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True, blue fans

September 09, 1999|By KATE COLEMAN

They "root, root root for the home team" and then some.

Hagerstown Suns Fan Club, started in 1986 to promote professional baseball in the Tri-State area, makes life a little easier for the players during their stay in Hagerstown, according to the membership application.



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Hagerstown Suns Fan Club started in 1986 to promote professional baseball in the Tri-State area.

1999 membership cost $6 for a single membership or $15 for a family membership. The club sponsors four picnics for players and members as well as club trips to out-of-town games.

The players agree.

The fan club does it with food, providing dinner for the players in the clubhouse after every Saturday home game. Fan Club President Gary DeWeerd delivers about 140 pieces of fried chicken for the team. The club helps with the cost of fruit and snacks for the players during games and packs individual snack bags, labeled with the names of each player, coach or manager, for the team's road trips.

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The club does it with housewares. Because Suns players live in furnished apartments this year, they haven't needed to borrow as much as players have in past years from the fan club's "loan locker," DeWeerd says.

Pots and pans, dishes, glasses, silverware, utensils, alarm clocks, sheets, blankets, pillows, phones, televisions - whatever players need, the fan club will try to provide.

Fan clubs are more than just rooting in the stands, says Margaret Engel, co-author with her husband Bruce Adams of "Fodor's Ballpark Vacations: Great Family Trips to Minor League and Classic Major League Ballparks Across America."

"They are life support," she says.

Engel and Adams have seen fan clubs at work across the country. Along with their two children, they visited nearly 90 ballparks, including Hagerstown's Municipal Stadium, for the 1997 book, and they covered another 21 parks for an updated sequel available in spring 2000.

"I'm a total fan of the fan clubs," Engel says.

Suns fan club members are total fans. There are about 200 members. DeWeerd has no idea how they attracted a member from Japan.

Although there's nothing official about it, fan club officers have a regular perch behind the home-team dugout at Municipal Stadium. With elbows rested on a couple of baseball-themed blankets draped over the back of the dugout, they stand and watch the games.

It's a good spot to sell the raffle tickets for autographed bats and balls that help raise funds for their efforts. And even with the ball game happening right before their eyes, they tune transistor radios to WHAG-AM 1410 so they can listen to Karl Schalk's play-by-play broadcast of the games. They don't want to miss a thing. They want to be close to the players. They are.

Family affair

Judy Baker started coming to Municipal Stadium in 1981, when professional baseball came back to Hagerstown and her daughter was bat girl. She's kept coming and has been the fan club's secretary for five years.

It's fun to watch the players grow and develop. It's fun to see them actually succeed, she says. "They're not just players. They're people," Baker says.

The DeWeerd family moved to Hagerstown from California when Gary DeWeerd retired from the U.S. Air Force. They started coming to games about 1989 and thought it was great fun. "We saw a lot of great young ball players come through," he says. He's kept in touch with Jim Davey, father of former Suns player Tom Davey, and saw him in Florida at this year's spring training.

The fan club is in touch with other players' parents, too. Suns left fielder Jeff Maloney's parents get to Hagerstown from their home in Basking Ridge, N.J., as often as they can, says Bill Maloney, Jeff's dad. The 22-year-old previously played in a couple of other Toronto Blue Jays spots, but Hagerstown is the only place that's had a fan club like the Suns', Bill Maloney says.

"I think it's wonderful. Fabulous. It's marvelous," he says.

Infielder Jesse Zepeda's parents, Darlene and Jesse Zepeda Sr., recently were in town from Santa Maria, Calif., their second trip this season. The elder Zepeda appreciates everything the fan club does for the players. The players are doing something a lot of people would like to do, but it's not easy, he says.

The Suns also have a "long-distance fan" in California. Charles Wilson of Mountain View, a former resident of Delaware, says he's a baseball fan, Toronto Blue Jays fan and member of the Suns fan club, even though he's never seen a Suns game. He keeps up with the team by reading Baseball Weekly. As a Christian, Wilson supports the Hagerstown Suns in the organization's church bulletin lawsuit, and another advantage is the "great friend" Wilson has found in Gary DeWeerd.

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