Berryhill’s Baseball Blues Shared By Local Fans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Berryhill’s Baseball Blues Shared By Local Fans
by Jeffrey Reed, Editor, LondonOntarioSports.com

EBBA Opening Day 1955. Photo: London Free Press Collection of Photographic Negatives, D.B. Weldon Library, Western University, from book, EBBA 40 Years of Baseball, by Jeffrey Reed.

Since 1877, the corner of Wilson and Riverside in London has hosted baseball games, making Labatt Park the oldest continually operating baseball grounds in the world. The Intercounty Baseball League’s semi-professional London Majors Baseball Club has fielded a squad since 1925. And the Eager Beaver Baseball Association (est. 1955) is not only London’s original organized minor sports group, but also one of Canada’s oldest minor baseball associations.

This summer, of course, both the Majors and EBBA have struck out, with the COVID-19 pandemic cancelling all games. And for super fans like Ted and Kathy Berryhill of London, the loss has been devastating.

“We’re really, really missing our London Majors games,” said Ted, 80, part of local baseball royalty. “It’s a big void in our lives right now. I’ve been attending games at Labatt Park since 1952, so it really feels weird not having London Majors and Intercounty Baseball this summer.”

It was Ted’s uncle, Gordon Berryhill, who founded EBBA. Both of Ted’s sons, Peter and Mark, played in the EBBA.

“I have fond memories of playing EBBA baseball with the Jury twins, Don and Larry, in 1955,” said Ted. “I’m really sad for the kids who don’t have an opportunity to play this summer. I’m sure there’s a big void in their lives, too.”

(L-R) Ted Berryhill, Frank Colman, Jr. Photo: Facebook.

Because of its unique designation, and no matter what this season holds in terms of baseball at the corner, Labatt Park will not lose its distinction as the world’s oldest continuous baseball grounds. But that still doesn’t fill that void for local ball fans like the Berryhill family.

“Who would have thought we would not have the Majors or EBBA for a whole year? We really miss our games this summer,” Ted said.

During research for my 1994-published book, EBBA 40 Years of Baseball – the first local baseball history book – I discovered that Gordon Berryhill was the founder of EBBA. Until then, former big leaguer and Londoner Frank Colman, who played, managed and owned the London Majors in the mid- and late-1950s, was credited with founding the minor ball loop.

Gordon Berryhill, a friend of both Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb, and a mentor to local baseball legend Bobby Deakin (a former star infielder with the London Majors and a promising New York Yankees farmhand before injuries ended his career) lived and breathed EBBA baseball until his death in 1988.

Gordon Berryhill (top row, second from left), with Babe Ruth and members of the 1919 Boston Red Sox. Photo: Berryhill Family.

In 2010, EBBA established the Gordon Berryhill Volunteer Award.

Gordon Berryhill (left) with Ty Cobb. Photo: Berryhill Family.

While Colman was EBBA’s charter president in 1955 and a key player in its establishment, it was Berryhill who founded the association. George “Mooney” Gibson, a star catcher with the 1909 World Series champion Pittsburgh Pirates and Canada’s Baseball Player of the Half Century 1900-1950, was named EBBA’s Honorary Lifetime President in ’55.

In 1992, EBBA named Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Fergie Jenkins an Honorary Lifetime Member.

Since 1984, the Frank Colman All-Star Day for EBBA players has been played at Labatt Park. In 1991, EBBA handed its competitive teams the moniker, Tecumsehs, to recognize London’s historic ballclub formed in 1868.

The Tecumsehs, as well as the Guelph Maple Leafs, were the only two Canadian teams among the founding members of the International Association (IA) in 1877 – the first league established to challenge the struggling National League (NL), formed in 1876. London forged a strong rivalry with the Alleghenys of Pittsburgh ballclub. London beat Pittsburgh 5-2 to capture the pennant and inaugural IA championship.

Of course, baseball history runs deep in these parts, with first baseball game in recorded history played June 4, 1838 in Beachville, Ontario.

But to borrow a line from Ernest Lawrence Thayer, “But there is no joy in Mudville – mighty Casey has struck out.” In this case, no joy for Majors fans nor EBBA youngsters.

From 1967 to 2001, both the IBL and EBBA were a major part of my life. I can only imagine, as a 13-year-old all-star pitcher with the McMahen Park Orioles Pee Wee squad, having to endure a summer without baseball. That year – 1975 – was also the last season the Majors captured the IBL championship. When I wasn’t pitching for the Orioles, I was in the grandstand at Labatt Park, watching my IBL heroes including pitchers Mike Kilkenny and Phil Schmidt, and outfielder Arden Eddie.

Editor Jeffrey Reed with Majors teammates before opening day 2000. Photo: LondonOntarioSports.com.

What a thrill it was for me 26 years later in 2001 as Eddie and I were Majors teammates. As a Majors third base coach and pitcher in 2000 and ’01, I feel horrible for today’s London Majors who have no 2020 season. You can’t replace a missed year on the diamond.

That said, life goes on. Actor James Earl Jones’s character, Terence Mann, in the movie, Field of Dreams, quipped: “The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America is ruled by it like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and raised again. But baseball has marked the time.”

“Baseball will we back,” said Ted Berryhill. “We miss it. And we can’t wait until next season.”

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Jeffrey Reed has covered the London sports scene since 1980 as a print, broadcast and new media journalist. A three-time author and winner of numerous sportswriting awards both in Canada and the U.S., Reed founded the Intercounty Baseball League media relations office in 1994. Reach him at jeff@londonontariosports.com.

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About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office https://www.JeffreyReedReporting.com established 1989. Publisher/Editor of this website and https://londonontariogolf.com. Sports journalist since 1980.

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