Cumberland Times-News

Mike Mathews - Sports

August 29, 2010

Uhl won many fans for many reasons

— Chances are if you played baseball or were a fan of a certain area team over the last half century, you saw Bobby Uhl.

You saw him even though he didn’t seek to draw attention to himself. But he couldn’t help it. His play and the professional manner in which he handled himself forced you to notice him, and remember him.

Plenty of big-league players could’ve learned a lesson or two from Uhl. Plenty of semi-pro players in the Cumberland area did, year after year after year.

No one loved the game of baseball more than Uhl. He didn’t play for the money. He didn’t play for the glory, although his many trophies speak volumes of the success he and his teams enjoyed.

He played for the sheer love of the game, and it showed in everything he did on the diamond.

Bobby died much too young, a week ago, at age 66. But what he did and the number of people he influenced in those 66 years is a shining legacy that will live on for years.

It was proven at Monday’s funeral. One after another, speakers were quick to take to the podium to speak about the impact Uhl had on their lives.

They told their stories — family members, lifelong friends, players, teammates and even an umpire — making it one terrific hour of reflection and celebration of life.

Uhl played for several teams in a long career in the local Pen-Mar League, and even served as its president from 2004-2007.

“Area baseball in general and the Pen-Mar League in particular experienced a great loss,’’ long-time league secretary and Oakland manager Terry Helbig said. “Bobby started playing as a teenager and continued until age 56 in 2000.

“And he continued to play baseball in Over-50 and Over-60 leagues, traveling around the country for games and tournaments.”

Uhl always played hard. He always played to win. He never gave in or gave up. But what set him apart even more from others was his respect for the game and everyone involved in it.

As opponents at Hyndman, to a man we watched and marveled at Uhl’s ability. We never saw him fail to hustle or run the bases hard, whether he hit a drive in the gap or a two-hopper to short. We never heard him brag or showboat or show up an opponent. And I never remember him having an argument or even question the word of an umpire. Ever.

For more than a few reasons, he was the class of the league. He let his play to his talking, and we quickly became aware of how good of an athlete and how smart of a player he was; how difficult it was for a pitcher to get a fast ball past him; and how he was still batting leadoff and stealing bases in his mid 40s against players half his age in a summer league full of college players.

And when many of those players bowed out of the league after reaching their mid 30s, Uhl was still going strong, to no one’s surprise.

Helbig saw plenty of Pen-Mar League players. His career as a player, manager and league officer spanned more than 30 years, from 1973 to 2007.

“Bobby exemplified how the game was to be played. He played hard, fair and was always a gentleman on and off the field,’’ Helbig said. “For years he was one of the premiere outfielders in the league, was a tough out, and was one of the best base stealers in the league.”

Uhl, who also had played softball and helped coach other teams, played in Legends tournaments in places like Cooperstown, N.Y., Fort Meyers, Fla., and Phoenix, making an impressions wherever he went. An umpires association from Cooperstown was among the many to send condolences and flowers.

One of the speakers at the funeral quoted Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson, who said, “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”

Uhl made an impact on quite a number of people, no doubt more than he ever knew.

Turns out, Uhl, a man of strong faith, provided the best sermon any pastor could hope to deliver. It’s because the best sermon is not spoken. The best sermon is lived, for all to see. And the one Uhl delivered for so many years certainly will not soon be forgotten.

Mike Mathews is a Cumberland Times-News sportswriter. He can be reached at mmathews@times-news.com.

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