Missing the Dirtrollers

By Mark Carpenter –

It is that time of year and with the warm, spring-like weather this week, my thoughts naturally turn to baseball.  It is exciting to know that spring training is beginning and that the high school seasons are just around the corner, but it is also with a tinge of sadness that I realize what time of year it is.  Why is that?  Well, to be honest, I miss my Dirtrollers.
Now most of you have no clue what I am talking about so let me take you back about 16 years to a little dirt baseball diamond where a group of 4-5 year olds gathered for the first time in what would turn out to be quite an incredible journey.  My son and I had just taken the first steps into Knothole baseball and though he was probably too young at the time, as I recall it, neither of us could wait any longer.  Every newly formed team has to have a clever name and we came up with Dirtrollers because in that first year many of those young fellows seemed much more interested in rolling and playing in the dirt than actually playing attention to the game.  Here’s two nuggets about that team for you: one of the original members has a cousin who is doing pretty well these days as an outfielder for the Red Sox, Andrew Benintendi, and two of the other original members had  pretty good football careers  at Manchester High School, Tylor and Brandon Saunders.
Anyway, my brother and I and one of our good friends handled the coaching duties with my son and nephew on the team and we started out in tee-ball, but early on decided to bag the tee and turn our kids into hitters.  That turned out to be a good decision. One of our Sub-D years we went 22-0 and won the District 26 championship, though you weren’t actually supposed to keep score in Sub-D.  My wife, the official scorekeeper who kept a scorebook like a professional team would, always had the right answer when kids asked the score, ”It’s tied.”
In Brown County and in District, the goal is to win the regular season and earn the coveted trip to the “city” tournament.  When I was nine years old and my Dad coached my Knothole team, we had a team that went 17-1 and earned that trip, only to fall 6-4 in our city tourney debut.  (I still have that game ball at home.)  Life has a way of coming full circle and when my son was nine, our team also earned a trip to the city classic, and we won a couple of games, before dropping out in what I remember as a very heartbreaking loss to a team from somewhere out of Cincinnati.  We actually earned a number of trips to the city tournament, and were pretty successful there, though we never made it to the Final Four.
I could write for hours about some of the personalities that came and went with the Dirtrollers, what a group we had at times, and some of the stories that we could tell.  We were always a pretty close group of players, coaches, and parents, and often went to eat together after our games, which may or may not have been a good idea when the boys start asking during the game where we were going to eat afterwards.  We created rivalries with some other pretty good teams and had some pretty good battles. We like to think that we created a small Knothole dynasty that lasted a few years, but of course, time and age began to send everyone their different ways.  Over our way, a boy could only play two years at each level, which is why I shall be forever grateful to the folks at Manchester who allowed me to join their corps and get my some three more years of summer baseball.
For some reason as I tried to think of a topic for this week, my mind came straight to the memories of the Dirtrollers and how we would be taking advantage of this warm weather to find a field somewhere to start practicing.  A group of boys who grew too quickly to young men gave me memories and experiences that I will cherish for a lifetime.  We have a house full of trophies and medals and all of that material stuff, but it is the stuff in our minds that will make us smile whenever we think of those bygone days of baseball in the stifling heat or the pouring rain, didn’t matter to us.
Our games were always family affairs with parents, siblings, and grandparents all involved and recently I got a message from a grandmother of one of the boys who was a member of our team for many years and she thanked me for all of the time and effort, which meant the world to me.  She also wished for the same thing that I often wish for, especially on days like today.  Just one more game.