As guest speaker, Davis hits a home run
● By Steven Hoffman
Ben Davis, the former major leaguer who serves as a broadcaster and color analyst of Philadelphia Phillies games, returned to Kennett Square on Saturday, Jan. 20 to talk baseball at the Kennett Old Timers Baseball Association’s annual banquet. The Malvern Prep graduate spoke about growing up as a baseball fan, shared some entertaining experiences from his 16-year professional baseball career, and offered many insights about the present Phillies team as the 2018 season approaches. In other words, Davis, for the second time in five years, hit a home run as the guest speaker at the banquet.
Way to go, Ben!
The evening was a celebration of the national pastime, featuring everything from a rousing rendition of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” to a video tribute to the West Chester University baseball team that captured an NCAA Division II championship to a silent auction of baseball memorabilia to lots and lots of baseball talk.
The highlight of the evening was the induction of nine local standout baseball players to the Kennett Old Timers Baseball Association’s Hall of Fame. This year's inductees are Andy Burtner, Jim Freeman, Steve Jewett, Darin Johnson, Bill Mac Pherson, Bob Nask, Chris Rosfelder, Joe Williamson, and Jeff Zona, bringing the total number of members of the hall of fame to 291.
Keith Craig, the author of a book about pitching great and Kennett Square native Herb Pennock, served as the master of ceremonies. He welcomed the crowd of more than 350 people to the Red Clay Room by saying, “It’s baseball, it’s the national pastime, it’s the boys of summer, and here we are in the dead of winter talking baseball.”
Doug Stirling, a pastor and radio host, had the duty of inducting this year’s class of hall of famers, detailing each inductee’s exploits on the baseball diamond. The inductees were standouts either on local high school teams or on adult league teams in the area, and they all had varied experiences in the game.
Andy Burtner was a pitcher and outfielder for the Unionville High School baseball team between 1978 and 1982. He also pitched on the Kennett and Unionville American Legion team. He was also a pitcher at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana. He later pitched in an adult baseball league in Houston, Texas, and a Men’s Senior League team in Columbus, Ohio.
Jim Freeman is the owner and operator of the All Star Baseball Academy. He is already a member of the West Chester Adult League Hall of Fame for his accomplishments on the baseball diamond. Freeman was one of the most feared hitters and a slick infielder in the West Chester Adult Baseball League. He was a key player on the championship teams with the Ratskeller A’s in the 1990s and the Chester County Crawdads in the 2000s. He was usually near the top of the lineup, batting first or third, and had a penchant for multi-hit games. He earned multiple all-star selections and MVP Awards. One highlight of his playing career was earning a spot with the 1995 Philadelphia Phillies replacement team.
Steve Jewett was a top pitcher for Downingtown Senior High School from 1981 to 1984. He was an all-Ches-Mont League honorable mention selection in 1983. Jewett compiled a 15-3 record for Downingtown. He also had a 20-4 record as a pitcher for the Downingtown Post 475 American Legion team. In college, he posted a record of 2-3 with a 3.14 earned run average for Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Jewett went on to play for 17 years in the West Chester and Coatesville adult baseball league teams.
Jewett thanked the Kennett Old Timers Baseball Association for recognizing the efforts of local baseball players.
“Thank you for having this organization,” he said. “It’s great.”
Darin Johnson grew up playing Little League baseball in New York. He played his high school ball with Unionville, playing second base during his junior year and shortstop in his senior year. He liked playing the outfield, too. Johnson played in several adult baseball leagues. In addition to his accomplishments on the baseball field, he is still an avid hockey player, and was a standout in the sport.
William MacPherson grew up playing baseball for the Chichester Little League and then for the Chichester High School team, where he was a three-year starter. He played on a Senior Babe Ruth League team that won the state title in 1979 and 1980. He was an All-Del Val and All-Delco selection in 1981. He played college baseball for Dick Delaney at Philadelphia Textile. MacPherson was a three-year starting center fielder and batted .370 while in college. He was the team captain and team MVP during his senior season.
He went on to play in the Delco League from 1981 to 1998. He earned the Rookie of the Year Award in 1981 and was voted as an outfielder in the All-Decade team that was honored at the conclusion of the 1980s. He was part of four championship teams.
MacPherson later played center field in the West Chester Adult League. He led the league in runs scored and walks in 1996 and 2000. He went on to manage the Chester County Crawdads from 2000 to 2008, compiling a record of 119-30. They won eight consecutive regular season titles and six consecutive playoff titles. Overall, as a player and manager, MacPherson was part of 17 teams that won regular season championships and 11 teams that won playoff championships.
Bob Nask grew up playing Little League, KAU, and Babe Ruth League baseball in the Unionville area. In addition to playing baseball for Unionville High School, he participated in soccer and basketball. Nask went on to play in the 30-and-over league and coach and umpire for both the KAU and Caln little leagues.
Joe Williams started playing baseball in Little League at the age of 8. He was a pitcher and third baseball at Great Valley High School, where he was also the quarterback on the school’s football team.
He started playing in the Kennett over-30 baseball league and has played at least the last 25 years in National Senior Baseball Tournaments. He has played on several teams that have won championships, and was voted the MVP of his team in the Roy Hobbs Tournament.
“Thank you to whoever voted me in the hall of fame. Obviously, you didn’t see me play,” Williams quipped.
