Summer Baseball Conceived in 1933
The Cardinals baseball organization was presenting at a Kiwanis meeting. The meeting never got underway because during the introduction of guest Louis Reps (civic leader and booster for Springfield Cardinals) it was suggested that the Kiwanis Club sponsor a boys baseball program.
600 Boys Sign Up
Kiwanis President Oscar Blom asked the late Arthur Briggs, Athletic Director of State Teachers College, to head a boys baseball committee. Together they got a promise of cooperation from the late Al Eckert, then business manager of the local Cardinal ball club. Next they called upon Springfield Newspaper editor, the late George Olds, for publicity help and a registration form for boys to play baseball was published in the paper; some 600 boys signed up.
Training Program Begins
The first training program was held in the White City Ball Park, now the site of the General Council of the Assemblies of God administration building and Gospel Publishing House. Local Cardinal manager Joe Shultz gave the boys a talk on baseball fundamentals. The boys were divided into two divisions, those under 13 and those over 13. The boys were personally coached by members of the Springfield Cardinals team, including the young Stan Musial. Other well-known players that helped were Mike Ryba, Mickey Owen, George Silvey, and Joe Gargiola.
Improved Playing Fields Needed
Kiwanians were immediately faced with the problem of playing fields for a thriving program. Few improved playing fields were available in Springfield. The late Arch McGregor, longtime hardware merchant and civic leader, offered his property located between National and Kings, extending from Bennett to Portland. The club built five ball diamonds on this property with wire backstops. Other ball fields used in the early phase of the program were Jack Grey's (Elm and National), Jones Spring field (Sherman and Chestnut), Doling Park, Silver Springs, Frisco property (Kansas and Division), and Walnut Grove Park.
The sudden and rapid development of the boys baseball program caught the club without funds to cover the expenses; however, due to the enthusiasm and good newspaper publicity, necessary funds were raised by friends, team supporters, managers, Kiwanians, and baseball equipment was donated by the St. Louis Cardinal organization.
The History of Kiwanis Baseball
Team Sponsors Receive Support
Many of the team sponsors could not afford boys baseball uniforms, and Kiwanians wanted something economical to identify the program. One late afternoon during a golf game, Oscar Blom told his friend, the late Earl Rice, then local Coca-Cola distributor, about his idea for a tee shirt with the Kiwanis emblem emblazoned on the front in blue. Earl Rice immediately offered to purchase 50 dozen shirts which were bought from Kiwanian Hugh Lloyd at wholesale. Hugh Loyd later became purchaser and custodian of Kiwanis baseball equipment, storing it and keeping it in repair between seasons until 1947.
Growth of the Program
Joe Nickle served as the first program supervisor in 1933. Other supervisors were Mark Frye, John Flemmerfelt, Jim Ewing, Joe Newton Jr., Kenny Brazzel, and Eddie Baker. The Kiwanis program grew in 36 years from 600 boys playing in two age brackets to 2,600 boys playing in eight age brackets, ranging in age from 9 to 16 years. The club added girls softball and boys and girls tennis to the summer program. It is a conservative estimate that more than 75,000 boys participated in the program.
On to the Park Board
Springfield Kiwanis Club maintained full sponsorship of the boys baseball program for 20 years, employing supervisors, umpires, purchasing bats, balls, catcher equipment, tee shirts and trophies. In 1952, the City Park Board took over the management and assumed all costs, except for balls, trophies, and Kiwanis tee shirts.