Kennett Old Timers Baseball Association honors newest inductees into local hall of fame
By Steven Hoffman
Just a few days after the National Baseball Hall of Fame announced that Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, and Ivan Rodriguez will be immortalized in Cooperstown this summer, the Kennett Old Timers Baseball Association welcomed the newest class of inductees into its hall of fame with a Jan. 21 banquet and induction ceremony at the Red Clay Room in Kennett Square.
Keith Craig, the master of ceremonies for the event, said that this year’s inductees were joining a family by being named to the Kennett Old Timers Baseball Hall of Fame. That family is 281 members strong and growing with the inclusion of the 2017 inductees—Mike Burton, Patrick Doran, Larry Lark, Clint Rector, Tim Rector, Ken Simon, Tim Sipes, Kevin Sprague, and George Starr, who was honored with a Special Recognition Award for Community Coaching and Administration.
This year’s banquet attracted a large and enthusiastic crowd, and there was most definitely a family-feel to the evening, especially when presenter Doug Stirling led everyone in singing “Happy Birthday” to Bob Burton, the president of the Kennett Old Timers Baseball Association who had celebrated his 80th birthday a day earlier.
Stirling inducted the new members, outlining each player’s accomplishments on the baseball field.
Starr is the recipient of a Special Recognition Award. He is well known in the local community after serving as a math teacher in Kennett High School from 1955 to 1986. Growing up, he was a pitcher and also played the infield and the outfield at Branch Township High School. 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. Later, 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.
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 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 when it was created in 1974.
Mike Burton said that he had many good memories playing baseball, especially when he was growing up. “I was fortunate to be raised by two wonderful parents,” he said. “My dad is still my hero and my role model.”
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.
“It’s a great honor to be inducted,” Doran said. “I really enjoyed being a part of the teams that I played on.”
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.
Lark thanked his father for not letting him want to quit baseball when he wanted to after not earning a spot on the varsity squad in high school. Had he quit baseball, he would have ended up missing out on a lot of experiences that came later on.
“Baseball has been a big part of my life,” he said.
Brothers Clint and Tim Rector were also among this year's inductees, and they accepted the honor together. 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. He 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.
The Rector brothers join their father, Cecil Rector, as members of the Kennett Old Timers Baseball Hall of Fame.
“You have to be humble and grateful to be here,” Clint said. “We are joining [our father] in the Kennett Baseball Hall of Fame and we are thankful for that.”
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. Simon explained that at one point he thought his playing days were over.
“When I was 30 years old, I thought baseball was in the rear view mirror, but then the call came in from Steve Potter,” Simon explained. Potter is the vice president of the Kennett Old Timers Baseball Association and has been very active in organizing men’s senior baseball teams. After getting the call from Potter, Simon went on to play baseball in the West Chester Adult League and the MSBL teams from 1990 through 2015. He credited Potter with helping to give people like him a chance to play in men’s leagues. He concluded his remarks by thanking the Kennett Old Timers Baseball Association.
“It’s an honor to be recognized along with the men that I’ve played with through the years,” Simon explained.
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.
“To me, it’s all about memories,” Sipes said. “I look around the room today and I see a lot of familiar faces. I’m excited to be inducted with this class.”
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. Sprague then 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 recalled how he and his wife moved their family to Kennett Square in 1996. Before moving, they carefully researched the schools, the churches, and other amenities in the area before deciding that this was where they wanted to raise their children.
Then it occurred to Sprague that he didn’t research the baseball in the area.
“Baseball! We forgot to research baseball!” Sprague exclaimed. After he moved to Kennett Square in 1996, Sprague asked someone about baseball and was told to go to Burton’s Barber Shop. “You get a haircut and you can learn about everything you want to know about baseball in Kennett Square,” Sprague explained.
He soon met Potter and Dave Hissey, and they helped get him involved with local baseball. Sprague 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).
Sprague thanked the Kennett Old Timers Baseball Association and provided a perfect summation for this evening and this organization when he said, “I can confirm that baseball in the Kennett community is second to none.”