It was their first experience performing in front of large crowds. It was feeling like a big shot because they were playing on a field with dugouts and home-run fences. It was their first time playing under the lights. It was where they honed their baseball skills, poise and confidence that later allowed them to become high school stars and have pro careers. And it was a reward for a long season of hard work.
It was the New Era Tournament, and for brothers Jordan and Aaron Herr (sons of Lancaster County native and former major leaguer Tom Herr and his wife, Kim), and other kids of their generation, it was a big deal.
Now the LNP Tournament, the summer classic marks its 74th season this year.
“Growing up and playing competitive sports, no other sport (in Lancaster County) has anything comparable to what the New Era Tournament is in baseball,” Jordan says.
A big part of the tournament has been Kunkle Field. Both Herr brothers have special memories of the Mount Joy venue.“If you had a night game that was like playing in a big league stadium when you were little,” Aaron says of the field, which has long hosted the Midget-Midget and Junior Midget tournaments. “Kunkle was one of the fields I’ll never forget in my baseball career.”
“It made baseball amazing for young kids to be able to have that experience,” Jordan says. “I remember I hit a home run at Kunkle. At that point, it was the first home run I hit over an actual fence.”
Each of the brothers were on Hempfield Black teams that won the Midget championship. Aaron’s team won the 1997 title and finished the season with an amazing 35-1 record.
“Even through my 11-year professional career, that year in Midgets was one of my most memorable baseball times my whole life. I’ll never forget that,” says Aaron, who is still disappointed that he was on just one New Era Tournament title team.
Jordan’s team won the 2002 Midget title. Austin Hinkle, who also went on to play pro baseball, pitched shutouts in the quarterfinals, semis and championship games that year.
Strike a pose
The tourney was the first time, and for many the last, that kids were in the limelight.
“It was the newspaper tournament and they’d always put a lot of pictures in the paper,” Aaron says. “People got excited hoping their picture would be in the paper.”
Dad gets the credit
Aaron and Jordan both credit their dad with much of their success. Tom Herr never played in the tourney but did coach both sons during their tournament years.
“My dad, he exudes a quiet calmness, which keeps everybody else calm,” Jordan says. “You don’t ever look at him and think he’s hyper and overwhelmed. So, his players follow his lead and everybody stays calm.
“He doesn’t get overwhelmed. He doesn’t get excited about the situation. We all just stay together and play.”
“People think you’re only playing because your dad’s the coach,” Aaron says. “I knew that wasn’t the case, but I still felt I had to prove why I was playing. That ultimately made me better. I loved having my dad as coach. I wouldn’t change it for the world. Plus, how many kids get to have an ex-big league player coach them?”
The bigger picture
Tom Herr himself has nothing but praise and good memories (although he says his baseball memories “all run together”) for the tourney.
“It was always a big deal around here,” Tom says. “Those kind of tournaments and the publicity they get (are) really