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Anniversary party

April 17, 1999|By RON SOMERS / Sports Editor

American Little League begins 50th season of play

Dave Johnson has tasted life in the big leagues, so he knows a good baseball facility when he sees one.

Saturday morning, the former Baltimore Oriole and Detroit Tiger surveyed the scene at Paul Brandenburg Field on Mill Street, site of American Little League's 50th anniversary celebration. He recalled his boyhood days of playing baseball.

"I never played in a facility like this, with a home run fence and dugouts,'' said the man who led the Orioles with a 13-9 record in 1990.

"I'm excited. It must be really exciting for the kids.''

James Myers ("Or J.J." he quickly told a visitor) is a first baseman for Elks. He said he's been playing Little League ball for seven of his 12 years. He appreciates some of the amenities at American's ballpark.

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"The (special) dirt on the infield soaks up rain,'' he said, noting that fewer rainouts are the result. That means more games and more chances for his first regular season home run.

Charles Kline, a shortstop, pitcher and catcher for Olympia Trophy, said he wants to grow up to be a professional ballplayer.

"My dad got me into baseball,'' he said.

Indeed, dads and moms seemed to be as excited as the kids Saturday.

American president Mike Lichtenberg said he was "wired'' as he dashed about making sure the ceremonies, emceed by Hagerstown Suns radio announcer Karl Schalk and attended by Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II, went off without a hitch.

"It's all about these little kids,'' said Lichtenberg, who has two sons in the league - Lucas, 10, and Jacob, 8.

They are among the league's 254 players, ages 5-12, who fill out the rosters of 20 teams.

Next year, if all goes as planned, the league hopes to open a minor league field across Mill Street.

The league made its debut on June 6, 1949, on the same site it still occupies.

The first president, Harry Bottorf, attended Saturday's ceremonies, along with the league's first secretary-treasurer, Ed Kemp.

Bottorf and Kemp recalled how they came out to the site, measured it, and by carefully placing home plate, found they could just fit the field on the lot with the outfield paralleling the curve of Mill Street.

"I played ball on this very field,'' Bruchey said, then after a pause, cracked, "A couple years ago.''

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