BY JEFF FALK
FREDERICKSBURG – For visionaries, there’s no better feeling than seeing one’s vision come to full fruition. But when that vision exceeds even our wildest dreams, it opens up the possibility of divine intervention as an explanation.
In many ways, Earl Wenger Memorial Field in Fredericksburg has become Ron Wenger’s ‘Field of Dreams’.
It is a place where players and teams, from near and far, aspire to play. It is a goal, a reward, a baseball mecca.
As it does every three years or so, Earl Wenger Memorial Field is currently hosting the eight-team, double-elimination Region Four tournament. Teams from as far away as Shippensburg worked diligently for months to earn the right to showcase their wares at a place along Route 22 that was 20 years ago a vacant and unkempt lot.
The winner of the event will represent Region Four, which is made up of the counties of Lebanon, Lancaster, Dauphin, Cumberland, Franklin and York Counties, at the state American Legion tournament in Boyertown. Because of its facilities and amenities for teams, players, coaches and fans, Earl Wenger Memorial Field has become one of the top amateur baseball facilities in Pennsylvania.
“No, it’s not what I envisioned,” said Wenger, who founded the field to commemorate a fallen war veteran and family member. “It’s about four steps above what I envisioned. I envisioned up to the seating area behind home plate. I didn’t envision anything beyond that.
“Words don’t explain it,” added Wenger. “Just a lot of pride. And it’s not just me. There’s our core group, and then if you add, it’s up to hundreds of volunteers.”
“I’d say it’s one of the best facilities that hosts the tournament, with the exception of Green Township in Chambersburg,” said Region Four director Holmes ‘Homer’ Mylin of Earl Wenger Memorial Field. “But it’s still not as good as this facility. I’ve never heard anything negative about this place. It has a good reputation.”
As the number of Earl Wenger Field’s amenities have increased, so has the number of games it hosts annually. Currently, the facility plays hosts to about 156 games, on all levels, every year.
In addition to the Region Four tournament contests and Junior Legion Regional tournament games, Earl Wenger Memorial Field is the home field of the Fredericksburg American Legion and junior legion teams and also hosts Northern Lebanon, Annville-Cleona and Tulpehocken high school games, PIAA state and District Three playoff contests, even the odd twilight and college games here and there. Fredericksburg last hosted the Region Four tournament in 2011, and has plans to apply for it regularly in the future.
“Yeah, it’s steadily increased,” said Wenger. “People want to play here. And when they do, it’s usually got some sort of importance. It gives the next kids a chance to come here and enjoy it, to say they played here. It (hosting regionals) can be a decent fundraiser. But the key is providing a good facility for players and fans.
“Having it be used is very important,” Wenger continued. “It’s one of the things we don’t think about. It may be more important to them (the people who use it) than it is to me.”
“They applied and nobody else wanted it,” Mylin added. “I’d like to have it continue to be part of the rotation.”
Before Earl Wenger field was built in 1996, the Fredericksburg entry in the Lebanon County American Legion baseball league played its home games at Northern Lebanon High School. Earl Wenger Memorial Field offers spacious seating on the first and third base sides, a grandstand complete with a working press box, a full irrigation system, plenty of parking, a fully equipped concession stand, bathrooms, a pavilion, batting cages, warm-up pitching mounds, a sound system, an operated scoreboard, among other things.
“We’d like to pave the walkways around the field and replace the wooden bleachers with plastic seats,” said Wenger. “Those would be two major things I see coming down the road. In the initial plan, we did the field and fence and two sets of bleachers. When we hosted our first regionals, we had a platform behind the backstop. The second time we had regionals, we had a press box. Then we did the seating area, with the press box being moved to the top. Then we did a roof over the seating area.
“We spent about $500,000 to build it, which is money we raised and grant money,” continued Wenger. “Do you want to speculate how much it cost to build? We guess it would be over $2 million. So we got $1.5 million of volunteer work.”
“I don’t think they know how much of an honor it is to host regionals,” said Fredericksburg head coach Jim McKinney of his players. “I don’t think they understand, what it takes to put this on. I don’t think they understand what it is to have a facility like this, to be able to play on a field like this everyday. I don’t think the appreciation is there.
“We have a facility, but we have a lot of kids who don’t use the things that are here,” continued McKinney. “Ninety percent are not here and they’re not in the (batting) cages. That’s where commitment comes in.”
On Sunday, Fredericksburg bowed out of the Region Four tournament it hosted with an 8-3 loss to Franklin County champion Shippensburg. Fredericksburg ended its campaign at 6-13, while Shippensburg carried an 18-4 mark into the second round of the consolation bracket.
“There wasn’t a whole lot to say,” said McKinney of his last post-game talk of the season. “It’s our final game. I can’t judge the success of it until next year. We’ll see how they take it.
“I’m not sure what they were ready for,” continued McKinney. “They seemed pumped up at the beginning of the game. We need to get a leader on this team, sort of a ‘captainish’ type of kid. I don’t like to assign captains.”
Down 5-1, Fredericksburg rallied for a pair of runs in the bottom of the fifth inning. Catcher Chase Dubendorf coaxed a bases-loaded walk to force home one run, while Quentin Rutkowski knocked in the other with a single to short.
Fredericksburg had loaded the bases on a single from Nick Gonzalez, a walk to Tyler Faller and Brett Minnich being hit by a pitch.
“We had a couple of opportunities to score a couple of runs,” said McKinney. “If we don’t make three or four errors, we don’t fall down three or four runs.
Shippensburg got to a tiring Fredericksburg starter Hunter Torres in the top of the fifth, sending 11 batters to the dish to score five times and erase a 1-0 deficit. Torres, who struck out eight, issued four of his six walks during the rally.
Fredericksburg was guilty of six total errors.
“Hunter ran into a little bit of trouble in the fifth,” said McKinney. “He was kind of rolling along. He threw too many pitches and his head got out of it. From a seven-inning game to a nine-inning game is a big difference. If you don’t manage your pitching, you get into a lot of trouble.
“What I remember about the top of the fifth was basically the ball being thrown around,” McKinney added. “A total breakdown, plays not being backed up. It started after Hunter started getting a little wild. After two outs, we were trying to get him through the final out. It didn’t happen.”
Region 4 Tournament
at Wenger Field, Fredericksburg
SATURDAY, JULY 19
SUNDAY, JULY 20
Game 5: Red Land 2, Myerstown 0 (Myerstown eliminated)
Game 6: Shippensburg 8, Fredericksburg 3 (Fredericksburg eliminated)
Game 9: Spring Grove vs. Shippensburg, 1 p.m.
Game 10: Red Land vs. Ephrata, 4
Game 11: Hummelstown vs. Glen Rock, 7:30
TUESDAY, JULY 22
Game 12: Winner Game 9 or 10 vs. Loser Game 11, 4*
Game 13: Winner Game 9 or 10 vs. Winner Game 11, 7:30*
WEDNESDAY, JULY 23
Game 15 (if necessary): Winner Game 12 vs. Winner Game 8, following Game 14