Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
CHILLICOTHE — One walk around Mary Lou Patton Park and it’s hard not to notice history.
The park, home to the Scioto Valley Youth League, has been standing since 1961. And in that 60-year period, thousands of the area’s youth have fallen in love with our nation’s pastime.
That trend is still going.
This past weekend, the SVYL held their season-opening ceremonies while celebrating 60 years of little league baseball. And while opening ceremonies are always a spectacle, this year, it meant a little bit more.
“After COVID, having this season means a lot to me because, for one, this is my boys’ last year,” SVYL Vice President Eric Beam said. “We played fall ball last year but that’s not the same. You don’t get the same things that you see during the summer.”
Beam’s situation rivals SVYL President Dean Brown’s. He was one of the parents who had to explain to their child why he couldn’t spend his final year of little league eligibility in a park he’s basically grown up in.
“It was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do,” Brown said. “To go home and tell him that we weren’t playing and his last year had been taken, it was a tough conversation to have. But he jumped in, got to play some travel ball and some fall ball. So it wasn’t the end of the world but it was nothing like playing our season down here.”
But that was then and this is now.
With COVID waning, for the most part at least, the SVYL is back in full swing. 36 teams that belong to 12 organizations have taken or will take the field this week. The league is home to almost 400 kids from ages 6-12.
And, after the pandemic foiled an entire season, coaches will have a little extra homework to do.
“You can’t prepare for anyone,” Brown said, who also serves as the manager for Adena. “You don’t know who to save your pitching for or when to throw your stud. After next week, the mind games will start going on. It’ll be tough to figure out. But that makes it fun.”
While they toss around their pitching options, the league’s ballplayers will once again enjoy a setting that’s become a staple in the community.
According to Brown, the land that the SVYL is built on used to belong to the owners of Hanson Concrete, which has since transformed into Wells Group Ready Mix Concrete. Meanwhile, the city of Chillicothe owned a piece of land near what’s now the Pilot Travel Center on East Main Street.
The owners of the concrete company decided they’d like to be closer to US Highway 23. So they made a trade with the city with one condition — the SVYL would have a lifetime lease to that land.
The city agreed to that transaction and the rest is history.
“They just swapped,” Brown said. “So when you look at something like our bleachers, that’s where they come from. It’s some of Hanson’s precast stuff and they donated the block. I guarantee you there’s 60 years old. Any of the pictures that you look at, those bleachers are there. All of that information can be found on our website. It’s another way to get our information out.”
Preserving their history is one thing the SVYL Board is keen on. Take this past Saturday for instance. They reached out to Mike Ginther, the son of Zeb Ginther, who was one of the league’s three original founders.
Ginther threw out the honorary first pitch during the opening ceremonies.
“We hear it all the time from people at the park around the community,” Brown said. “They’ll talk about playing down here and we hear stories from all the way back to when the league started. It’s pretty cool to hear all that.”
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t adapting with the times, either. It’s a balance between the old and the new.
“Sometimes, we get some feedback if we change a rule or if we make a tough decision,” Beam said. “It’s like, ‘Well that’s not how it’s been in the past.’ But times change. And you have to adapt. But there’s a lot of history still in this park. It makes it a cool place to play a ballgame.”
And with a full slate ahead and a season that will last until late June, there’s still much history to be written.
“What we’re doing now is what our kids and grandkids will be talking about,” Brown said. “It would’ve been great to be a part of all this when the league started. But we are a part of it in a way. We’re a part of a new chapter.”