In 1946, venerable Lancaster County baseball tradition was born

LAURA ECKERT THOMPSON
Assistant Sports Editor

In 1946, Lancaster County seemed to have a little bone to pick with its youngsters. In those relatively early days of post-World War II America, county elders thought there were a few too many shenanigans going on among the kids of the day.

Juvenile delinquency seemed poised to stay awhile. But New Era sports editor George W. Kirchner had other ideas. He would do something to pull those kids away from, ahem, less wholesome pursuits. He would organize a baseball tournament.

The hype leading up the the first New Era Tournament in 1946 was huge for the time. Every day for weeks, there were stories, team photos, rosters and boxscores as the tournament progressed. The day of the championship, Aug. 20, 1946, the New Era ran this cartoon illustrating the winner-take-all game that was coming next.

In a column that summer, Kirchner wrote of his hope that the brand-new New Era Tournament would take those kids and “… steer them into a path that would lead to good, clean, healthy recreation, to get their minds off things that would lead to mischief.”

If you build it, it says here, they will come. And they did. From every nook and cranny of the county. That first July and August, 65 teams competed in the Midget division, which was players ages 12 to 14. (Today, that’s the Junior-Midget group. The current Midget age group, ages 14 to 16, then played Junior American Legion ball.) Another four teams of 9- to 11-year-old players, had an shorter Midget-Midget tournament that August.

As Cocalico and Lititz gear up for this year’s LNP Tournament championship game, Day 207 of the LNP Sports 365 project turns the clock back to Tuesday, Aug. 20, 1946. That was the night New Providence turned away Hamilton 6-3 to claim the venerable tourney’s inaugural title. The game was played at Stumpf Field, along the Fruitville Pike in Manheim Township, and then home of the Lancaster Red Roses, who played in the Class B Inter-State League from 1940 to 1953. And it drew quite the crowd.

In fact, splashed across the top of the front page of the Aug. 21 New Era was a panoramic photo of the jammed stadium the night of the game. The type with the picture read: “Record crowd of 7,250 at Stumpf Field for Finals of the New Era Midget Baseball Tournament (Story on Sports Pages)”

Think about that for a moment. 7,250. Actually, the final total was 7, 258. As Kirchner wrote in his game summary, “All Lancaster County seemed to turn out for this grand finale and when it is considered that this was the first time any of these youngsters performed under the lights and the first time they ever played before such a tremendous gathering the nervous tension under which the boys played can be appreciated.”

And the numbers would grow in the years to come.

“We had no idea there’d be a crowd like that,” Curt Aspril, New Providence’s ace pitcher, told former New Era sports editor Bill Carroll for a story marking the tournament’s 50th anniversary. “Thank heavens we were only 13. I guess we didn’t know enough to be scared.”

As for April’s squad, a team photo had appeared in the paper in the days leading up to the final. The original photo caption read: “Eleven boys will carry the hopes of New Providence and all of Lancaster County into the finals of the New Era Midget Baseball Tournament when they clash with Lancaster Township’s Hamiltons Tuesday night at Stumpf Field. Standing, back row, left to right, the team members are Bruce Barnett, Peach Bottom; Tom Reese, Don Sample, Curt Aspril, Don Herr, all of New Providence; Mel Eckman, Quarryville R3; and Norman Hackman, Quarryville R1. Seated in the front row are Charles (Tad) Dommel, New Providence; Tom Reinhart, Refton; Bob Wiggins, New Providence, batboy; Bob Aspril and Carl Beck, New Providence. John Stively, of New Providence, was also a member of the squad. Co-managers are Curtis Aspril, Sr., and Daniel Herr.”

In the game itself, New Providence got off to a quick start as leadoff hitter Reese doubled to left field, launching a four-run first.

Hamilton managed to push a pair of runs across in the fifth and one more in the sixth. However, Aspril, who went on to become a tournament commissioner as an adult, was dealing, as he had through the tourney’s first five games. He kept the Hamiltons largely in check, limiting them to four hits while striking out 13 and walking three.

As an aside

The inaugural New Era Tournament championship game spawned a host of coverage — more than a full page in a time when sports coverage took up relatively little space in the daily paper.

Scattered among the copy were little tidbits that today would be considered more than quaint, including this nugget:

“Red Letter Day For Aspril Family

“Yesterday was probably the biggest day in the collective lives of the Aspril family, from New Providence.

“It was the day of the Midget finals, in which both thirteen-year-old Curt, Jr. was pitching and nine-year-old Bobby was an eager sub. It was also Mr. and Mrs. Aspril’s fourteenth wedding anniversary.

“To complete a perfect day, Curt was elected most valuable player by his teammates, and his dad was on time for his 11 o’clock shift at Armstrong.”