KERRY HUBARTT: Wildcat Baseball — enjoying the sport in its purist form
In my first year as a sportswriter at The News-Sentinel in 1971, Wildcat Baseball became a part of my life. It continued when my own kids were old enough to play. And now I have a grandchild beginning his first season in the league, which opened its 58th season on Monday.
My relationship with the league could have started back in the 1960s.
When I tried out for Little League in the late 1950s, I was not picked when the coaches selected their teams. In 1961 someone told me I could play in the Wildcat League. Somebody who didn’t know any better told me it was a league for losers, so I never played.
But more than 30 years later my wife and I signed up some of our own kids, and this summer I get to watch my 9-year-old grandson Edison play for the first time.
I’ve written about Wildcat many times through the years. In this column in 2009, I wrote that I became a strong proponent of the league in my capacity with the newspaper through a long professional relationship with the league’s president, John Grantham. Mr. Mac (Wildcat founder Dale McMillen Sr., also the founder of Central Soya in Decatur) chose Grantham to be the league’s president in 1965. Grantham retired 39 years later in 2004. Bill Derbyshire has been president ever since.
After Grantham died in 2009, I wrote that as he visited The News-Sentinel sports department through the years to bring us scores and promote the league, “I came to know him better as the driving force behind the enduring principles of Wildcat. Grantham bled Wildcat red, white and blue.”
In 2010, the 50th anniversary of Wildcat Baseball, I wrote, “Based on the numbers, it’s probably safe to say you can’t avoid bumping into somebody in this town who’s been touched by Wildcat Baseball at some time over the last half century, whether as a player, a family member in the stands or a staff member.”
Throughout my years at The News-Sentinel, it was my privilege to write stories, publish scores and attend season-ending awards banquets in acknowledging and celebrating Wildcat Baseball.
I still have a Wildcat windbreaker, and our kids had a collection of red, white and blue Wildcat baseball caps and T-shirts.
What’s so special about Wildcat? Well, just my own story should be an indication. Wildcat provided an opportunity that I missed to play a game I loved. I’m convinced it would have transitioned me through that awkward stage and taught me the game.
The league’s motto and Mr. Mac’s vision behind founding the league was “Everybody makes the team.” But it’s definitely not for losers.
McMillen started Wildcat in 1961 for all boys (the league opened to girls in 1974) who wanted to play organized baseball. The story goes that he was inspired by the disappointment he saw on the faces of those who failed to make a team in Little League. Gee, that sounds familiar.
Back to what I wrote in 2010: “Wildcat’s philosophy is not about winning games. It’s about giving kids ages 6-15 the opportunity to play, no matter what skill level, ability, race, creed or religion. The coaches and site directors are top notch. And the purity of the experience benefits everybody involved. It’s wholesome, positive, clean and fun.”
The league conducts games from this week through July 20. The highlight of the summer each year is Mr. Mac Day, when all the players from all 10 sites converge at Kreager Park for all-star games, competitions, prizes, awards and a lunch for the Wildcatters. This summer’s Mr. Mac Day will be July 13.
Come and join me in watching baseball in its purest form.
Kerry Hubartt is the former editor of The News-Sentinel.