Lititz Wrens The boys of summers gone by
By: CORY VAN BROOKHOVEN Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer
Walking around Wilbur baseball field in Lititz always brings back great memories for me. For it was on these fields that I have many wonderful memories of playing for the Lititz Cubs when I was a kid. Although I only played for one year, I had a wonderful time. I can remember chewing bubblegum and sunflower seeds as late afternoon turned into early evening there on those fields.
Thinking of this time makes me think of Lititz baseball teams of years past, and how the game of baseball was so huge back then. Virtually every small town had a team, and the kids really played their hearts out and did it for the love of the game.
Flash back to 1949. This was before my time of course, however, I recently came across a story I wanted to share for my column this month.
The Lititz Wrens baseball team were composed of players ages 9-12 during an era when every town in America had a group of young eager boys that wanted to play the game. Wrens like George Greiner, Bill Hershey, Donald Keller, Ron Erb, Glenn Gehman, Jim Howell, and Ray Huber no doubt looked up to the professional players of their era, and wanted to be just like them. What kid in 1949 could resist with legendary players like Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, and Jackie Robinson taking to the mound?
The Wrens were coached by Marlin Wolf, who worked nights at the Hamilton Watch Company of Lancaster and made the time to coach the team during the day. Wolf was assisted by Dr. Charles Landis, a dentist from Lititz, who also contributed money to the team and urged Lititz businessmen to do the same.
Although the Wrens had some great wins in the past, 1948 saw them lose in the semifinals. 1949 would be a different year however, as their roster boasted many of the same players from seasons before. They were a strong team that year, and were destined for a chance at the playoffs. Coming up the ranks also was the Millersville team, who displayed solid hitting ability and outstanding pitching.
That season, Lititz beat the Denver Bears in the first round with a victory of 8-0. Coming off that win, the Wrens continued their winning streak when they defeated New Holland 4-3 in the second round. Fans then saw our boys of summer beat the Sto-Mac Tigers by a score of 8-2 in the quarter-finals. Finally, the Wrens beat out the Manheim Chix by a score of 9-1 in the semifinals. Meanwhile, in another part of the county, Millersville impressed their fans with a victory over Mountville with the final score being 20-0. They then went on to shut out Safe Harbor with a score of 13-0 in the quarterfinals, and finally defeated the East End Panthers 7-1 in the semifinals.
A Lititz vs. Millersville game was eminent.
The date was set for the final showdown –The Lititz Wrens would face Millersville for the Lancaster New Era midget-midget championship tournament game slated for Aug. 8, 1949 at Lancaster’s legendary Stumpf Field. The date of the game was especially important for Coach Wolf, as this day was also his birthday. What a wonderful present it would be if his underdog team of Lititz country boys could win. That thought crossed his mind at least a few times I am sure.
Game day arrived, and the Wrens were prepared, however no doubt a bit nervous. The crowd at Stumpf Field on that warm day climbed to at least 8,000 persons (many coming from Lititz to cheer their team on), which no doubt overwhelmed the anxious players. The game started, and the Wrens were off to a tremendous start, scoring two first-inning runs. Millersville was then up to bat, and answered with a run at the bottom of the first. The game intensified in the third inning when Bill Hershey from the Wrens hit a home run that gave our players a 3-1 lead. Hershey was not only the best hitter on the team, but the best pitcher as well.
When the dust cleared and the game was over, the Lititz Wrens pulled out an amazing 4-1 victory over Millersville and won the title. As fate would have it, Coach Wolf enjoyed his extra special birthday present that year after all!
After the game, the proud players arrived back in Lititz with trophies in hand. The entire team was treated to a banquet in their honor by the Lititz Junior Chamber of Commerce. In addition, the team was taken by train to New York City to attend a Brooklyn Dodgers game. Arriving in the big apple, they then took the subway to Ebbet’s Field all the while in awe of the very tall buildings that greeted them in the big city.
This certainly wasn’t Lititz –but the boys were very anxious to attend the game. Once they arrived, they were thrilled beyond belief when they were told they were going to meet such greats as Pee Wee Reese, Billy Cox, and Gil Hodges that day as well. And if that wasn’t enough, some of the fathers of the team organized a trip for the boys to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
It would be 28 years later (1977) before a baseball team from Lititz reached the finals again. That year, it would be the Yankees in the Jr. Midget division. Who was the coach that led the 1977 team to victory that year? None other than Ron Erb, who was a player on the championship 1949 Wrens.
As the regular season in major league baseball is winding down and the World Series is right around the corner, I think back of our mighty Wrens and how they touched the lives and captured the hearts of so many Lititz residents. They made their parents, their neighbors, and their fellow Lititz residents very proud. I think again of Stumpf Field as I realize that this was where the Lancaster Red Roses played at one time, along with many other championship little league teams from around the county — including a championship-winning team from Lititz. More WRENS, page A15