Eight inducted into Kennett Old Timers Baseball Association Hall of Fame
● By Steven Hoffman
A manager could field a good team by filling out a lineup card with the names of the eight local baseball players who were inducted into the Kennett Old Timers Baseball Association Hall of Fame on Saturday, Jan. 17. A banquet at the Red Clay Room in Kennett Square celebrated the accomplishments of the honorees, with former Phillies all-star second baseman Mickey Morandini serving as the guest speaker.
The 2015 inductees— Mark Grandizio, Dr. Gerald Green, Jeffrey Greene, Sr., John Kochmansky, David Levan, Jr., Padric Miller, Paul Sergi, and Doug Stirling—are now among the 264 local players who have earned a permanent place in the Kennett Old Timers Baseball Association Hall of Fame for their exploits on baseball diamonds from Herb Pennock Park to Minor League baseball fields in Florida. Seven of this year’s inductees played with the Kennett Men’s Senior Baseball League, which meant that they had plenty of stories to share about playing alongside one another.
As a player/manager, Grandizio is often the person filling out the lineup card. He has had a significant impact on other players in the area as both a teammate and manager on Coatesville Adult League teams that won 20 regular season titles over a 27-year span, and Kennett Men’s Senior Baseball League squads that won the league title five times. He has participated in the MSBL Fall Classic National Tournament since 2001, making six championship appearances and winning the title in 2009 as the player-manager. He hit .550 for the week-long tournament. Grandizio was also the player-manager of the Blue Rocks team that won a national title this past November. He hit .440 in that tournament.
Grandizio said that he was thankful to be inducted with so many people that he had played alongside or managed over the years.
“That’s what makes this so special,” he said. “I’ve played alongside them. When you get to our age, it’s about the camaraderie. It’s a special experience.”
Grandizio also thanked his wife and children for allowing him to spend time playing a kid’s game as an adult, a sentiment that was echoed by other inductees.
Since Grandizio spoke first among this year’s honorees, he had the opportunity to thank Steve Potter for starting the Kennett Men’s Senior Baseball League. Every subsequent speaker followed suit because that league has extended the playing careers of people like Green, who was a standout on the Concord High School team that won the Delaware state championship in back-to-back years. He earned an invitation to try out for the Cincinnati Reds organization after his senior season before playing one year of baseball at Temple University. He was later a member of teams that achieved a great deal of success in the Kennett and Coatesville Adult Leagues. He was voted a tournament MVP with the Kennett Blue Rocks in 1997. In 2000, he and Grandizio shared the League MVP Award. He was a member of the teams that won championships in 2009 and 2014.
“Baseball is a sport that I’ve loved since childhood,” Green said, “and I’m fortunate to still be playing it. The best part of playing this game has been the camaraderie.”
Greene played for an Avon Grove Little League team that won 30 straight games over two seasons. He had 45 hits, including 18 homers, and 61 RBIs, and won nine games as a starting pitcher in his team's undefeated season. He was a three-sport star at Avon Grove High School, earning All-League honors three straight years. He went on to play shortstop at Lincoln University, where he hit .511, and Cecil College, where he hit .412. He earned tryouts with the Pirates, Royals, Yankees, Tigers, Astros, Reds, and Phillies. His most memorable moment, however, came in 2008 when he played alongside his son for the first time and they hit back-to-back home runs.
Kochmansky enjoyed a distinguished high school and college baseball career. He had 224 hits and a career batting average of .368 at the University of Delaware. He is now the head baseball coach at East Stroudsburg University, where he has compiled a 192-145-1 record (.570 winning percentage) over 7 seasons. Under his direction, the East Stroudsburg University baseball squad has an impressive list of accomplishments. In 2013, his team won the PSAC Championship for the first time since 1971. The squad also earned berths in the NCAA Tournament in 2011 and 2013, and placed third in the Atlantic Region in 2011. That same year, the team had its first national ranking in school history. The team won 11 straight games in 2010, had its longest undefeated start at 10-0 in 2011, and won a school record 34 games in 2013.
“We’ve done all that with the values that I learned here in Kennett Square,” said Kochmansky.
Levan, Jr., a resident of Coatesville, didn't start playing organized baseball until he was 13, in 1978, but he has played baseball each summer ever since. He played high school baseball at Coatesville and American Legion ball with the Caln team. At Temple University, he started out as an outfielder, but became a pitcher in his sophomore year. He played in the West Chester Adult League and the Coatesville Twilight League. He earned the Most Valuable Player Award with the West Chester Adult League in 1991, and the Most Valuable Pitcher Award in Coatesville in 2010. Levan has also played in the Kennett Over-30 League, the Delco League, and the Tri-State Over-50 League.
Miller played for legendary coach Tim Skiles at Kennett High School. He was the team captain his senior year for a squad that won the league title. He went on to play for several senior softball or baseball leagues in the area, including traveling teams that captured league championships. He was a member of the team that enjoyed a victory in the 2014 MSBL Fall Classic National Tournament.
Paul Sergi, a resident of Middletown, Del., started playing baseball for the KAU Little League and also starred in the Babe Ruth League. Although soccer is his first love—he has played in leagues year-round, he also played baseball for Elizabethtown College. He was a center fielder and first baseman in local Men's Senior Baseball Leagues, and also played in a Delaware semi-pro league.
He enjoyed the return trip to Kennett Square for the banquet to reconnect with many people that he played alongside or against.
“I haven’t seen most of these people in 20 years and it’s wonderful to see them again. It’s all about the relationships that I’ve had with these guys. I don’t think it could be any better.”