Chris Rosfelder has the distinction of being signed by Major League great Carl Yastrzemski and making it all the way to Single A level with the Boston Red Sox farm system.
When he was growing up, Rosfelder played in the Morristown Little League in New Jersey where he was a catcher and center fielder. Later, he was an all-star for the Downingtown American Legion team. The 1983 squad won a district championship. Rosfelder hit .406 in his career with the Downingtown varsity baseball team. He was then a four-year varsity starter at Washington College, where he was a standout catcher. He hit .377, .423, and .329 while at Washington College. He was an all-south region All-American second team selection. He was inducted into the Washington College Hall of Fame in 2003.
He played in the Eastern Shore League, earning an invitation to Major League camps with the Phillies, Orioles, and Royals.
Later, he was a standout in the West Chester Adult Baseball League, where he is fourth all-time in career hits, with 568. He hit 111 home runs, which is third all-time. He won the league MVP two times and was a Triple Crown winner in 1998. He was inducted into the West Chester Adult Baseball League Hall of Fame in 2012.
Rosfelder said that it was wonderful to be inducted with other people that he played baseball with in the area.
“We’re truly blessed to play baseball here,” he said.
Jeff Zona has enjoyed a long career in baseball. He has served as a special assistant to the general manager of the Washington Nationals for the last 12 years. Before that, he was a scout with the Boston Red Sox. was born in West Chester and grew up playing in the local Little League. He was a pitcher at Downingtown High School. He said that one of his favorite baseball experiences is seeing his son get hired as a scout for the Phillies.
The inductees took turns thanking the Kennett Old Timers Baseball Association, especially its president, Bob Burton, and Prissy Roberts, who helps lead the planning for the banquet.
Regarding this year’s class of inductees, Burton said that the group includes “a lot of really good guys. These people here are baseball people.”
Davis seemed right at home in the midst of a room full of “baseball people.”
He was raised in Aston, Pa. and grew up as a Phillies fan. He was a standout at Malvern Prep where, as a senior, he hit .514 with six home runs and 37 RBIs. His high school accomplishments made him one of the top-ranked prospects in the country.
The San Diego Padres made Davis the second overall pick in the 1995 draft. As a top catching prospect, he moved quickly through San Diego's farm system, making his major league debut on Sept. 25, 1998. Davis would enjoy a seven-year career, playing for San Diego, Seattle, and the Chicago White Sox until injuries shortened his time in the big leagues. After his playing days were over, Davis transitioned into broadcasting. He said that he really enjoys broadcasting and working as a color analyst for NBC Sports Philadelphia because he’s still involved with the game that he loves.
“Next to playing, it is the best gig in the world,” Davis said. “I love talking baseball, and I hope that comes out in the broadcast.”
Davis expressed his optimism about the direction that the Phillies are heading in under team president Andy MacPhail, general manager Matt Klentak, and new manager Gabe Kapler.
In recent years, the Phillies’ farm system has produced some good, home-grown players like Rhys Hoskins, Aaron Nola, and J.P. Crawford. More top prospects, including Scott Kingery, Sixto Sanchez, Mickey Moniak, and Adam Haseley are on the way.
Davis explained that the Phillies have now invested heavily in scouting, which should pay dividends in the coming years. Major league teams are also spending money to make sure that players throughout the farm system are eating properly and receiving the conditioning that they need to succeed.
Regarding the new Phillies manager, Gabe Kapler, Davis pointed out that he played against Kapler in both the minor leagues and major leagues.
“I’ve known him a lot of years,” Davis said. “He had one goal: To be the best player he could be. I know that he wants to be the best manager that he can be. He is intense. Gabe never took a play off.”
Davis said that Kapler didn’t accept mental mistakes when he was playing the game, so he won’t accept them from his players now, which should help improve the Phillies’ play on the field.
He believes that Hoskins will have a bright future, and will be a leader on the team.
“First of all,” Davis said, “Hoskins is a great kid, and I really root for the good guys. His approach at the plate is really good. He gets the pitch that he wants. I think the sky is the limit for Rhys.”
There was a question-and-answer session where the very knowledgable baseball audience could ask Davis questions about the game. The questions touched on topics ranging from efforts to speed up the pace of play to stories about former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel to any memorable experiences that Davis might have had attending Phillies games while he was growing up. Davis said that his most memorable visit to Veterans Stadium might have been when he was able to secure an autograph of Dale Murphy, one of his favorite players.
Davis also recalled the time outfielder Rickey Henderson went on a long bus trip with the team during spring training. Henderson was well into his hall of fame career at this point, and veterans rarely make such long trips during the spring. One of the players suggested that Henderson make one of the rookie players move from a seat in the front of the bus. “You've got tenure,” the veteran player explained.
“Tenure?” Henderson responded. “I got twenty year.”
Davis received a big round of applause from the appreciative crowd when he concluded his remarks.
The evening also included a salute to the 2017 KAU baseball team that won the U.S. Junior League Baseball Championship, as well as the 2017 West Chester University team that captured the Division II National Baseball Championship. By the end of the night, everyone in attendance was looking forward to the start of a new season.
Ogurcak receives Special Recognition Award
When Ogurcak was announced as this year’s recipient, he received a standing ovation from the audience. He was the coach of the Kennett High School baseball team, at either the varsity or junior varsity level, between 1964 and 1978. The 1971 squad won the Southern Chester County League crown. Ogurcak was a teacher in the Kennett Consolidated School District for 35 years.