“What they learn on this field can help them in the business world, in their marriage, or with anything they do in life. Those players who do become successful, whether it’s on the field, or in business, can come back and tell the stories of what they learned here. That makes it rewarding and worthwhile,” Dan Clouser, President of the Big Vision Foundation, said.
Standing with Clouser, in the middle of a 118-acre Berks County Youth Recreation Facility (BCYRF) was a rewarding experience. We spoke after he managed the first game that was played at newly renovated Charlie Wagner Field on May 31, 2014.
Looming aside of us in left field was Leesport, Pennsylvania’s replica of the ‘Green Monster’, the likes of which previously could only be found at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. The recently completed 30-foot-high structure (aptly dubbed the ‘Mini-Monster’) is the only other known partition of its kind in the baseball world.
Great baseball men
I’ve been consistently impressed by the sincerity of Clouser’s words, combined with his generous actions, whenever I’ve met with him. The same was true on that day.
“A lot of hard work has paid off. We had a great turnout for the ceremony. It was great to see. Charlie Wagner’s son was here.
“It’s like reaching a pinnacle. But, it’s also just the beginning of what we want to do.
“There used to be just a big hill out there (remnants of it can still be seen). Being that I’m a (Boston) Red Sox fan and that I knew Wagner personally, this particular part of our renovation is more near and dear to my heart.
“Charlie was a great, great man. To be able to honor him and his legacy with this wall and the fact that he was an employee of the Red Sox for 70 years, it’s just amazing. It’s hard to put into words,” Clouser said.
The ever-dapper Wagner was born in 1912, pitched in the major leagues from 1938 through 1946, and lived until 2006. The lifelong Berks County resident served as a Red Sox scout for many decades after his professional playing and coaching careers ended.
The Big Vision Foundation was originally founded in 1989 as the Berkshire Red Sox Baseball Club. Ongoing success allowed the non-profit to evolve into a major community-minded organization. Their mission statement is clear, “The Big Vision Foundation strives to teach and develop the necessary skills in our youth in order to get them more involved in their communities, families, and with their peers.”
Clouser, who authored ‘The Beauty of a Diamond, Through the Eyes of a Coach’, leads a passionate team that created a uniquely remarkable destination in this lush section of Southeastern Pennsylvania six years ago. The organization leases four baseball fields from the BCYRF, each of which are dedicated in honor of a Berks County resident who played major league baseball.
“I grew up reading about the guys who played. It’s like the scene from ‘Field of Dreams’, baseball is that one constant in America. Everything else changes, but baseball relatively stays the same,” Clouser said.
Teaching baseball history
“We wanted to educate the kids that come here about people like Wagner, Whitey Kurowski, Vic Wertz, George Bradley, Rocky Colavito, Dick Gernert, and Randy Gumpert. It’s important for us to let them know the rich history that the game of baseball has and that there is always a connection there,” Clouser said.
Bradley’s historical significance was forged when he threw the first-ever Major League Baseball no-hitter. The St. Louis Brown Stockings’ right-hander, who also played third base and the outfield, defeated the Hartford Dark Blues 2-0 on July 15, 1876. ‘Grin’ went an astounding 45-19 that season. His 1.23 ERA, 0.887 WHIP, and 16 shutouts (still a single-season record) led the National League.
The Big Vision Foundation’s summer season began with the Unique Pretzel City Classic that was held on May 31 and June 1. Included among its many scheduled events is the First Annual Berks Vintage Base Ball (phrase spelling is historically accurate) Festival, which will pay homage to Bradley’s legacy on July 26, 2014.
Adult re-enactors, using period uniforms, equipment, and rules will form vintage teams from the 1860s, 1870s and 1880s. They will play simultaneous games on the BCYRF fields, which will demonstrate how baseball evolved in the mid- to late-nineteenth century.
Learning valuable life lessons
“Baseball is a sport that does have an incredible history. It’s also a reflection of life.
“We try to teach the kids that it’s a game of failure and that they should learn from those failures. That’s the way life is. The most successful people in the world failed many times before they succeeded,” Clouser said.
Families and friends gathered on green fields. Children playing baseball under the cover of a brilliant blue sky. The inviting aroma of grilled hot dogs and hamburgers wafting my way.
Yes, it was a perfect setting for this story. But, I felt that scene wasn’t an exception. Instead, it’s a routinely shared community experience within that great space.
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