Berkshire Baseball is looking to pay homage to some of the greatest baseball players with ties to Berks County by naming several of the items at the Berks County Youth Recreation Facility in their honor. On Friday, April 19. at 5 p.m., during a re-dedication and celebration that will feature the Berks County Commissioners, the Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Reading Convention and Visitors Bureau, a remote broadcast by Y-102 and many other community leaders, the organization will officially be renaming the four baseball fields and four walking paths to honor some Berks County’s baseball and softball greats.
When the organization started negotiating with the County of Berks in 2010 to make some improvements to the facility, those negotiations took on a new light when county officials suggested that opposed to just making some improvements to the facility, that they actually take over the management and maintenance of the facility as well.
So as plans of how the organization wanted to tackle this new endeavor began to unfold, one of the things that came to the forefront of the idea was a way to incorporate honoring some of Berks County’s favorite baseball sons.
“I’m a big proponent of educating today’s young players of baseball’s rich past.” Said Dan Clouser, who is the founder and current president and general manager of the organization.
“I’m always asking my players questions about old ballplayers to see how much they know about the game, so as we did this I didn’t want to just hang a few names on the fields, but I wanted to educate those who come here as to why each field and pathway is named after a certain player and what that player’s ties were to our area.”
And so it began, the task of honoring the local greats and preserving their legacy in the game. It was actually much easier said than done. There were only four fields at the facility and more than four deserving ballplayers with local ties.
One of the fields at the facility, Field #3, was already named Rocky Colavito Field in honor of the outfielder who is best known for his years with the Cleveland Indians. During his 14-year Big League career, he also played for the Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Athletics, Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees.
Colavito was a career .266 hitter with 374 HRs, 1,159 RBI, 971 runs, 1,730 hits, 283 doubles and 21 triples. He was a six time All-Star or nine time All-Star if you consider that Major League Baseball played two All-Star games per season from 1959-1962.
So with Field #3 already being named, there were three more fields, but several more deserving candidates.
As plans for the renovations began to unfold and we realized that Field #2 would take on very familiar face of that of Boston’s Fenway Park, complete with a 30’“Green Monster” replica wall in left field and a Pesky Pole in right, it was a no-brainer for Field #2 to bear the name “Charlie Wagner Field” in honor of Reading’s own “Broadway” Charlie Wagner, who was a life-long employee of the Boston Red Sox as a player, coach, scout and consultant of the club.
Dubbed “Broadway” because of his stylish way of dressing, Charlie Wagner was the second oldest living former Red Sox player, the longest serving. He was born December 3, 1912 in Readingand was five years old when the Red Sox won the 1918 World Series. “Broadway” was a spry 91 years old when Boston won it again in 2004.
Wagner played six years in the Major Leagues from 1938 to 1946 losing three prime years from 1943 to 1945 while serving in the military. He compiled a 32-23 record with a 3.91 career ERA.
So with two fields down, the decisions started to get a bit tougher.
As the organization took on the task to convert the two smaller 70’ fields (Fields #2 and #4) to 90’ fields in 2012, there were some obstacles to overcome. Cutting the infields from 70’ for 90’ was the easy part, figuring out how to overcome the shorter outfields was a little more difficult. Field #2, Charlie Wagner Field, was addressed with Kistler’s idea of the Green Monster replica, making an otherwise chip shot down a 270’ left field line a bit more difficult by building the 30’ high wall, not to mention making it very unique in its own right.
Field #4 would be a little more difficult as it was a smaller field that already had lights on it, which significantly restricted what could be done with the design of the outfield fence. In order to play 14 and 16 year old baseball on that field, the organization had to come up with a plan to make the fence deeper at some spots.
So as things began to take shape, the outfield dimensions of Field #4 started to become very unique and quirky. Directly down the left field line is only 261’. There is then a “hump” in left field to make the power alley a little more legitimate. However, as leftfield comes into centerfield, the fence coils back in to wrap around the existing light pole and then takes a sharp turn to get to about 360’ to the deepest part of the park and then takes an almost straight line to the right field line, which measures out to about 278’.
So while not an exact replica of old Polo Grounds in New York, it certainly has the characteristics of centerfield at the Polo Grounds.
With that in mind, Field #4 got to be re-named Vic Wertz Field.
Wertz was actually born in York, Pennsylvania, but his family moved to Reading when he was 11 years old. He was a star for the Reading High baseball team as well as Gregg Post American Legion. He signed a minor league contract in 1942 and made his Major League debut with the Detroit Tigers on April 15, 1947. During his 17 year Big League career he also played for the St. Louis Browns, Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins.
Wertz was a four-time All-Star and batted .277 for his career, compiling 1,692 hits with 289 doubles, 42 triples, 266 home runs and 1,178 RBI’s. Notably, he also hit for the cycle during his rookie season with Detroit on September 14, 1947
The fourth player to be honored by having a field named after them at the complex was a three time World Series Champion with the St. Louis Cardinals, George “Whitey” Kurowski.
Kurowski was born on April 19, 1918, the date of the re-dedication ceremony would have been Whitey’s 95th birthday.
Kurowski was a third baseman and like Wagner, played his entire career with the same club, the St. Louis Cardinals from 1941-1949. Kurowski batted and threw right-handed. He debuted on September 23, 1941, and played his final game on October 1, 1949. In a nine-season career, Kurowski posted a .286 batting average with 106 home runs and 529 RBI in 916 games played. Kurowski’s childhood nickname came from his already white hair.
A native of Reading, Kurowski overcame several personal problems before making it to the Big Leagues. Kurowski overcame childhood osteomyelitis, which made him lose a part of a bone on his right forearm. Before he started his baseball career, his older brother died in a mine accident, and his father died from a heart attack during spring training in 1942. His most productive season came in 1947, when he posted career-highs in average (.310), home runs (27), RBI (104), runs (108), doubles (27), slugging % (.544) and on-base % (.420).
By naming these fields at the Berks County YRF after these local players, the organization hopes that those who come and visit the complex will get a better education and understanding of the rich baseball history that exists in Berks County.