Back in 1956, young fans of the great American pastime finally got a chance to play ball when an Albion, Michigan man Jerry Sacharski had the idea to use a batting tee to help teach youngsters the game. The inaugural game of “tee ball” (or as they called it at the time, Pee Wee baseball) was played June 25 in Albion and featured a match-up between the Davy Crocketts and the Donald Ducks. The Ducks not only took that debut game but went on to a perfect 5-0 record and tee ball’s first-ever regular-season championship. Their prize? What else but a trip to a Tigers baseball game.
Source : Found Michigan Facebook Page, March 29, 2013.
For a longer account:
Several months ago you might have caught a bit of news that President Bush “sponsored” a game of T-ball for the kids, on the White House lawn. The name “T” is short for a batting tee, which has been around for many years. Did you know however that T-ball as an organized sport had its origins here in Albion back in 1956? Baseball was a popular summer sport in Albion during the 1950s, and many youth participated in games sponsored by the Albion Recreation Department.
For the smaller boys however, it was a challenge for them to safely learn the fundamentals of the game and compete on teams. Coach Jerry Sacharski developed a unique baseball program for youngsters ages 6 to 8 years of age in the summer of 1956. It was designed to introduce boys to the sport of baseball and to safely teach them basics: throwing, catching, swinging a bat, and running the bases.
The game was locally called Pee Wee Baseball, and over a 15 year period, about half of the boys ages 5-8 in Albion participated in the program at one time or another, including yours truly. The game had its own special set of rules and diamond design/layout designed for safety and player development. There was a bullpen, two backstops, two full circles, two half circles, a circular foul line 45 feet from home plate, nine “X” marks where players had to stand, and a home run line. Bases were only 60 feet (instead of 90) apart. The fielders only had to step within the circles drawn around the bases for the runner to be “out,” instead of having injurious collisions on the base itself.
There was no pitcher, or catcher, either! Instead, an adjustable batting tee allowed the boys to concentrate on proper swinging methods at a proper height. Batters had to hit the ball past the circular foul line in order for it to be a hit. A special Pee Wee diamond was constructed in Victory Park at “the Forks” where games were played. Unfortunately it was removed in later years.
The program grew astronomically in its early years. It began with 60 boys in 1956, 185 in 1958, and 228 in 1960. The novelty of the game caught on, and in 1960 Albion boys played at a game at Michigan State University that was filmed and aired on educational television station WMSB channel 10. The program soon received regional press and various presentations were made by Sacharski as the new sport caught on. Albion’s “Pee-Wee” pre-T-Ball origin of the sport was forgotten when the game was developed elsewhere nationally in the 1960s. The tee eventually became the focal point in naming the game, which evolved from Tee-Ball to T-Ball. But we were first in Albion to use the tee in an organized baseball game.
Local “Pee-Wee” teams were named after television or cartoon characters, such as the: Bugs Bunnies, Donald Ducks, Little Lulus, Mousketeers, Popeyes, Porky Pigs, Yogi Bears, Johnny Ringos (the team yours truly was a part of in 1960), Lone Rangers, Matt Dillons, Mavericks, Palladins, Wyatt Earps, and Zorros. In looking at the 1960 roster I see the names of many of my classmates of the AHS class of 1971 and similar years on the teams.
From our Historical Notebook this week we present a classic 1958 photograph showing Coach Sacharski instructing 5-year-old Craig LeClair (his father Lowell was principal at Austin Elementary School) in the basics of the game. Craig was billed as “the youngest player in organized baseball.” The base of the tee reads “PEE WEE TEE.” How many of our readers remember Pee Wee Baseball? Special thanks to Jerry Sacharski for providing the information and photo for this week’s topic.
Here is some special news to the readers of this column: this photograph is included in my upcoming pictorial book “Albion in the 20th Century” which is now at the printer. It is expected to be released sometime in August and will cover the years 1900 to 2002 by decade. It will feature over 225 photographs collected independently by yours truly over the past 10 years with the generous help of the citizens of Albion. I’ll keep our readers informed about more details as the time gets closer this summer.
For the full article, see Frank Passic, Tee Ball Invented in Albion, (Albion) Morning Star, April 28, 2002, pg. 5; reposted on Historical Albion Michigan website.