Before Wallen Baseball enters its second half-century, the league will take a moment to remember its roots.
Wallen will celebrate its 50th anniversary at 6 p.m. Monday at 8917 Village Drive on Diamond No. 2. Cleveland Indians manager Eric Wedge will attend as a graduate, team sponsor of Motivated Sports and award presenter. He will also be available to sign autographs as the Indians are off that night for the All-Star break.
“That’s where Eric learned to play ball,” said Nina Wedge, Eric’s mother. Wedge, 40, played catcher for regular and travel teams during elementary and middle school. He is one of four Wallen Baseball graduates to be selected in the Major League Baseball draft.
A generation before Wedge, Wallen youth were just as devoted to America’s pastime.
“We played baseball in everybody’s backyard every day of summer,” said Chuck Itt, who grew up in Wallen in the 1950s.
With most families having only one car and Fort Wayne a long drive away, however, the kids had no opportunities to play in an organized setting, Itt said. That’s when Sal Madrid stepped in to establish Wallen Baseball in 1958. Madrid had played eight games for the Chicago Cubs in 1947 and settled in Fort Wayne afterward, participating in semiprofessional ball.
Itt, 56, was a player in the league’s first year, and served as a coach and board member in subsequent years. He finally retired from coaching this year. Due to Itt’s longevity, he has become the unofficial historian of Wallen Baseball, and he will display historical equipment and trophies at the celebration.
He wants people to remember the legacy of Wallen Baseball 20 years from now, which is why he encouraged the board to commemorate Wallen’s 50th anniversary. When he first proposed the idea, Itt was surprised to find that many board members didn’t even know who Madrid was or that the league had been around 50 years.
During the past half-century, Itt has seen the program grow from six boys teams on one diamond to 1,500 boys and girls playing for dozens of teams on 10 diamonds. Despite the growth, Wallen remains committed to an inclusive atmosphere and makes no cuts.
“Give the kids a chance and place to play,” Itt said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
The celebration will be followed at 7:30 p.m. with All-Star games in every division.