By Dave Bryne
Change comes slowly to the local institution that is the LNP Midget Baseball Tournament.
When it does come, it is a notable event.
For only the fourth time in the 62-year history of the tournament, there is a change in administration as two of the four commissioners have announced their retirement.
Prior to the 2007 organizational meeting earlier this summer, commissioners Curt Aspril Jr. and Greg Schneider announced they were stepping down after serving 12 and five years, respectively.
Aspril joined the commission after the late Charlie Henry, one of the tournament’s first commissioners, stepped down in the mid-1990s.
Schneider came aboard upon the retirement of long-time commissioner Bud Born in 2002.
But Aspril and Schneider have a history with the tournament that runs much deeper than their service as commissioners.
At age 13, Aspril was the starting pitcher for New Providence in the championship game of the first LNP Tournament in 1946. He got the win in front of a crowd of 7,000 at Stumpf Field.
Schneider was a long-time coach of the Mount Joy Blue junior-midgets and, with his long-time assistant coach, Leo Gillette, was also responsible for the maintenance and preparation of Kunkle Field in Mount Joy, where the Midget-Midget and Junior-Midget tournaments are held.
Aspril said the aches and pains of your average 74-year-old finally caught up with him.
For Schneider, recent changes in the tournament’s direction and philosphy were contributing factors.
“It’s been the premier tournament in the county,” he said. “And I just felt like I didn’t want to be a part of it if it’s going to lose that.”
Ironically, many of the tournament’s fundamental changes came on Aspril and Schneider’s watch.
Under their guidance, along with fellow commissioners Bill Reutter and Bob Herr, the rules for qualifying for the tournament were modified, as was the tournament’s schedule.
Originally, the midget-midget, junior-midget and midget tournaments were run concurrently over two weeks in late July.
This often meant long periods of downtime in divisions that had less than a full compliment of contestant teams.
Another drawback was the midget-midgets would face a layoff between the end of their season and start of the tournament, while the midgets would be playing before their regular seasons ended.
At the suggestion of Schneider, the NET was separated into three distinct tournaments, beginning with the midget-midgets and played one after the other, over three weeks.
“It’s sort of my claim to fame, I guess,” said Schneider, who saw another benefit to the new setup. “One of my criticisms of the LNP tournament (as a coach) was you could pitch one pitcher the whole way through.”
Now it became more of a test of who had the best staff, rather than the best ace.
The two outgoing commissioners weren’t always in agreement, and not all the changes sat well with them.
“I was never wild about all the free substitution,” said Aspril. “To me, it takes away the strategy of the game – but that’s just my personal opinion.”
That subject was near and dear to Schneider when he coached, and he was a big proponent of it when he became a commissioner.
Aspril didn’t care much for the movement to metal bats either.
“To me, that changed the course of the game,” Aspril said. “I was never a proponent of metal bats. I like hickory and horsehide! Of course, I played the old school.”
“Old school” is the perfect way to describe Aspril.
From the pickup team he led to a LNP title, to his playing days in high school and beyond, Aspril was always old school, but not stuck in stone.
“The game is more organized now, than it was in 1946,” he said. “Things have changed that way, probably for the better. The kids today, they’ve had some good training. You can see it when they’re on the field, at the plate.”
One of those responsible for that training was Schneider, whose coaching career spanned 16 years, 13 as head coach of Mount Joy Blue, before stepping back after the ’01 season.
Over the course of that time his teams won multiple Susquehanna League championships as well as NET-qualifying division titles.
“We had some good kids, good teams,” said Schneider. “I still have one kid that I coached playing professionally, Chris Heisey.”
But the big one always escaped Schneider.
“I guess you could say it’s a negative (memory) … never winning the tournament,” he admitted. “Of course, it was all coaching.”
Over the years both gentlemen have accumulated a storehouse of memories and recollections of the players and teams they have seen.
“Oh man, there were so many of them that came up through the years,” said Aspril. “Millersville, (with) Dick Barr, the East End Panthers, those are the first that come to my mind.
“Penn Manor had a couple, the Texters (Phil and Jarred); of course, the Manheim Twp. kid that (recently) signed, Austin Gallagher; the Enochs, from Hempfield.”
And, for Aspril, there was the additional pride and pleasure of watching his son, Jon, umpire numerous LNP games, and his grandson, Chris Brubaker, play in the tournament.
Schneider remembers “Coaching against Frank Mincarelli, with Lancaster Twp. He had Matt Watson and (John) Parrish. We banged heads a bunch of times.
“Hempfield Black, with the Herr boys (Aaron and Jordan) and their dad (Tommy) coaching; Jeff Mummau and Manheim.”
Then there’s one other poignant memory, of his only tournament as a player.
“It was back in the early ’60s. I can’t remember if I was a junior-midget or a midget-midget,” he said.
“I played for Kunkle Oil and, ironically, we were playing Bunting Oil down at Lafayette (Elementary School) in a first-round game.
My birthdate was January 1, so I was too old to pitch (in the tournament). I just remember standing there by the fence on the third base line watching as we lost.”
While they’ve stepped back from the day-to-day operation of the tournament, both Aspril and Schneider say they will not be strangers on game night.
“I’ll stop up and see some games,” Aspril promised.
“I guess I can make it down,” quipped Schneider, who lives next door to Kunkle Field. “After all, it’s only, what, 400 yards.”