Martinsburg Little League opens 50th season

April 07, 2001

Martinsburg Little League opens 50th season

By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer

For 50 years, the cry "Play Ball" has been heard at the baseball field complex at Oatesdale Park.

Civic leaders, parents and kids marked the occasion of the 50th anniversary during the opening of the Martinsburg Little League season Saturday at the four-diamond complex.

"I played here in Little League one year," said Mark Madison, 31, of Martinsburg, decked out in a Seattle Mariners uniform. Madison, a postal worker, now coaches a Mariners team of 9- to 12-year-olds.

From 5-year-olds playing T-ball to 17- and 18-year-olds playing the highest level of baseball on the fields, the league now has 42 teams, Madison said. That's probably about half of the number when he was playing in the early 1980s.


Some 540 kids take part in the activity, a reduction from previous years, he said.

"We've been struggling a little bit," he said. "It may be the influence of inline skating or soccer. And some kids may want more action."

But the kids playing Saturday conjured up images that date back into the 1800s: a catcher overthrowing the second baseman, allowing the runner to score from first base; the exhortation of the coach that "it's only one inning. Keep working;" the ever-present chatter of the players urging each other to stay alert or get the ball over the plate.

"Good eye, baby," shouted one player to his teammate who took a close pitch for a ball.

The land for the complex was donated by the Oates family 50 years ago. It's an almost idyllic setting. Tuscarora Creek flows through the complex and railroad tracks border one side of it.

Members of the Oates family, Evelyn Oates and her daughter, Elizabeth Oates, were on hand for the ceremonies.

Baseball has a long history in Martinsburg. The Blue Sox were a minor league team on which Hall of Fame slugger Hack Wilson played in the early 1920s. Martinsburg was his home for much of his 48-year life, and he is buried at Rosedale Cemetery.

Madison recalls seeing pictures of the original field at Oatesdale Park with "its wooden slat fences all falling down."

The complex is now complete with many buildings, including a new concession stand that just opened, press boxes, storage buildings, dugouts, bleachers and a sizable paved parking lot.

"Between now and the third week of June it's pretty much nonstop," Madison said.

The league operates Monday through Saturday and sometimes on Sunday to make up rained-out games.

For now, the long tradition of the national pastime continues at Oatesdale.

"I think it's the best game," Madison said.

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