90-year-old: ‘My heart is the Original Little League’
Throughout the many changes that Little League baseball has seen since its inception, Al “Sonney” Yearick’s love of the game, and of Original Little League, has remained constant. Yearick will turn 91 next week, but he can still tell you about his time as a catcher on the 1939, 1940, and 1941 Lycoming Dairy Farm Little League teams.
Growing up on Memorial Avenue, Yearick was 10 years old when Carl Stotz, who was a Sunday School teacher at his church, came into his class in 1938 to ask how many kids were interested in playing ball.
“We were all interested in playing ball,” said Yearick. He said “you” can imagine the excitement for the kids with a promise of a new ball and new equipment.
Yearick was one of the many boys that came out to the tryouts at Original Field to participate and observe Stotz laying out the dimensions for baseball for little boys. “The kids were enthused” said Yearick.
“How do you get to play” was the question Yearick wanted answered, he said.
“I went over to the Original Field sandlot diamond at the corner of Park Place, three blocks from his house. I was sitting on the bench, I wasn’t going to let anybody beat me, I sat there an hour and a half, waiting for someone to show up.”
All at once people started coming in. “They said were going to have tryouts, this is going to be a league, this is official. To someone 10 years old talking baseball, anything official was great.” Yearick said.
He was invited back to practice the next night and Stotz ran him through the tryouts he was doing with every boy. He said Stotz had a big turnout, so he ran the boys through the tryouts to select the ones that would play on teams. Stotz took interest in him and came over after one of the practices and asked him his name and where he lived. When Yearick told him 1883 Memorial Ave., he found he lived out of bounds.
“I choke up when I think about it, he just broke my heart, because I was not going to be included,” Yearick said.
All of the other boys lived on one side of the creek and Yearick lived on the other side — the creek being the western boundary line for the league.
But all was not lost — Stotz let Yearick work out and practice with the team even though he could not officially be a member. There was another boy on the team in the same situation as Yearick and, eventually, the boundary was moved one street beyond the previous one, so both of them could play on the team.
Yearick was excited to have a real baseball uniform.
“I could have run home backwards when I found out we were going to get uniforms.” One of his teammates was so excited he slept in his uniform. “His mother couldn’t get it off of him for three days straight,” he said.
His time on the team included exciting adventures for a 10-year-old boy. The team took a trip on a train to New York City in 1940 for the World’s Fair and to see Joe DiMaggio and the Yankees play the Athletics.
Once youngsters left Little League, there was no high school baseball back then — boys who aged out of Little League played West End and East End baseball. After high school, Yearick went on to play professionally, after a short stint in the Marine Corps, signing a contract with the Boston Braves in their minor leagues in Richmond, Indiana; Mount Airy, North Carolina and Niagara Falls, New York. Yearick also attended and graduated from Lycoming College while playing professionally, majoring in history and sociology, hoping to be a coach and teacher upon graduation.
After graduation and the end of his professional baseball career, he stayed in contact with Stotz. When Stotz formulated Little League he asked Yearick to be his regional coordinator at the Little League National Headquarters.
“We really had a great relationship, he was like a father to me,” Yearick said. “I enjoyed working for Mr. Stotz.”
Yearick still makes the trip to Original Little League every Little League World Series he can. He will be at the museum today and Friday, to share his stories and words of encouragement to the visitors to the museum, which is open every day during the series from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Yearick said Little League taught him and continues to teach respect, rules, regulations, truthfulness and understanding your purpose.
“I hold my head high, my heart is the Original Little League,” Yearick said.