Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

August 22, 2013

MARK MAYNARD: Ashland baseball’s paradise weekend

Mark Maynard
The Independent

ASHLAND — Bill Lynch is looking forward to Friday night a lot like a kid looks forward to Christmas.

With anticipation.

With wonder.

And with the hope it will never end.

Lynch and the other members of the 1960s Ashland baseball connection who put together this Ashland Baseball Reunion at the Elks Lodge, did so knowing that it may well be the last time this particular group of athletes will be together.

The 1960 to 1969 era of Ashland baseball was like no other. There were state championships in Little League, Babe Ruth and three in high school.

All in Ashland, all with Ashland kids.

Amazing really.

“This is a chance to get together and appreciate what we did as kids and it’s entirely different how we look at it as adults,” he said. “We get a chance to talk about it like we never talked about it before from different points of views when you compare 18 (year olds) to 65.”

Lynch can’t wait to pick the brain of Zeke Meyers, his coach on the 1966 Ashland Tomcat state champions.

“I want to know why he did some things he did,” said Lynch, one of Ashland’s most famous ballplayers of the 1960s.

For instance, did you know that Billy Lynch — arguably the Tomcats’ best player in 1966 — never got in the championship game as a pitcher or outfielder (despite a team-leading .386 batting average)?

Meyers was keeping him ready in case Little Brother (sophomore) Bobby Lynch got into trouble on the mound.

Billy got up to warm up a few times but Bobby finished off Shelby County for a 2-1 victory in the ‘66 finals.

The previous season the Tomcats took a 17-0 record into the state semifinals and fell 5-4 to Bowling Green. Lynch had struck out 14 against Heath the previous day but he came on in relief anyway. However, it was an errant throw to first on a pickoff attempt that let in the winning run.

“It’s a heartbreaker, even today,” Lynch said. “You don’t think that stuff can linger on but it did. It’s a big void in what I went through in baseball; one of my biggest disappointments right there.”

Ashland was another errant throw from winning the state title in ‘69, losing 1-0 to Owensboro when Tim Huff’s throw sailed into centerfield. He’s never forgotten it either.

So they were two errant throws from winning five state championships in a row.

“Mind-boggling,” said Lynch.

Billy Lynch was a hard-throwing lefty whose blazing fastballs caught the eyes of Major League scouts. He was taken by the Cleveland Indians out of high school for a $36,000 signing bonus. He was a Bonus Baby.

Lynch’s fastball was compared to Don Gullett’s even though the two were three years apart. Those who saw both say there wasn’t much difference in the speed and movement of the fastball.

But what Ashland did during that era can be traced back to great youth coaches like Jim Stewart and Jack Lynch, Bill Workman and Claude Workman, Gene Hemlepp, Shug Saunders, Bill Miranda, Carl Dove and Glenn Judd among others.

“We were exposed to people from the ‘Greatest Generation,’” Lynch said. “They were tough people who came through the depression, World Wars and now they were coaching in baseball and being parents.”

Lynch noted something else that’s interesting: “About 95 percent of us were from two-parent homes. It makes a difference.”

Lynch wanted to make it clear too this wasn’t a Tomcat-only gathering. Everybody is welcome to meet some of these 1960s heroes.

“It’s not just about the Tomcats,” he said. “It’s about the city of Ashland, the parents, the businessmen that got behind it, the officials that saw to it we had fields and uniforms. We didn’t have to pay for uniforms. It was the beginning of something that people latched on to.”

Ashland had a reputation for great baseball during that decade. They were there with Bowling Green, Owensboro, Paducah and Lexington as the teams to beat.

“Ashland showed up during that decade,” Lynch said.

Many players from the 1960-69 era are expected to attend, including some who haven’t been back home for years.

The organizers wanted to make sure nametags will be available so everybody can be recognized.

“To get this number of guys together at one time, from that era, it’s not going to happen again,” Lynch said. “I really don’t want it to end. When 10 o’clock comes, I hope everybody pulls up a chair and starts getting comfortable.”

MARK MAYNARD can be reached at mmaynard@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2648.