Eight players and one coach heading into the Kennett Old Timers Baseball Hall of Fame
● By Steven Hoffman
Baseball has a long and rich history in Chester County, and each year the Kennett Old Timers Baseball Association honors those local players who have shined on the baseball diamond by inducting a new class into its Hall of Fame. This year's group of inductees includes Mike Burton, Patrick Doran, Larry Lark, Clint Rector, Tim Rector, Ken Simon, Tim Sipes, and Kevin Sprague. George Starr is being honored with a Special Recognition Award for Community Coaching and Administration.
The new class of inductees will officially join the 272 current members of the Kennett Old Timers Baseball Hall of Fame at the 37th induction ceremony at the Red Clay Room in Kennett Square on Saturday, Jan. 21 at 6 p.m.
Starr is well known in the local community after serving as a math teacher in Kennett High School from 1955 to 1986. He grew up playing baseball at Branch Township High School. He was a pitcher, and also played the infield and the outfield. In 1946, he played against Curt Simmons in the American Legion State Championship game. Simmons would go on to have an outstanding career in the major leagues as a starting pitcher.
While he was a teacher at Kennett, Starr coached the baseball team from 1955 through 1969, and guided the team to a league championship in 1963.
This year's group of inductees would make a fine team for any manager to fill out a lineup card with, excelling at all facets of the game.
Mike Burton was an accomplished player who enjoyed success on local baseball diamonds and in college. Burton grew up in Unionville and played baseball in Little League, the Babe Ruth League, American Legion, and at Unionville High School, where he also played football and basketball. He went to Temple University, transitioning to catcher after spending most of his time up to that point playing in the infield.
Burton earned numerous accolades on the baseball diamond. He was the Baseball MVP of the Southern Chester County League in 1985. In college, he set the single-season hitting streak record and Atlantic 10 Conference record with a 25-game hitting streak in 1989. He led Temple in batting in 1989 and 1990. He hit .409 in 1989, which was a top-ten single season batting average all time at Temple. He finished with a batting average of .351 in college, and was the team's captain during his senior season.
Baseball is certainly in Burton's blood. He is the son of Kennett Old Timers Baseball Association president Bob Burton, and the grandson of Bat Burton, who was one of the organization's founders.
Patrick Doran was a standout player at Unionville High School and at West Chester University. At Unionville, he played for four seasons—three at the JV level as an infielder and one at the varsity level as an infielder and outfielder. Pitching for the BYC Brandywine Senior Babe Ruth League, he once tossed a no-hitter. He was a pitcher at West Chester University from 1978 to 1981.
Doran went on to play in the West Chester Adult League. He was the regular-season MVP in the league in 1985, when he struck out the most batters and posted the lowest ERA. He moved on to a Wilmington semi-pro team in 1986 and 1987. His last pitching appearance came with the Red Men of the Kennett Senior League in 1996. At a West Chester University alumni game in 1996, he hit a home run in his last at bat.
Larry Lark played left field and was a pitcher in the Downingtown Little League, Downingtown American Legion baseball team, and at Downingtown High School. He went on to play in the Coatesville Twilight League for more than 25 years, as well as the Kennett League, the Delco League, and the Tristate League. He received the No Hitter Award, the Home Run Derby Award, and was honored with several MVP Awards in the Coatesville Twilight League.
Brothers Clint and Tim Rector are also among this year's inductees. Clint played on the Avon Grove High School baseball team from 1965 to 1968, and the last two years were spent on the varsity squad. He pitched and played the outfield whenever he wasn't on the mound.
Clint went on to play on the Fast Pitch and Modified Softball Leagues from 1969 until 1978, and then played on various adult league teams. He was on a 48-and-over team in the Tri-State Men's Senior Baseball League from 2002 to 2008, and the 55-and-over squad from 2010 through 2016. He also played in the Men's Senior Baseball World Series squads from 2004 to 2013. He was selected as an all-star six times, and was a Most Valuable Player Award winner once. He played on three teams that won division championships in the Roy Hobbs Baseball Tournament.
