A slice of Americana: In tiny Valmeyer, the Mid-Summer Classic turns 50 | Sports


As the tale goes, a hastily-assembled crew from Valmeyer, Illinois, made the decision to perform in a Fourth of July beginner baseball match in 1971 close to the point out money of Springfield.

There ended up teams from Springfield, Chicago and all about. But when the final out was recorded, it was the unheralded underdog from Valmeyer that arrived away with the match title.

It was so significantly enjoyable, the Valmeyer group made a decision to commence a July 4 match of their own back again home. They did just that the subsequent summer months, and have accomplished so each individual 12 months thereafter.

This year marks 50 a long time of the Valmeyer Mid-Summer time Traditional, with the 2022 event getting area Saturday via Monday at Dennis Pieper Subject just outdoors Valmeyer, a village of 1,208 situated about 20 miles southeast of south St. Louis County.

“You get down there to a little little city and you have beer and barbecue and check out baseball on the Fourth of July,” explained Brad Rippelmeyer, one of the match organizers. “It doesn’t get a lot superior than that as considerably as I’m involved.”

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There will be fireworks — of study course — adhering to the championship sport on the Fourth. And to commemorate 50 many years of the Mid-Summertime Vintage, there are some extra touches. National anthem singer extraordinaire Charles Glenn will do his detail before Monday’s title recreation, which starts — a lot more or much less — all around 3:30 p.m. The 1971 and ’72 Valmeyer Lakers teams will be honored.

The times are gone when some of the taking part ballplayers would slumber in the surrounding cornfields the night time ahead of games. (Hey, less costly than a motel room, correct?) But RVs and campers will park further than the left discipline fence for the total vacation weekend. Tent canopies and lawn chairs will be plopped all in excess of over and above middle and ideal discipline.

“On great days, and specifically if there is a regional crew like a Valmeyer, Waterloo, Millstadt taking part in in the championship match, we’ve believed there is been as several 2,000 to 3,000 individuals there to enjoy — amongst what’s in the grandstand and what’s surrounding the outfield fence,” Rippelmeyer reported.

They retain the beer stands hectic, and munch on barbecue, incredibly hot pet dogs, hamburgers, fish sandwiches, funnel cakes — you name it. The Valmeyer Jaycees organizes the concession stands, which are run by local charitable organizations. As for the baseball games by themselves, there is no admission cost, whilst a hat is handed about on the working day of the championship sport.

‘Oh my, goodbye!’

Rippelmeyer, 52, is a money planner from close by Columbia, Illinois. He handles public address duties at the tournament, with occasional support from longtime P.A. person Artwork Voellinger, whose signature household run connect with — “Oh my, goodbye!” — is common to tournament regulars.

Rippelmeyer played six seasons of minimal-league baseball in the ’90s in the Atlanta Braves firm. His father, Ray, was a longtime pitching mentor, most notably with the Philadelphia Phillies in the ’70s, when he labored with Corridor of Famer Steve Carlton amongst others.

“When my dad retired from coaching the to start with time I was 9 several years aged,” Rippelmeyer mentioned. “I arrived residence watching (Valmeyer) Lakers online games and I recall thinking someday I want to enjoy out there. To me there was no distinction involving them and key-league gamers even however I had been watching major-league gamers like Mike Schmidt and so forth when my dad was coaching.”

There was a variation, of course, but not as considerably as you’d think. About the years, Rippelmeyer estimates that a lot more than 100 Mid-Summer months Classic participants have performed professional baseball. Some, these kinds of as previous St. Louis Cardinal Gary Gaetti, attained the major leagues. The times are gone when the event routinely was scouted by big-league groups.

Unbiased amateur men’s baseball isn’t what it utilized to be. There are find teams for significant school talent, additional summer school leagues, and the introduction of entry-level pro leagues this kind of as the Frontier League, in which the Gateway Grizzlies of Sauget engage in. All of that has siphoned expertise that or else may possibly participate in in the Mon-Clair League, which gives most of the groups for the Mid-Summer season Common.

Mon-Clair is quick for the Illinois counties of Monroe and St. Clair, but the league — and the tournament — have saved likely in portion by the addition of groups from Cape Girardeau (the Cape Girardeau Capahas and Southeast Tropics) and St. Louis (the St. Louis Spikes and St. Louis Printers). The Printers no for a longer period are in the Mon-Clair League, but are in this year’s tournament.

A blend of expertise

The makeup of the groups remains unchanged over 50 yrs — a exclusive mix of high faculty and college or university players with former higher education players and even a previous professional or two.

“And I think that’s what is interesting about this match,” Rippelmeyer stated. “You go to this match and you are gonna see a 30-12 months-outdated and he could possibly be a very little little bit out of form. But if you know the again story, he might have played professional baseball 6 years preceding. And then there is a 16-year-old child that still has hopes and dreams. It’s just a cool mixture.”

A blend of all those chasing the aspiration and these who have lived it to some extent.

The tournament has persevered by way of all forms of trials and tribulations. In 2009, the championship game was canceled for the reason that of a deluge of rain — even even though a helicopter was introduced in and hovered around the industry in an unsuccessful energy to dry factors out. And then there was the Flood of 1993, which buried most of the town under h2o and pressured Valmeyer to relocate permanently to bigger ground.

With the floodwaters creeping up in close proximity to the outfield, ballplayers participating in the ’93 event assisted spectators and townsfolk get to larger floor.

In November 2020, Dennis Pieper, who had completed a lot more for the Mon-Clair League and the Mid-Summer season Vintage than any person, handed away. He had founded the tournament, and coached the Lakers for 50 decades. His casket was positioned in the first-base dugout all through the funeral support, alongside with the chair he’d sit in and his jersey. The chair and jersey are put in the dugout any time the Lakers perform on their dwelling field.

“Play difficult, get together challenging, build accurate friendships that very last a life span,” stated Bob Blank, yet another event organizer, referring to the Lakers’ unofficial credo.

All of the over will get area this weekend at the tournament, which starts at 9 a.m. Saturday with the Belleville Rockies squaring off in opposition to the Southeast Tropics.

“It’s a excellent match, and the simple fact that it is absent on for 50 several years is pretty amazing,” mentioned Blank, a previous Laker whose son Trent is bullpen mentor for the Seattle Mariners.


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Ellen C. McGowan

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