Field of dreams relived

Register City Editor

Register/Bob Johnson
From left, Fred Kipp, Hank Specht and Archie Specht trade stories about when they played baseball for Piqua.

In 1949, despite designs on playing in the semi-pro National Baseball Congress Tournament in Wichita, Piqua lost its first game in district tournament play at Bronson. To its advantage, the tourney was double-elimination.
Piqua clawed its way through the losers bracket and handily defeated Bronson, its biggest rival when town-team baseball was a fixture throughout southeast Kansas. Piqua then faced Bronson again for the tournament title, but the second time around wasn’t so easy.
After nine innings the score was tied. Archie Specht was on third base and Mike Lair was at the plate.
Jerry Wille told what happened next during a reunion of six of the nine surviving team members in Piqua Friday night.
The coach called for a squeeze play. Lair laid down a bunt along the third base line and Specht raced home with the winning run.
“Archie deserves a lot of the credit for what we accomplished that summer,” Wille said.
“He held us together,” when the team could have folded after losing the first game. It would have been easy to have accepted the loss and let the tournament go. “But,” Wille recalled, “Archie wouldn’t let us.”
“We got our brains beat out at Wichita,” said Fred Kipp, who later pitched for the Brooklyn and then Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees.
For those on the Piqua team at a reunion Friday night, the Wichita tournament was anticlimactic. The Bronson district tournament championship was what they cherished at the time and still like to rehash.

WILLE came from Denver for the event.
“I remember Piqua merchants bought us uniforms,” he said. “We were so proud of them.”
The uniforms replaced bedraggled ones pieced together by wives, mothers and girlfriends.
“Baseball was a way of life growing up in Piqua,” said Hank Specht of Kansas City.
“We all worked all day long, on the farm or at the cement plant, and played ball every night,” Willie recalled.
“Baseball was all we had when we were growing up,” Arnie Lair said. “We played all the time, clear up until it snowed and we couldn’t get on the field anymore.”
“As kids we’d get broken bats from the Piqua town team. Dad would drill a hole, put in a screw and then tape the bat so we could use it,” Hank said. “We played with a ball until the cover came off. Then we’d wrap it with tape and keep playing.
“Winning that district championship probably was the greatest thing that ever happened to Piqua as far as sports is concerned,” he added. “It was some of the most fun I ever had in my life.”
Hank later played a year of minor league baseball for the Topeka Owls, a class C team in the Western Association.
While the district success was foremost in their memories, Lloyd Specht remembered another game with Bronson that has become legendary.
“We played 20 innings before Bronson finally won that one 1-0,” he said.
Lloyd also told about when Piqua had four ball fields, including one near St. Martin’s Catholic Church.
“I remember once someone hit a ball that broke a window in the church,” and the kids knew they had to own up to the damage, he said. The priest, noting the distance from home plate to the church, didn’t believe the boys could hit a ball so far and maintained the window had to have been broken otherwise.
“Remember how we tried to throw a ball over the church steeple? That was hard to do, hard to come close to doing,” Lloyd said.
One ball field was in a cow pasture.
“We had to pick up cow patties before we could play,” Hank said. “We piled them behind first and third bases.”
“Regulation” wasn’t much in the kids’ vocabulary. They often extended boundaries of whatever field they used.
“If a ball went behind the backstop and you caught it, it was an out,” Hank said. “Same with balls hit where cars were parked. If you could catch a pop-up, it was an out.”
For Archie Specht, the reunion was a dream come true for him.
“I had a dream about us all getting together,” Archie said. “And here we are, just like when we were young. I’d love to be 18 just one more time so we could play again.”