Janesville Youth Baseball moving to new facility
The organization's home for 52 years on Woodman Road is for sale. Next spring, Janesville's boys and girls of summer will play on 10 diamonds at the Janesville Sports Complex on Wuthering Hills Drive.
The Woodman Road facility grew from two diamonds to four. But the space became cramped, and the facilities grew outdated.
While a new era will begin next spring, a few tears and fond memories remain where the games began on June 2, 1958. Nearly 500 boys attended the first tryouts.
Current Youth Baseball president Dave Ellis is bursting with enthusiasm to usher in the new era.
"I spend a lot of time on the new (facility), and I'm really excited about moving the operation," said Ellis, who has been associated with Youth Baseball from more than two decades. "It's the beginning of a whole new thing."
Ellis had to admit nostalgia tugged at him when the last game began on Sept. 25 at the old facility.
"Yeah, a lot of memories are out there for lots and lots of people," Ellis said. "I announced it was the last organized game (at Woodman Road), and I actually struggled getting through it."
Janesville Boys Baseball began when the late Bob Geise organized an eight-team league for boys 8 through 12-years-old.
"Bob started the league because he had three boys and he didn't think they were learning to play baseball," said Bob Collins, who worked with Geise to start the league.
After a note for $10,000 was signed to back purchasing the land, two diamonds were constructed, and the league was on its way.
"It was not an ideal place to play baseball, but the price was right," said Collins, who was the first commissioner and served on the board for 21 years.
Collins said the league's popularity was never in doubt.
"It just kind of grew naturally," Collins said. "We didn't have a lot of problems. There was not a lot of magic."
Nor was there a big supply of cash.
"We didn't have a bunch of money," Collins said. "We just scraped by. We knew we had to walk before we could run."
Bill Smith of Janesville helped construct outfield fences and was one of the first team coaches. He served on the board for 25 years and has regularly sponsored an outfield sign.
"I was a newcomer to the community," said Smith, who owned a feed mill on Rockport Road. "As I look back on it, the people I met at the baseball fields became my best friends."
Smith said Johnny Saxer, a member of the Janesville Sports Hall of Fame, gave the organization a boost with equipment.
"When it started, they didn't have anything but a hungry look in their eye," Smith said. "Saxer gave us equipment and didn't get on our case (about payments)."
Claude Miller coached Youth Baseball teams for 31 years.
"I loved the old ball park where the kids played," Miller said. "It's kind of a piece of my life that is gone."
Miller coached when Terry Ryan, Tim Paterick and Bob Luchsinger Jr. (all members of the Janesville Sports Hall of Fame) were playing. Miller coached his three sonsóDanny, Pat and Mike.
"I enjoyed the kids, and I loved baseball," Miller said. "I had a good team whether I had one or not. I was optimistic."
Steve Ellis, also a member of the Janesville Sports Hall of Fame, played a huge role in keeping the organization up and running.
He said the volunteers were the reason baseball was played each year. He saluted the work of the late Roy Coyle, another member of the Janesville Sports Hall of Fame.
"I think about Roy Coyle and how I was able to work with him and play for him," Ellis said. "You don't have volunteers like Roy anymore and that's what makes it."
Like his brother, Dave, Ellis is eager to begin a new era at the Sports Complex, but he carries a bigger torch for the old facility.
"It's going to be hard (leaving the old facility)," Steve said. "It's like going past my old employer, JATCO. I get a sick feeling in my stomach."
Change for the better is never easy.