For a period of twelve years, the Rector brothers pitched on the same team. They would sometimes start both games of a doubleheader, though on other occasions Tim would pitch in relief of his older brother. They appeared in more than 200 games together, and the team never had a losing season. During their years pitching together on The Cutters, they won 141 games and lost only 67 over a six-year period.
Like Clint, Tim was selected to an all star team six times, and he also won a team Most Valuable Player Award. For the second half of his career, Tim became the team's shortstop and was one of the top relievers in the league.
Ken Simon played on a Unionville baseball team that won the league championship in both 1976 and 1977. The 1977 team won three state-qualifying games. Simon also was a standout on the football and basketball teams for Unionville.
He went on to play freshman and varsity baseball at California State College, and he also participated in the West Chester University Summer Program from 1979 to 1981. He then played baseball in the West Chester Adult League and the MSBL teams from 1990 through 2015.
Tim Sipes, a third baseman and shortstop, played on KAU Little League and Kennett Babe Ruth League teams before playing for four years on the Unionville High School baseball team. Sipes was the Southern Chester County League MVP during his junior year at Unionville. During his four years on the Kennett American Legion team, he batted over .400.
In college, playing at the University of Delaware, Sipes was a four-year starter who hit over .350 during that span. He was a Second Team All-Conference player during his sophomore season, and he batted .377 during his senior year. He went on to play in the West Chester Adult League, where he won the 1995 batting crown by hitting .455.
Kevin Sprague has enjoyed numerous unique experiences on the baseball diamond, starting when he played in the Roxborough 21st Ward Baseball League. He learned how to hit a fastball playing against Mark Gubicza, who went on to be an All-Star major league pitcher with the Kansas City Royals from 1984 to 1996. Sprague hit against Gubicza throughout his Little League career.
Next, Sprague played for the Roxborough High School Indians. He would later serve as the vice president of the Roxborough Giants from 1994 to 1996, and was a 21st Ward Junior Baseball League advisory board member during 1995 and 1996.
Sprague moved to Kennett Square in 1996 and met Steve Potter and Dave Hissey. He played with the Cecil Pirates in the Kennett Men's Senior Baseball League, and became the assistant coach of the Kennett Junior American Legion team. In 2001, that squad defeated the Roxborough Bandits team from Sprauge's home town for the Main Line League Championship. Sprague became the head coach of the Kennett Junior American Legion team in 2002 and 2003.
Sprague continued to play baseball—he was the third baseman for the Kennett Blue Rocks and The Sox in the Delco MSBL, Coatesville Adult League, and Tri-State MSBL, on teams that won three consecutive league championships from 2013 to 2015, and two MSBL National Championships that were won in Port St. Lucie (2009) and Clearwater (2014).
One highlight of the 2017 banquet will certainly be the return of guest speaker Chris Wheeler, who spent 37 years as part of the Philadelphia Phillies broadcasting team. Wheeler was also the guest speaker at last year's banquet, entertaining the baseball fans in attendance with his terrific question-and-answer session.
Wheeler, a Philadelphia-area native, grew up in Newtown Square, Pa., and graduated from Marple-Newtown High School in 1963. He began his radio and television career with the Phillies in 1977 and continued in that role through the 2013 season, serving as both a play-by-play and color analyst during that time. He was also part of the team’s traveling party, and did not miss a Phillies’ road trip during his 37 years in that role. Wheeler also served as the director of the team’s first Community Relations Department and was later the director of its Speakers’ Bureau. Another duty was serving as the camp coordinator for the Phillies Dream Week each year from 1983 to 1999. Wheeler now serves as a club ambassador for the Phillies, working in a number of different roles to promote the club. He authored a book, “A View from the Booth: Four Decades with the Phillies,” in 2009, chronicling his long association with the Phillies.
In addition to the induction ceremony and the speech by Wheeler, the evening includes a buffet dinner, a raffle of baseball memorabilia, and other prizes. Tickets can be purchased at Burton’s Barber Shop, which is the unofficial home of the Kennett Old Timers Baseball Hall of Fame, or by calling 610-444-9964.