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The Wildcat Baseball Story



By Carl Erskine - Originally published in the NEIBA Line Drives September 2007 Newsletter


I had just retired from the Dodgers after fourteen years and was back in Anderson, IN trying to adjust to the real world. The year was 1960.


A call came from Bob Cowan, Superintendent of schools in Fort Wayne, who asked to come see me. When Bob came, he said he represented Dale W. McMillen, founder of Central Soya, who wants me to help him set up a new baseball league for kids in the Fort Wayne parks. I went to see Mr. “Mac” and he laid out his plan. He said kids in Fort Wayne who didn’t make Little League had no place or league to play in. I began making the trip to Fort Wayne, hosting baseball clinics in city parks. Mr. “Mac” hired school teachers and coaches to run the program. He had very high standards and screened them very well. I had several teaching aids such as batting tees and pitching strings (forming a strike zone). Mr. “Mac” would take me from park to park in his chauffeur driven limousine. We had big crowds. Mostly mothers brought the kids to the parks and occasionally a mother would ask me to let her take a swing on the batting tee. This was the start of Wildcat Baseball.


Progress Day 1961 (L-R:Jackie Robinson, Carl Erskine, Dale "Mr. Mac" McMillen, Bob Feller, Ted Williams)


At the end of the summer Mr. “Mac” called me into his office. Each time I would visit him there he would pull letters out of his desk and proudly read them to me. They were from parents who said their son or daughter was a changed person, did their chores without complaining, cleaned their room and were more polite and respectful, even their grades in school had improved. He would say “Carl, Carl, you can’t buy this stuff, this is for real.” Actually Mr. “Mac” taught these good character qualities in the Wildcat baseball program. Each youngster has a Wildcat cap and a Wildcat T-shirt. However, they had to buy them with money they had earned. If they hadn’t earned it at home, he would give them a job raking the playing field, picking up trash or something so they knew they earned their cap and shirt. One of his rules was no parents at the games.


After he read me the letters he said, “Carl, the season is ending so we’re going to have ‘Progress Day’ at McMillen Park.” I want you to get Jackie Robinson to come. Jackie came. The next year he said “Get me Bob Feller.” Bob came. The next year he said, “I want Ted Williams.” I told Mr. Mac that Ted didn’t do appearances like that. He said, “tell me more.” I said “he’s a recluse, he lives in the Florida Keys and bone fishes, doesn’t do appearances.” “Tell me more.” he said. “Well the only thing I know he endorses is sports and camping equipment for Sears. Mr. “Mac” called his secretary in and told her who to call. It was the chairman of Sears. Williams came. All of us in uniform performed for 5,000 Wildcat kinds that day. Feller pitched, Williams hit, Jackie fielded on the infield and me in the outfield. Williams hit giant fly balls, over the bicycles, the trees and out of sight. I was as thrilled as the kids. Mr. “Mac” told me that, “you arl and Jackie are the godfathers of Wildcat Baseball.” Often times Rachel, Jackie’s wife, would attend the Wildcat Banquet.



Over the years I have been approached by men who say they were a Wildcat, physicians, attorneys and other successful me. Once in the dugout at Dodger Stadium in LA, Drake Hogeston, the actor on ‘Days of Our Lives’ approached me before the game, told me I had encouraged him as a kid and it made a difference in his career. For several years I was a trustee at St. John's Hospital in Anderson. We often recruited young physicians. At one interview this young doctor Philip Goshert said “Carl, you taught me to bunt at Foster Park, I was a Wildcatter.”


 

With roots back to the 1940's, the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association (NEIBA) works to celebrate baseball in Fort Wayne. The organization hosts an annual Hall of Fame and Awards Banquet and publishes a quarterly publication, Line Drives. Learn more about the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association on their website.






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