Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University where he pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeyes from 1971 through 1974. He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league umpire for seven seasons, working for the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA). He has written for numerous websites, and for the past fourteen years has served as columnist and photo editor for The Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press, in Lincoln Nebraska. His interests include history, support for amateur baseball, the outdoors, and he has dual degrees in music from Ohio State University.

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If you’re looking for something to watch this weekend…besides the world passing you by…some good amateur baseball is as close as Newton High School and the Craig Stammen Classic Little League tourney in Versailles.

Covington, OH – “Geez-ussss,” a colleague in Troy claimed Monday. “Is there anything else to write about besides amateur baseball. Anything, at all?”

To his point…no. Until Mike decides it’s alright to restore full life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as we used to know it…there’s no other sports or semi-safe activities to talk about this weekend.

And for that fact I suggest the Newton Invitational, pitting six high schools in a double elimination tourney beginning Thursday (through Sunday) – Newton, Piqua, Fort Loramie, Russia, Bethel and Chaminade-Julienne.

Or, if you’ve always wanted to see Williamsport, Pa., and the Little League World Series, it’s been cancelled this year. But the Stammen Little League Classic played in Versailles this weekend is about as close as you can come without an eight-hour drive.  It, too, kicks off Thursday with game in age brackets from toddlers to teenagers playing through Sunday. In all, about 50 teams from area counties come to Versailles each June to play in a very well-run event.

Will you see Craig Stammen, native son and reliever for the National League San Diego Padres? Nuh-uh. He’s dry-docked in southern California waiting for the word. He, like the boys of summer who’ll play in his honor this weekend…is itching to join them.

And I can tell you this.  He’s lent his name and resources in support of this event for a decade, and he’s no less proud of it than his own legacy as a player.

How much does this particular weekend mean? Well, it won’t have the feel of opening day. Area teams have been playing now for three weeks; and the ban on high-fives and celebrating long since ignored the minute the first base hit happened. Boys will be boys.

As much as the governor would like for people to live life, and play, cautiously…seriously, who’s seen it happen so far?

“This is just so good to get outside and have a chance to play,” says Newton tourney organizer Jordan Kopp, who also coaches the Indians’ varsity high school team.

“They’ve been cooped up all spring, this is what they live for, and instinct takes over when you get on a baseball field.”

Translation: There’s no crying, or social distancing, in baseball.

Piqua head coach Brad Lavy, is in lockstep with Kopp.

“We’re honored to play,” said Lavy on Monday. “The kids are excited to play…to be back on the baseball field, because it’s where they want to be.

“As coaches we’re trying to be cautious, and responsible with bringing them back the right way, given the circumstances. We take temperatures and make sure that everyone’s safe. But they’ve missed this, and we want them to understand that there’s no one to blame for taking something away from them this spring.”

Lavy, who played in Piqua with the legacy of hall of fame coach Jim Hardman as a backdrop to his own experience, adds.

“And with all that the country’s going through, we tell them that baseball has always marked our history in time, like the line from the movie (Field Of Dreams) – what James Earl Jones said in the film. Hopefully, baseball will help mark this point in history, and we can be a part of it.”

Wow…good words if you’re forty, but if your fourteen, just serve it up and see if someone can hit it. And that’s what this weekend in Pleasant Hill and Versailles is all about. Everyone wants to play baseball.

“We actually have teams calling us from all over wanting to come to Newton and play,” says Kopp, whose company, Best Of Ohio Sports organizes weekend tourneys through the middle of July.

“We had a team from Canada call and ask about coming here to play in one of the next three weekend events. I had to tell them no. There’s no more room.”

But there’s plenty of room if you want to watch. Just show up, bring a chair (or tailgate) to sit on, and first come, first served on the shade trees. Hal McCoy and Greg Billing will represent Press Pros to write the action at Newton…while yours truly always pulls rank for the privilege of hanging out in North Star and Versailles. Columnist Andy Anders, the latest edition to our roster of writers, will join me.  ‘Queenie’, photographer Julie Wright, will capture the moments on her Nikon.

And if you wonder why a hall of famer (Class of 2002) who’s covered major league baseball for 50 years would be anxious to write about those just learning the game…ask him yourself this weekend.  Hal’s a baseball purist, born and bred a Cleveland Indians’ fan, whose intimacy for the game embraces players of all shapes, talents, and ages.  He’s written the OHSAA state tournament for Press Pros three of the last four years.

“I missed doing it one year (2017), and I really missed it.”  says Hal.  “I’ll do the state tournament any time they ask me.  I enjoy it that much.”

There won’t be a stadium, barely a press box, and no elevator to get to it.  Recovered from a broken hip last fall, he’ll have to climb eighteen steps to write about a sliver image of the game he’s covered for fifty years.  No ‘Big Red Machine’…no ‘Nasty Boys’…no ‘Sweet Lou’.

Doesn’t matter.  There must to be a damned good reason why so many want to play.

Like everyone else…he’s tired of waiting.

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