Powell's Brave work earns Hall induction

January 25, 2013|By BOB PARASILITI |

Reno Powell was baseball’s version of Francis Scott Key.

His main anthem in life was to have a home for the Braves.

The Hagerstown Braves, that is.

Baseball was Powell’s life, especially when it came to providing a team to give young players in the area a life after American Legion baseball. That led to the birth of the Braves, a semi-pro baseball team which has lasted more than three decades.

Many have Powell to thank for the chance to play ball in their adulthood. A thank you came as Powell was posthumously inducted as a member of the 2013 class to the National American Semi-Pro Baseball Association Hall of Fame for being the founder, president, coach and general manager of one of the teams that helped define Hagerstown as a baseball town.

“He was the starter for it all,” said Dan Cunningham, who assumed the organizational reins from Powell in the mid-1990s and remains its president. “Long story short, he created the team because there was no place for guys to play after they outgrew American Legion ball.

“We had some great players in Hagerstown and he was tired of seeing them go to Baltimore to keep playing. He offered them a chance to ‘sleep in their own bed’ and to play in front of their families. It is only fitting that he gets the recognition because he was the owner, president, general manager and sold concessions for the team. He could sell ice to an Eskimo.”

Selling was a major part of Powell’s life, especially when it came to his love for baseball. Powell, who died in 2002, was a strong advocate of having success in the game.

“All Reno wanted to do was win,” said Mike Kipe, who played for and now manages the Braves. “That was everything. We are trying to bring that attitude back to the team.”

Kipe and Cunningham decided to nominate Powell for consideration after the Braves became part of the NASPB. Until 2011, the Braves spent their entire existence playing in the Franklin County and Blue Ridge Adult Leagues, but the league membership has waned, which warranted searching for other alternatives.

“It started when (Brunswick Orioles manager) Roger Dawson got us to go national,” Kipe said. “We had to come up with a paragraph about Reno and why he should be inducted.”

Kipe and Cunningham teamed up to write Powell’s nomination letter, outlining the many hats he wore and his devotion to do every little task the team needed to thrive. They summed it all up with one final paragraph.

“Reno was a baseball visionary in the Hagerstown community. His insight and determination has led to the success of many area ballplayers.”

Powell’s induction is rather informal, only appearing on the NASPB’s website for now. The organization is constructing a Hall of Fame building in Evansville, Ind., which is scheduled to open in the spring.

Kipe and Cunningham reminisced about how Powell knew about everyone — from pro baseball scouts to fans to backers of the team. He knew how to recruit players and taught them his philosophy for constructing a winning team.

“Reno went out and would go all over to find the best players possible,” Kipe said.

“He would always talk to me about playing players at certain positions,” Cunningham said. “He would always say we needed two deep at each position and need three good starting pitchers, but not from the local area. He didn’t believe in rotations either.”

Powell’s attention to detail didn’t end with setting up the team. In the later years, after he became ill, he would wait to get updates of the Braves’ games.

“Before he would talk about anything else, he wanted to know all about the games,” Kipe said. “He wanted to know every pitch, every situation.”

Next to the Hall of Fame induction, the best testament to Powell’s efforts are the Braves themselves.

In 35 years of play, Hagerstown has 1,070 wins and a .728 winning percentage. The Braves have won 12 league titles, one state championship and many more tournaments.

And in the middle of all the success, 35 former Braves players signed professional baseball contracts.

“Eighty-five percent of the teams the Braves used to play don’t exist anymore,” Kipe said. “Reno started this and it’s a big deal to keep it going.”

“When the Braves reached 1,000 wins, it didn’t mean much of anything,” Cunningham said. “But in this economy, this is a testament to Hagerstown as a baseball town. Reno would go to all the PONY League and Colt League games. It was a testament to what baseball meant to him. A thousand wins ... he would be happy.”

In order to do that, like Reno, the Braves have gone national, playing against other NASPB teams, which are mainly in the Northeast and the Midwest.

The travel has made it difficult to keep the roster filled. This year, the National Amateur Baseball Federation (NABF) will be coming to Maryland for a tournament that will be played at McCurdy Field in Frederick.

And when it comes down to it, Reno Powell would be probably more concerned about the Braves’ march to 2,000 wins than his spot in the Hall of Fame.

“He’d probably say, ‘Aw, who do we play next?’” Cunningham said. “He would think it would be nice, but he’d be more worried about who’s next on the schedule. Reno put everyone else first, but the Braves were always first though.”

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