Monday, August 12, 2013

From the Dodgers to the Wildcats – Carl Erskine

by Carmen Doyle
(Carmen works at our front desk and is THE baseball fanatic on our staff!)

Carl Erskine played with the Brooklyn Dodgers at the same time as Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese. Erskine was a pitcher who came up a year after Jackie’s first major league season, but played with the Dodgers for many years.

Although Erskine was a great pitcher- he pitched two no –hitters in his career- it is his off the field activities that are worthy of note. After leaving the Dodgers, he became involved in banking, eventually becoming president of Star Financial Bank, an Indiana bank.

He also came to Fort Wayne, to help with Wildcat Baseball.

Erskine not only became involved with Wildcat baseball, he got other major leaguers to help, among them greats such as Bob Feller, Ted Williams and Jackie Robinson.  In fact, Jackie and Erskine did so much for Wildcat baseball that Mr. Mac dubbed them “Godfathers of Wildcat Baseball”.

According to a Sports Illustrated article from 1988, it was Erskine who urged Mr. Mac to focus on teaching fundamentals rather than winning.

Wildcat Baseball was started in 1960 by Dale McMillen- “Mr. Mac”- with the motto of “Everybody Makes the Team”. What makes Wildcat baseball different from Little League is that the emphasis is less on winning than on improving kids’ baseball skills. Everything from throwing a ball (starting with which hand to throw with) to how to bat is taught.  The focus is on the fundamentals of baseball, not on winning.

Several thousand kids have participated in the Wildcat program. Any kid age 6-15 can participate- boys or girls. The program is divided into four league divisions. Kitten is for kids ages 6-7, Kitty ages 8-10, Kat ages 11-12, and Tiger ages 13-15. There are over 10 locations throughout Fort Wayne where the kids play. Wildcat baseball is a summer tradition for many kids and multiple generations.   

Scores for each game are published in the newspaper.  

A season of Wildcat baseball lasts two months. One of the highlights of the season is Mr. Mac Day. Mr. Mac Day is a “special day...intended to provide a fun-filled morning of games, competition, prizes, awards, and a lunch for the Wildcatters” according to the Wildcat website. Kids compete in All-Star Games and relays, and can also compete in base-running, throwing accuracy, and throwing for distance. There are drawings for various prizes, such as a baseball glove or bat. Trophies are awarded, but the focus is on the fun. And because the competition is held at the end of the season, it’s also a chance for the kids to show off to their parents and friends how much they have improved their skills that season.

Mr. Mac Day was originally called Progress Day, and Major League ballplayers such as Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams, Bob Feller as well as Carl Erskine attended to the delight of many kids. These pro ball players also helped to run clinics teaching baseball basics. What better way to learn the fundamentals than from the greats?

Wildcat baseball had such an influence on kids that when Carl Erskine was looking for a new family physician, the doctor told him that they had met before- in Wildcats.

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