Camped out down the left-field foul line beneath the scoreboard with a beer in hand, Dick Wilcox had one of the best views of the action as it unfolded Sunday afternoon.
There were only a handful of clouds overhead as the Albion Tigers hosted the rival Evansville Jays in a Home Talent League baseball game to put a bow on the holiday weekend.
So some spectators opted for the shade, setting up folding chairs under the trees that lined the outfield. Other viewers chose a shorter path to the concession stand, taking up seats on the bleachers behind the backstop.
Wilcox, like many in attendance, had a personal connection to Albion’s ball club. He played for the Tigers from 1956 to 1973. His son, Dan, joined the team a few years later. Two of Wilcox’s grandsons, Lucas and Adam Gregory, have kept the family tradition going.
“We’ve watched everybody play since they were little kids,” Wilcox said as he took in the game seated next to his wife, Joan. “I played all those years and then my son started playing at 7 or 8.
“Baseball’s been a big part of my life for the last 65 years.”
You would have been hard pressed to find a home supporter who didn’t have some sort of tie to an athlete on Albion’s roster. The Tigers are entirely composed of players from Edgerton, one of the state’s best small-town baseball factories.
Albion manager Matt Towns said each of Edgerton High’s last 12 graduating classes are represented on this year’s team. Adam Loveland, a 2018 graduate, hit a two-run double in the bottom of the eighth to lift the Tigers to a 5-4 win over the Jays on Sunday.
“They’ve been playing ball here for 70 years,” Towns said. “There are generations of old Tigers sitting out under the trees.
“We all had Mike Gregory as a coach. Most of these guys had a dad or an uncle or a grandpa that was a ballplayer here.”
The Tigers (10-1) won their eighth straight game and tightened their grip on first place in the Home Talent League’s Southeast Section. Evansville (6-4) is 3ƒ games back in fifth place.
Separated by less than 20 miles, Edgerton and Evansville high schools are fierce rivals in the Rock Valley Conference during the school year.
That rivalry has extended into the summer since Albion and Evansville were reunited in the Southeast Section in the mid-2000s. A meeting between the two clubs was a fitting way to close the Fourth of July break.
“Albion represents the Home Talent League like it should be—small town, historic park, a nice playing surface, a good crowd, good food,” Evansville manager Jon Frey said.
The Jays gave up a two-run lead as they lost their second straight game. Evansville scored twice in the top of the first and held a 4-3 lead after Tyler Aasen dropped an RBI single into right field in the seventh.
But Albion rallied for its second one-run win over Evansville this season. Loveland connected for a one-out double in the eighth off Evansville reliever Trevor Aasen, scoring Charlie Hatlen and Dan Zeimet.
Matthew Klubertanz made a sliding catch in center field to open the ninth and then ranged right to glove a long fly ball hit by Griffin Allen. Albion reliever Jake Zeimet struck out Tyler Aasen in six pitches to end the game.
Winning has become the norm for Albion, which has gone to the postseason four times in the last five years. The Tigers haven’t lost since late May and hold a 1ƒ-game lead over second-place Jefferson.
“They (fans) know we’re going to have a good time,” Towns said. “We’re going to have music and we’re going to sell cheap beer and have good brats. And you come see your local boys play.”
Albion will host Cambridge on Saturday, with Evansville returning to action the following day—also against Cambridge.
ALBION 5, EVANSVILLE 4Evansville 200 001 100—4 6 2
Albion 001 200 02x—5 9 2
Cashore, Tr. Aasen (5); L. Gregory, J. Zeimet (7)
Leading hitters—Dimery (E) 2x4, Cox (E) 2x5, Martindale (E) 2x5, L. Gregory (A) 2x3, D. Zeimet (A) 2x4. 2B—Haakenson (E), Loveland (A). 3B—L. Gregory.
SO—Cashore 2, Tr. Aasen 3, L. Gregory 9, J. Zeimet 2. BB—Cashore 3, Tr. Aasen 3, L. Gregory 4, J. Zeimet 1.