SPRING CITY - In a Spring City Senior American Legion baseball program that has had a keynote of stability, success and commitment, there has been little changeover in managerial personnel throughout the years.
During the past 40 years of the summer diamond game, the Red Sox have had just five managers take charge and command. But for the 2013 season, the Red Sox will have a change at the top of the on-field operations.
Jamie Scheck has stepped down after guiding Spring City for 10 years, capped off by last year’s advance to the Mid-Atlantic Regional runner-up spot. Scheck cited family commitments to his two young children as the main reason for his resignation.
At a recent board meeting, Spring City named veteran assistant coach and pitching coach Mike Walton as Scheck’s successor.
Walton follows a staff line that has only included Jerry Seislove, Walt Gadzicki, Rod Johnson, Todd Clemens and Scheck since the early 1970s.
“It is something I never thought about going into last summer,” said Scheck. “I never thought it would be last summer of Legion baseball. It was my first opportunity as a head coach of Legion kids. They are committed because Legion kids wanted to be there. But as the summer continued on, I saw the time I was not spending with my own kids. I live in Boyertown, and my average day went from 3 or 3:30 to 10:30 or 11 at night.
“I have a 5-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son. As the summer wore on, I decided I wanted to spend more time with them. With more success that we have had, the longer summers got. I was missing going with my kids and I said I can’t continue to do this.”
Scheck said he will miss the camaraderie that he developed with the players, assistant coaches and some of the other coaches around the Chester County League circuit. He will continue to work on the board of directors that is headed by Gadzicki, Spring City president; and Clemens, director of operations.
“I love Spring City Legion,” said Scheck. “It is definitely going to be tough not being the manager. I still want to be involved in some capacity so I will stay on the board. I have been coaching there every day during the offseason.”
Scheck starred for the Red Sox as a second baseman from 1991-93 under Johnson before moving on to play at Rider University in New Jersey. He began as an assistant coach to Clemens in 1996-97 on a part-time basis while he was still in college.
“What was great was I played under Rod Johnson and Todd Clemens when I was there,” said Scheck. “Todd played for Rod. We kind of kept it going. We have all kind of been around the program for so long. We have all been with the program for 10 years or more. With Mike Walton, it’s going to be a great transition and a
very smooth one. The kids in our program know who he is and what is expected. It is a great program where things are done the right way. The kids come out and our kids at Spring City are making big commitments. Spring City Legion has the last three of four years gone to the Mid-Atlantic Regionals so we are playing to mid- or early August. I love coaching these kids. They give up their summers. They love to play baseball.”
While some squads around Chester County struggle to have nine players for a given game, Spring City players often arrive at Ram Stadium at 3:30 or 3:40 p.m. for a 4 p.m. practice and want to take extra hitting practice or field extra balls.
“That is what makes it fun to coach,” said Scheck.
Scheck said he has been fortunate to have quality assistant coaches who have stuck by him for a number of years, like Walton, Mike Heffernan Sr. and Mike Heffernan Jr.
The Red Sox captured the 2010 Pennsylvania state championship at Boyertown’s Bear Stadium under Scheck and advanced to the national regionals at West Lawn, where they were held again last summer.
Mike Walton Sr. began his association with Spring City 17 years ago as a scorekeeper and operator of the radar gun to chart the velocity of pitches. That was during a time when sons Mike and Jon played for the Red Sox, Mike from 1996-98 and Jon from 1998-2000.
Now, 17 years later, Walton, an electrician by trade and current operator of the Diamond Dreams Baseball Academy in Collegeville, finds himself at the top of the on-field operations of a Spring City program that has become one of the premier programs in Pennsylvania and one that has developed a quality high enough to go head-to-head against perennial national achievers like Brooklawn, N.J., which finished second to New Orleans, La., at last year’s American Legion World Series.
“I started with Todd Clemens in 2001 for two years as pitching coach,” said Walton. “I was with Jamie for the next 10 as as assistant coach and pitching coach. It was kind of like Jamie and I had a good thing going. We started hitting the national regionals. We had a great thing going.”
But now that Scheck has decided to spend more time with his family, Walton felt he had given too much time to the organization to just walk away from it now at the same point in time.
“With our partnership, we were very comfortable because we worked together for so many years,” said Walton. “I had invested so much time since we built the new field in 1999. I put up the lights and worked on the scoreboard. Then we got the stadium and seating and I was on the board. That was a whole lot there to walk away from. I learned so much to give up. My goal is to get to a World Series and we have gotten real close.”
I want to keep that tradition going.”
Walton will now try to assemble his own coaching staff. He will still be involved with pitchers, but as manager he will still need help because he will have other facets of the game to work on as manager.
Walton made the trip to the Legion World Series two years ago in North Carolina and said he had a wonderful experience during a tournament that had 61,000 in total seating with each game a sellout.
“It is a great experience,” said Walton. “There is no experience like the World Series. It’s just ungodly. It is a difficult task to get there, but I would like to give it a shot.”
Walton said he hopes Spring City players continue to display the commitment and dedication necessary to succeed at a national level during the summer months.
He said national teams need depth and competition to make everybody better both among pitchers and position players.
The Red Sox have utilized as many as eight pitchers during a season with a regular five-man rotation.
“We try to cut down the pitch count,” Walton said. “We still have some bullets left. Pitching has been our strength and we are certainly not going to let down on that. We will have the same pitching program.”
Walton said after 13 years, it will be a fun change to try to take his hand at the other portions of baseball besides pitching.
“Jamie and I had a very good relationship,” said Walton. “He gave the pitching all to me. He allowed me to have it with that freedom. That was fulltime. We had a good partnership. I hate to see him go. But he started not enjoying it because he was away from his family. He did a great job. I am pretty confident we can run the same program we had.”
Walton said he feels he can deal with the showcases and other diversions that are hurting American Legion baseball. He thinks players may be able to run a full course of both avenues during a calendar year. He plans to offer the same type of instruction that he does on a fulltime basis at Diamond Dreams. With that philosophy, Walton feels he can please parents and players who are concerned about collegiate aspirations.
Spring City has had numerous players pursue collegiate baseball at the Division I, II and III levels.