The Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series on Wednesday night, only the second championship for the franchise that has lost the most major league games.
Meanwhile, in Tucson earlier this month, a group of men honored the transformative power of the all-American sport – even, or especially, for those playing it at its lowest levels. They delivered a belated “thank you” to a local business that sponsored their childhood baseball team six decades ago.
On Oct. 22, Paul Geniec, Dean Metz and Dick Albert gathered at the Hotel Congress in downtown Tucson to present manager Todd Hanley with a plaque in appreciation of the hotel’s sponsorship of the 1949 Congress Hotel Aces, one of the teams that preceded the 1950 arrival of Little League Baseball in Tucson.
The era was post-World War II. The boys lived in an area that was then the rural northwest edge of Tucson – north of Grant Road and west of Campbell Avenue.
Ranging in age from 12 to 15, they had been organized into a city/county league baseball team by Jim Brown, an electrician who volunteered to be their coach. But they needed a sponsor to pay for uniforms and equipment.
“Our coach gave my twin brother (Wally) and I the job of trying to find a sponsor for our baseball team,” said Geniec, 74, a retired doctor who lives in North Carolina. “We tried all types of businesses and they just weren’t doing it.”
The boys had given up hope when they arrived at the Hotel Congress. The young manager gave them a check for $53, enough to buy caps, gloves, catcher’s equipment and shirts with the hotel name printed on them. All he asked of the boys in return was that they report to him on how the team was doing.
It was a small act of generosity that meant so much.
“I just remember playing at the time and that it was so important that we got to play,” said Metz, a 73-year-old retired coach and teacher who still lives in Tucson.
The team picture of the 1949 Aces shows 12 boys, most of them smiling, all dressed in dungarees and their team T-shirts. Several have their arms casually slung around each other’s shoulders.
The Aces played against other teams in the same age group, similarly organized from neighborhoods across Tucson. Local media followed the progress of the league.
The Geniec boys diligently clipped the articles to show to the Hotel Congress manager. Albert, 73, a retired U.S. Forest Service administrator who lives in Tucson, recalled the thrill of making the paper after hitting a home run. It “was a ground ball that went to the outfield and my name was in the paper,” Albert said, laughing.
In 1949, the area from which the boys came was mostly populated by cowboys, cotton farmers and employees of the San Manuel copper mine, Metz said. During the summer, Albert said, the boys might catch a movie at the Fox Theatre on a Saturday morning, or go swimming at one of the city’s three public pools.
Organized ball provided another wholesome outlet for their youthful energy. And what the sport taught them went beyond baseball.
From Brown, who took a no-nonsense approach to coaching, the boys learned the fundamentals of throwing, catching and hitting. From the game itself, they learned teamwork, sportsmanship, perseverance and respect for authority. They formed friendships that have lasted a lifetime.
“Those were the formative years and we learned many things on this all-American team sport that served us well as we grew into manhood and eventually into productive, good citizens,” Geniec wrote in a letter to the Tucson Citizen about the plaque presentation. “The most important thing I learned is that when defeat comes, to shake it off, to regroup, to try harder and to be a team player.”
Geniec credits the life lessons of baseball for the success achieved by the members of the team. They became scientists, doctors, engineers, coaches, teachers, firefighters, pharmacists, clergymen and policemen.
“Those were our impressionable years of life. Every one of the fellas that were on that team really turned out to be something,” Geniec said. “It was a basic part of our life and gave us standards to work on.”
Anne T. Denogean can be reached at 573-4582 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Address letters to P.O. Box 26767, Tucson, AZ 85726-6767. Her columns run Tuesdays and Fridays.