Stirling, a pastor at the Bible Evangelical Church of Kennett Square and radio host on the WCHE Morning Magazine, was a baseball standout growing up in Kennett Square. He played for a KAU Little League team that won the league championship twice. He set a single-game record with nine RBIs, and also tossed his team's first no-hitter.
Stirling was selected as an Athlete of the Year by the National Advisory Board of Babe Ruth Baseball, with recognition at the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. As a player on the Kennett High School team from 1974 to 1977, Stirling hit .405 as a shortstop. He played second base with an American Legion team and in 1978 he joined the Coatesville Men's Twilight League as a third baseman. He played for the West Chester Adult Baseball League a year later. Stirling played for various corporate and church softball teams between 1981 and 1996. He also played for the Tulsa Senior Men's Baseball League between 1989 and 1996, where he was a three-time all-star and the all-time league leader in home runs. He started playing for the Kennett Senior Men's Baseball League in 1997, and in 2014 he joined the Tri-State Senior Baseball League's Kennett Cutters, where he plays second base and third base.
This mid-winter celebration of the boys of summer always blends a tribute to local baseball players with a lively discussion about the National Pastime. Morandini has long been a favorite of Phillies fans. The second baseman spent nine of his eleven Major League seasons in a Phillies uniform. He collected 1,222 hits and posted a batting average of .268 during his career. On Sept. 20, 1992, Morandini became just the ninth player in Major League history to turn an unassisted triple play. Morandini currently serves on the Phillies' development staff with the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs, and had plenty of insights to share on the top prospects in the system.
Morandini talked about the 1993 Phillies team that has a permanent place in the hearts of the team's fans at the 2014 banquet, so this year he focused his speech on how the draft and scouting process works.
“They have to rank thousands of kids. It’s a very complicated thing to do, evaluating all those players,” Morandini explained. He said that teams will sometimes target college players because they have better and more varied baseball experiences, while at other times they will draft high school stars because they have higher upsides. Sometimes, a team will draft for a particular need rather than taking the best available player at their spot in the draft. There are also financial considerations that must be factored into the equation.
Morandini said that while area scouts and regional scouts might be responsible for the draft picks in the later rounds, many people in the organization will look at potential top picks in the early rounds of the draft.
When the Phillies selected Aaron Nola with the 7th overall pick in the 2014 draft last June, “everybody in the scouting department got to see him pitch,” Morandini said of the Louisiana State University righthander.
Nola advanced quickly in his first professional season, moving up to Double A Reading last summer, and it might not be long before he’s wearing a Phillies uniform.
“He’s got a chance to make the big league club, if all goes well, this season,” Morandini said.
The Phillies’ minor league system has struggled to produce top major-league talent the last few years, in part because of the team’s success between 2007 and 2011, which had them drafting near the end of each round.
Morandini told the audience that while the Phillies went through a few years without top tier talent at the upper levels of the farm system, future Major Leaguers are once again in the pipeline.
“At the lower levels, we have a lot of talent,” Morandini said.
This off-season, the Phillies have made several deals that have restocked the farm system with good prospects. Jimmy Rollins was dealt to the Dodgers for a pair of pitchers, Zach Eflin and Tom Windle, Marlon Byrd was traded to the Reds for righthander Ben Lively, and Antonio Bastardo was sent to the Pirates for Joely Rodriguez. All four of the hurlers that the Phillies acquired could help the team reshape its pitching staff in the near future.
“We got four good arms back in those deals,” Morandini said.
Morandini fielded questions from the audience. One question concerned what it took to be a good hitter.
“You need three things to be able to hit— you need confidence, you need to see the ball as long as you can, and you need to be able to sit on the fastball,” Morandini explained.
He concluded his remarks by saying that he enjoyed the opportunity to speak at the banquet.
“What’s better than coming out and talking about baseball?” he said.
Keith Craig, who once again served as the master of ceremonies, talked about Kennett Square’s distinguished baseball tradition that dates back to the 1880s. Burton’s Barber Shop is the epicenter of Kennett Square baseball, and is home to the Kennett Old Timers Baseball Hall of Fame. Craig said that Bob Burton, the president of the Kennett Old Timers Baseball Association, is now 35-for-35 when it comes to hosting a banquet in honor of local players.
Burton said that he thought the founders of the organization would be pleased that the 35th banquet was taking place, and that the event has grown into what it has become. The Kennett Old Timers Baseball Association was established four decades ago by a group of baseball enthusiasts that included Howard Lynn, Bat Burton, Donald McKay, Donnie Davenport, Lou Manfredi, John Moynihan, Gordon Farquhar, and Joe Husband.
Through the years, the Phillies have supported the Kennett Old Timers Baseball Association and its banquet. Larry Shenk, an executive with the Phillies, has helped arrange guest speakers for many years.
“Our founders would have been astonished at the speakers we’ve had,” said Joe Scalise, who each year has the honor of inducting the new members. He mentioned several guest speakers who have played important roles in Phillies' history, including pitcher Curt Schilling, first baseman Dick Allen, managers Charlie Manuel, Terry Francona, and Larry Bowa, and a pair of legendary hall of fame broadcasters, Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn. Scalise credited Shenk with helping to arrange the guest speakers, and expressed his gratitude on behalf of the organization.
Burton said that it was great to welcome a new class of inductees and to listen to Morandini share some insights about the game.
“This was a great evening,” said Burton. “I really enjoyed it.”
Burton said that the banquet will take place on the same weekend next year. He hopes that all the inductees who can do so will come to support the new inductees.
“They should always come back,” he said. “It’s always a fun evening.”