Monday, February 4, 2008

Bobcats looking for player boarding

January 24, 2008

The Marion Bobcats baseball club begins action May 30, but General Manager Gordon Guess is already looking for families or individuals to board some of the team’s 22 players. “It’s their civic duty,” Guess joked, speaking of the community. Guess himself plans to put up one of the players for the two-month season.

Manager Steve Fowler said players excel in family settings, immersing them into the community for which they play in June and July. Anyone curious about housing a player can call Guess at 965-2750.

© Crittenden Press, 2008

David Beverly named assistant coach

January 24, 2008

A former two-sport star at Crittenden County High School will be reunited with an old baseball manager when the Marion Bobcats begin play this summer.

David Beverly has been named first base and hitting coach for the Bobcats in their inaugural season in the KIT League, a collegiate summer league. He will join manager Steve Fowler, who skippered the Tradewater Pirates when Beverly was a player for the Dawson Springs team, another of the six teams in the "Kitty" League.

"He's a quality guy ,and we're glad to have him,'' Fowler said of Beverly.

© Crittenden Press, 2008

Fowler tapped to lead Bobcats on field

January 17, 2007


With a grip that could squeeze the sawdust out of a bat, Marion Bobcats manager Steve Fowler extends his hand to greet his prospective players.

On Saturday, Fowler left Marion with Gordon Guess to offer his handshake in the hope of adding more talent to his lineup. After a few such visits, countless phone calls and some networking with old contacts, Fowler entered Monday with commitments from 16 players for summer league baseball action.

Now just more than a week after the last of 18 investors signed on to give birth to Marion's first organized baseball club in 59 years, general manager Guess and Fowler have more than two-thirds of the new 22-man baseball team lined up. And Marion Baseball Club, LLC won't begin KIT League action for another five months.

When "Kitty" League action starts in June, Fowler will bring more years of baseball experience than the age all his players. The 46-year-old skipper began coaching high school in 1988, but grew up in a baseball atmosphere. His father played in the original Kitty League in the Chicago Cubs organization, setting the course for his son.

"He raised me to play baseball," Fowler said of his dad.

Fowler left for college with four years of the game under his belt from Madisonville North Hopkins High School. From there, he played at Wabash Valley Junior College, Kentucky Weslyan and the University of Evansville. With a stout frame, firm grip and a strong 92 mph toss, Fowler settled into the catcher's position.

At the age of 20, he was offered a shot with the Cincinnati Reds. Following his 1981 tryout at Riverfront Stadium, a team scout offered an invitation to Florida for spring training. His performance in the Sunshine State was good enough to earn a place on a low-level farm team in Virginia, but with a wife and baby, he declined a paltry bonus and slim $1,000 a month salary.

"There comes a time when you have to grow up," he said.

Add to the mix a collision at home plate that wrecked his throwing arm and Fowler's playing career was finished. But he wouldn't give up the uniform or the game.

"Baseball is my passion," he said of America's pastime.

Fowler will bring that passion and an aggressive style of baseball to the Bobcats when the season begins. His roster will be filled with hard-nosed players not afraid to get their uniforms dirty.

"I want guys who still want to work and bleed," he said. "I don't want any prima donnas."

Most of his players will come from the junior college ranks and Division II NCAA colleges. Since the Kitty League is a summer collegiate league, players must be college-eligible amateurs. He will also explore some Division I options, but most of the players will hover around the age of 20.

"I want a team of mules pulling the wagon everyday," he said.

So far, Fowler has signed or gained commitments from players at colleges in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa, as well as from Millersville University in Pennsylvania, Stony Brook University in New York and the University of Tennessee-Martin. He's willing to build a team around power or speed.

"One year, we stole home 12 to 14 times, and the next year, we hit 15 homes runs," Fowler said of his eight years leading the Tradewater Pirates, a Kitty League team from Dawson Springs.

That's where Fowler met Guess 10 years ago. Fowler was the first manager the Pirates hired. During his eight years at the helm, he got to know Guess as a radio personality calling the games for WMJL. Their relationship made Fowler's decision to head another new team easy.

"Anything Gordon does, he does well," Fowler said.

After taking a couple of years off from baseball, Fowler said he's ready to return. So, he dusted of his ragged folder full of baseball contacts and notes and is ready for the first pitch.

On the field, he tallied 187 wins with the Pirates and six titles that earned berths to national tournaments, the top being the National Baseball Congress World Series Championship in Wichita, Kans. That's his ultimate goal for the Bobcats.

He has scouted for the Tampa Bay Devilrays, providing the first report on Major Leaguer Brad Wilkerson and has had two of his players drafted by the "Bigs" and two more signed to play professionally in the Frontier League. He has also helped 187 kids earn collegeate athletic scholarships.

"That's my biggest high point," he said of the scholarships.

Off the field, Fowler is married with two grown sons and two grandchildren. He is an alternative school teacher in Muhlenberg County and at church leads the singing and teaches a Sunday school class.

"I love God, my family and baseball," he said.

© Crittenden Press, 2008

New Team Unveiled

January 10, 2008

Marion backs baseball team to call its own; 1st since 1949


America’s pastime will hit the basepaths in Marion this summer, when the town fields its own team in the six-member Kitty League.

Marion Baseball Club LLC will take the field in June, competing with the likes of the Dawson Springs-based Tradewater Pirates in the three-year-old collegiate summer league. The Marion Bobcats will play 25 home games at Marion-Crittenden County Park during June and July, with all but Sunday contests being evening starts.

“I think it’s great, I really do,” said Bob Swisher, a Marion native and member of the last organized baseball team to call the city home.

The team is the brainchild of Gordon Guess, who rounded up 17 other local investors to back the club and get it off the ground. A passionate baseball fan since his father took him to games as a child, Guess has been working on such a venture for years, but rounded third on his dream after his retirement from The Peoples Bank last summer.

