Years; Eric Wedge on Hand for Rededication

Wallen Baseball - 50th AnniversaryAs the Fort Wayne Wizards and Hardball Capital develop the oft-discussed ballpark at Harrison Square, onlookers see –  a new era or sorts on the local baseball horizon. However, a few miles north of where Harrison Square’s home plate awaits the first pitches of that new era, one of Northeast Indiana’s baseball treasures still thrives on its past.

In 1958, former Chicago Cub, Sal Madrid settled into Fort Wayne and took the field with local semi-pro quads; North American Van Lines and Allen Dairy. The Northeast Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer saw the local school diamond empty and was compelled to found the Wallen Community Baseball League. In doing so, he assured that any child who sought to play would play.

Wallen Baseball GearIn 1959, 58 boys within four teams took the field for the inaugural season of Wallen Baseball. Since that day, the league has undergone change, but mostly to sustain its phenomenal growth. Tonight, the Wallen League celebrated its 50th anniversary for baseball, and 30th for softball. This season, some 1,500 kids put down their video games and turned off their televisions to step onto the diamonds at the Wallen Complex.

The league’s most famous alumnus, current Cleveland Indians Manager Eric Wedge, was on hand to join in the re-dedication efforts. He also signed autographs for the many in attendance and took time to speak with anyone who sought a small bit of his time. Other alumni from Wallen include Jim Crall who played in the Ranger’s farm system, Brian Reith who was drafted by the Yankees and made it to the Majors with the Cincinnati Reds and Mike Morrison who was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2007 and is now on the roster of Gulf Coast Community College.

Growing up in Auburn, I sometimes find myself amazed by what I see and experience in Fort Wayne baseball. It’s pretty interesting to go to events like this and be among the few who are experiencing them for the first time. Because of that, I like to talk to anyone who will give me a few of their minutes. I met up with many other folks who had ties to the league, including current Wallen Baseball President Shawn Cumberland (thanks for the logo Shawn), and longtime Wallen Baseball player, coach, historian, et al, Chuck Itt.

I spoke to some of the kids who were about to take the field in the all-star games and I spoke to kids who used to play at Wallen, but had reached an age where they had to move on to different leagues.

In short, I spoke to folks with 50 years of tenure and I spoke to boys and girls in their first. But the stories were early the same. The common thread had folks telling me with pride that “My dad used to play here,” or “My brother played here,” or “This used to be where we would hang out even when there weren’t games.”

Eric Wedge with Martha MadridPhysically, the Wallen Complex is a set of ball diamonds with a small concessions area and a couple bathrooms. But in reality, it is much more than that. Throughout the generations, stories are as varied as their participants. With Eric Wedge’s homecoming for the festivities, we’re reminded that Eric’s dad, Tim, served as President of the League from 1981 to 1985. As I watched the widow of league founder, Sal Madrid, meet with men and women, boys and girls, I was treated to a small glimpse of the literally thousands of lives she and her late husband touched through a little slice of baseball heaven on earth.

It’s a place where families and friends are rooted. It’s a fabric unlike any other that threads thousands of souls with baseball and softball.

Below is a gallery of photos taken from tonight’s event. Enjoy!

Wallen Baseball to Celebrate 50 Years

According to their website, Wallen (Washington Township Baseball League) will rededicate host a 50 Year Anniversary event on Monday, July 14th.

Eric Wedge, Manager of the Cleveland Indians and former Wallen player, will be there to sign autographs and help us celebrate 50 years of Wallen Baseball. The evening will begin at 6:00 on Diamond #2. Following the ceremony, the All Star games will be played at 7:30. Everyone is invited, so come out and support Wallen Baseball!!!!

The league was founded by former MLB player, Sal Madrid, who played with the Cubs in 1947. Brian Reith, who was drafted by the Yankees in the sixth round of the 1996 MLB Draft and made it to the Majors with the Reds in parts of three different seasons is another former Wallen player.

I’ll try to be on hand to take some photos and grab some video.

Update: Michael Novinson has written a nice article for the News Sentinel.

During the past half-century, [Chuck] Itt has seen the program grow from six boys teams on one diamond to 1,500 boys and girls playing for dozens of teams on 10 diamonds. Despite the growth, Wallen remains committed to an inclusive atmosphere and makes no cuts.