Little League's First Pro - by Jennifer A. Cline, writer/editor-One College Avenue

Like many children growing up in the 1930s, Allen "Sonny" Yearick spent summers playing baseball in a neighborhood sandlot. Yearick and his friends played behind Bowman Field - home to the Williamsport Grays minor league team - "from daylight to darkness" when the sport was unquestioned as America's favorite pastime.

"Baseball was just an inborn love of mine my whole life," he said.

After batting practice, the Grays players would throw their worn balls or broken bats to their young audience, who nailed and taped the bats to keep their games going.

The boys got an upgrade after 1938, when Carl Stotz was playing with his young nephews and got the idea for little boys to play with new balls and bats. He worked out the idea with his wife, Grayce, and after getting three teams together, he enlisted the help of George and Bert Bebble to manage the other two teams. His idea was to provide a wholesome program of baseball for the boys of Williamsport as a way to teach them the ideals of sportsmanship, fair play and teamwork. Talking with his friends in the community, Stotz chose the name "Little League."

Yearick first heard of the new league when he saw a man - Stotz - in a neighboring field with stopwatches and measuring tape and asked a friend what was going on. When he heard of the new league, he asked Stotz if he could be on his team. Because Yearick lived just outside the boundaries Stotz had planned for his league, he told the boy he could only practice with the team. But Yearick was persistent. He continued asking Stotz if he could play on his team, even showing up at Stotz's workplace.

"I must have impressed him," Yearick said, because the boundaries were redrawn to include his street.

When Little League's first game was played June 6, 1939, 10-year-old Yearick was on the field for Lycoming Dairy, named after one of three local businesses (the others were Lundy Lumber and Jumbo Pretzel) that offered $30 sponsorships to provide new uniforms and equipment for the players. "It was such a great thing for us in that era," Yearick said.

No one realized what would grow out of Stotz's neighborhood Little League.

Lycoming Dairy lost that first game 23-8 to Lundy Lumber but went on to win the Little League championship the first year of play. In 1940, the league grew to four teams, and Lycoming Dairy won the championship that year and again in 1941. Yearick was catcher on all three teams.

"I remember the thrill when we played under the lights at Bowman Field on fan appreciation night," he said. "This was planned by Tommy Richardson, then president of the Eastern League. We were also taken on a train ride to Philadelphia, touched the Liberty Bell and were introduced to the fans at Shibe Park as 'The Little League from Williamsport, Pa.' This was a game between the Philadelphia Athletics and the New York Yankees . with Joe DiMaggio and Bill Dickey catching Red Ruffing, one of the greatest pitchers of his time."

After "aging out" of Little League, Yearick continued to play in the more advanced leagues for older boys in town. He attended Williamsport High School and Williamsport Technical Institute's high school machining program, with plans to study tool design at Georgia Tech. He graduated in 1946. W.T.I. would eventually become Williamsport Area Community College and later Pennsylvania College of Technology. Because the city was so saturated with baseball leagues for teenagers, the high school did not field its own team, Yearick said.

After a tour with the U.S. Marines, Yearick signed with the Boston Braves in 1947, becoming the first Little League alumnus to play professional baseball.

"This was a dream of mine from when I started Little League: to be a professional ballplayer," Yearick said.

He also enrolled at Lycoming College, arranging to take his exams early each year so he could play baseball in season.

Yearick was assigned to the Braves' Richmond (Ind.) Roses club, then went on to play for the Mount Airy (N.C.) Graniteers. He spent the last year of his five-year professional career playing for the Niagara Falls Citizens, part of the Middle Atlantic League. He was named to league All-Star teams as a catcher several times, including his rookie year.

When the Middle Atlantic League folded, Yearick was sold to the Hopkinsville (Ky.) Hoppers as a player/manager, but opted instead to coach the baseball team at Lycoming College, where he was a senior finishing his studies toward a bachelor's degree in sociology-psychology. He graduated in 1953, and later that summer, a Detroit Tigers scout asked him to work out with the Williamsport Grays. (Williamsport's team was affiliated with the Tigers from 1946-52.) That winter, Detroit offered Yearick a contract with its Buffalo, N.Y., AAA team in the International League, but Yearick turned it down to take a job with Little League Baseball Inc. He decided to give up professional baseball because, at age 23, there were not sufficient opportunities available at the time.

Yearick left Little League Baseball Inc. a few years later when Stotz and Little League parted ways. His immediate job was with Lycoming Motors, and he played with the company's West Branch League team, losing only one game that year. It was his last year in baseball.

He later took a position with Weis Markets in Sunbury, where he worked until in retirement in 1996, serving in an executive position as director of distribution.

 

Yearick, who resides in Shamokin Dam with his wife, returns to the Original Little League field during World Series week - along with 1939 Lycoming Dairy teammates Tom Frazier and Bill Bair - helping provide tours of the facility and explaining Little League's creation.

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