“It is the American pastime, I don’t care what people say,” Guess said Monday, after confirming the last of his investors.

Cletus Hunt, one of the 18 Crittenden Countians to have pledged $1,000 initial investments with another $1,000 at a later date, doesn’t follow the game much anymore, but as a child could be found on sandlots and diamonds across town.

“If you grew up in Marion, you grew up playing baseball,” he said.

Hunt, like most of the other investors, lives in Marion proper. He made his investment as a contribution for the benefit of the area.

“Anything you can get to attract people to Marion makes the community better,” he said.

Swisher, who now lives in Paducah, played on the 1949 Marion Red Sox, an amateur club in the Twin States League and the last to call Marion home.

“For such a small town to have a baseball team of this nature is great,” he said.

On Tuesday, Swisher fondly remembered the grand slam he hit in an 11-run fifth-inning explosion that sank Smithland 15-7 in what became the last game of organized league baseball Marion would host. According to Guess, a brawl between the two clubs – documented in the June 10, 1949, issue of The Crittenden Press – spelled an end to the three-year-old Marion team. Soon after, the league kicked Marion out of the fold.

The Bobcats will field a team of 22 young men, many junior college or university athletes from the region who are looking for a few summertime at-bats to hone their skills and gain exposure. It's a sacrifice, as players of the Kitty League do not get paid, rather they pay a fee to play the game.

“You get at bats. You get to be seen,” Guess explained.

Bobcat players will be managed by Steve Fowler of Madisonville.

The Kitty League is officially the KIT League, an acronym for Kentucky, Illinois and Tennessee, the general geographical area from which teams hail. The term “Kitty” is a throwback to the Class D professional league that that made its home in the same area from 1903 to 1955.

Marion joins the new Kitty League in 2008 as a replacement for Farmington, Mo., whose owners disbanded the team due to other commitments.

League President Randy Morgan said the communities that play host to the teams have fallen in love with them.

“People have really just taken these players into their hearts,” Morgan said from his Paducah home.

Guess is counting on the community's open arms for both the success of the team and a roof over players’ heads. While he has made tentative arrangements for some of the players, others will need a place a stay once the action begins.

“There are probably going to be a few with a hometown in northern Illinois or Staten Island (N.Y.),” he said. “They can’t commute like some others.”

Morgan said community support is essential to keeping the league viable, and not just through ticket sales.

“In Fulton, they would tell you (the team) means quite a bit,” he said.

The league president said such affection is illustrated by the fact that Fulton residents have gone so far as to donate furniture and groceries to Railroaders players.

“They become local heroes,” he said of club members.

It also provides an identity.

“We haven't been here before,” Guess said matter-of-factly. “It’s our own franchise. Our own team.”

Guess, like Hunt, grew up playing ball in Marion, whether in a back yard or grassy field – making a game with as few as three boys by playing homemade variations like cat-eye and bottlecap. He and his dad, who shunned any other sport, bonded over baseball.

“There’s nothing my dad liked better than to take me to a game,” Guess said.

They would also listen to Harry Caray calling St. Louis Cardinal games on the radio. Guess recalls thinking a town was little to nothing if it didn’t host a baseball team. In his youth, cities like Paducah, Hopkinsville, Madisonville and Owensboro each had organized baseball.

“This puts us a league up on Princeton,” Guess said of the Bobcats. “You have no idea what that means to me.”

The team will play on the high school field at Marion-Crittenden County Park which is appropriately named for Guess. The diamond has carried the name Gordon B. Guess Field for several years.

“I decided before they named it I wanted to do something like this,” he said. “After that, I didn't want to have my name on something that’s poorly done.”

That’s why he’s been pouring in money and time, adding 250 chair-back seats and a covered pavilion at the field. Next will be an enlargement of the field itself and traditional below-ground dugouts for the teams. A new concession stand and combination batting cage-storage facility are also in the works.

“We’re trying to make Marion a better place,” Guess said.

Guess believes low cost, summer evening entertainment will do that. Season tickets will be $115 for the 25 home games, with general admission tickets only $5. Various additional promotions, he hopes, will draw at least 125 a night to the stands.

“That’s our break-even number,” he said. “Of course, we hope to do better than that.”

Through promotions, including Ladies’Night and Old-timers Night, inexpensive fun and good baseball, the club hopes to draw varied, large crowds. Guess is even counting on strong baseball interest in Fredonia and Salem to fill seats.

“It’s good quality entertainment,” he said. “I hope people will come out and see us play.”

Morgan agreed the league is certainly not a get-rich venture.

“It’s a civic thing these investors are doing,” he said. “You’re not going to make money on it.”

Bobcat investors range from retired business people to those in their late 20s, with careers in insurance to agri-business.

“Most of the people haven’t even been in the same room together,” Guess said of the wide array of personalities.

While the Marion baseball venture has become his own field of dreams, Guess wants to shy away from personal attention. He’s called in lots of favors, aside from the initial investors, to make the park and team a reality.

Bobcats players will take the field in team colors of red, white and royal blue. The team’s white vest-type uniforms will have Bobcats emblazoned in blue across the chest in block letters. Undershirts will be blue for home contest, red on the road. The traditional baseball cap will be blue with a red M, trimmed in white.

But why name the team the Bobcats?

“Because we’ve got plenty of them around here,” said Guess.

Kitty League teams for 2008 will be based in Marion, Fulton, Owensboro and Dawson Springs in Kentucky; Union City, Tenn.; and Sikeston, Mo.

Wooden bats, nine-inning games and the designated hitter rule all apply in league action.

Marion’s home games will be broadcast on WMJL.

© Crittenden Press, 2008