Striking out for volunteerism

April 23, 1998|By Bob Maginnis

Bob Maginnis

It's been a few years since my boys were in Little League baseball, but during the several seasons they played, I saw three kinds of adults come to the ball park. There were those who dropped their children off right before the game started and pulled back into the parking lot just before the final out.

Then there were the mothers are fathers who got involved, helping out on the field and frying up burgers in the concession stand, working faithfully as long as their children were playing. And then there are people like Jack Hockensmith, who keeps volunteering year after year, even though all his children are grown.

"Hocky," as friends called him, was honored for 40 years' service this past Saturday at Valley Little League Park at Chewsville, where they named the senior league field in his honor. Surrounded by many of the founding members and long-time coaches, he insisted that he really hadn't done anything special, and that he'd really had the help of a lot of people along the way. But after a little bit of persuasion, he held up the new sign with his name on it and threw out the first pitch of the day.


The league was organized in 1957, using a leased field on the road that runs between Leitersburg and Chewsville. Opening day that first year, according to a league history compiled by Bob Boward, was June 28, very late by today's schedule, and there were only four teams.

(The next year, Boward's history notes, all team members were taken to see an Orioles' game at a cost of $100, which would probably just about cover two tickets, parking and a hot dog today.)

By 1960, Hockensmith was a team manager. With just two years left on its lease, the league was looking for a new home, in part because the right field fence was extremely short, and Valley had to pay damages to the owner of the adjoining farm every time fielders hopped into the oat field to retrieve home run balls.

In 1961, aided by a $5,000 interest-free loan from Thomas W. Pangborn, the league purchased its present home and named the field in Pangborn's honor. The complex was expanded again in 1975, with the purchase of four additional acres. The property was wooded, however, and many volunteers, including Hockensmith, spent eight months during 1976 clearing trees and brush, selling the wood for $10 a pick-up load to defray some of the expenses.

By then Hockensmith had been umpiring for two years, and would eventually bring his son Denny and his grandson, Brandon Weaver, into the ranks of the volunteer officials. In July of 1997, they joined together to officiate the River City Classic Little League tournament in Williamsport, in what may have been the first game ever officiated by three generations of the same family.

The most unusual thing that ever happened during a game, Hockensmith told me, occurred during an all-star contest played in Cumberland. There were runners on base, and the nervous young catcher asked the umpire behind the plate how many outs there were. Two, said the umpire.

In reality, there was only one out. The next pitch was hit for a fly ball, and when it was caught, the fielding team began to run off the field. The hitting team, realizing what had happened, waved its runners round the bases.

"After that," said Hockensmith, "We helped him keep track."

This story, like any conversation with Hockensmith, is punctuated by his trademark smile that is as bright, at age 70, as those of the little ones wearing their uniforms for the first time.

I recount this story not because Jack Hockensmith needs additional recognition. As he made clear Saturday, he's got more than he needs now. I do it to remind you that in communities all over the Tri-state area, there are people whose volunteer efforts never make front-page headlines in this newspaper, but who make a definite difference.

They spend hours of unpaid time doing things like selling subs and coaching kids, so that parents like me, who couldn't teach Babe Ruth himself to hit a pitched ball, have a place where our children can learn such things.

An athlete I wasn't, but I did manage to teach my youngsters one thing at the ball park - that the people who were coaching the times deserved a great deal of respect, in large part because they weren't being paid. This past Saturday, Valley Little League paid its respects to Jack Hockensmith. Is there somebody like him in your neighborhood who deserves the same? If so, there's no time like the present to say "thanks."

Bob Maginnis is editor of The Herald-Mail's Opinion page.

The Herald-Mail Articles