Cumberland Times-News

November 24, 2009

A dream became reality for many because of Femi

Mike Mathews

Pick up a newspaper during the summer months and you’ll find plenty of baseball scores.

Especially Little League scores. The number of leagues seems endless. Major Division, Minor Division, Pee Wee Division. Coach Pitch, Instructional League, T-Ball. You name it, we’ve got it here in our little neck of the woods.

It didn’t used to be that way, though. Didn’t used to be that way at all.

That’s why the recent naming of LaVale Lions Field on Braddock Road in memory of the late Ted T. Femi was a grand slam of an idea. The Lions and everyone involved who helped make it happen deserve a Major League pat on the back.

It’s impossible to truly know how many youngsters may not have gotten to play Little League baseball if not for Femi, who passed away last year.

“I remember in 1949 at Penn Avenue Field, sitting under the lights watching a game when my dad began talking about how we needed to have Little League baseball for the kids in the outer areas,” said son Ted, who was 6 at the time.

At the time Cumberland had the only Little League, Ted said. That soon changed with his father leading the charge.

The Femis lived in Ellerslie and the very next year, 1950, Femi organized a Little League team and was instrumental in the formation of the Pen-Mar League. The league began with teams in Ellerslie, Corriganville, Barrelville and Hyndman, Pa.

The league kicked off with a parade, complete with marching band and fire trucks, in Hyndman, followed by the season-opening games, recalled Rich Lybarger, an 8-year-old outfielder on the first Ellerslie team.

“We wouldn’t have had a team if it weren’t for Ted,’’ Lybarger said. “He’s the one that did it all. He was all business, a really good guy and a really good guy to play for.”

Donnie Lowery, a 9-year-old infielder on the first team, agreed.

“We probably would have went without a team if not for Ted,’’ he said. “Maybe the adults talked about it some, I don’t know. If they did, we didn’t know about it. We never knew there would be a team here.”

Until then it had been sandlot pick-up games at a local church yard field.

Coach Femi was serious about the game, the way it was taught and played, and even the way the players looked when they took the field.

All three — Lybarger, Lowery and son Ted — recalled the pre- and post-game uniform ritual.

There were only 12 uniforms at the time, and they needed to be handled with care. The players weren’t allowed to take them home, Ted said. The Femi basement was sort of a makeshift dressing room.

“Teddy and I were the youngest on the team, and I remember we had to go to his house and get dressed in the basement,’’ Lybarger said with a chuckle. “It’s sort of funny now. It certainly was different.”

Lowery agreed.

“We went to Ted’s house, put on our uniforms, played the game, then went back to his house and changed into our clothes again,” he said. “It was a big deal back then to have a uniform. It was really something. If we took them home, we might have never take them off.”

The Femis moved to LaVale three years later, and Coach Ted went to work again. LaVale didn’t have a Little League team in 1952, but they had two in 1953.

Femi, a former masonry contractor and later owner of the LaVale Sunoco at the present day Oil Works on National Highway, helped start the two teams: the LaVale Maroons and the LaVale Orange. The Orange later became the LaVale Orioles.

A field was built on Porter Street and the teams later joined Ellerslie, Barrelville, Corriganville and Hyndman in a six-team Pen-Mar League.

In five short years, the Pen-Mar League went from being built from scratch to sending an all-star team to the Maryland state championship game.

There’s a bit of story to that, too.

“The state finals had always been played in Frederick,’’ recalled Ted, a second baseman on the 1955 team. “But that year the game was lured to the Eastern Shore because the Chesapeake Bay Bridge had just opened. I think the organizers told dad how it would be a great experience for everyone to see it.”

Back then each team provided an umpire, which could sometimes be a difficult chore. As an added incentive for the Pen-Mar team to make the trip, both umpires were provided by the Eastern Shore organizers.

As it turned out, Easton won the game, 3-2, but not without a controversial ending.

“I think there were runners on first and third with two out and Johnny Strickland, of Cresaptown, hit a ground ball. But as he swung he also hit the catcher’s glove,’’ Ted said. “The catcher’s mitt ended up two-thirds of the way to the mound. But Johnny was thrown out at first and no catcher’s interference was called.

“And I remember the umpire ran out and shook hands with the pitcher afterward.”

Had the Pen-Mar all-stars won that game they needed only one more win to reach the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

Ted remembers his dad protesting the game but because of schedules and the World Series approaching, it was deemed that there wouldn’t be enough time to replay the game.

The Maryland state champions were recognized at Memorial Stadium prior to an Orioles game later that year. Both teams were there that day. Easton lined up on the third-base line, and the Pen-Mar team lined up on the first-base line.

“We got to sit in the Detroit Tigers dugout before the game, and Easton got to sit in the Orioles dugout,’’ Ted said. We both lined up on the field and both teams were presented trophies — as state champions. That’s what the trophy said.”

Femi coached from 1950 to 1958, then again from 1975-1979. Son Ted was a successful head coach at Bishop Walsh from 1970-1978. Another son, Brian, is the head coach at St. Michaels, and has led his team two two Maryland state championships, most recently in 2008.

From no Little League to state champions, sort of, in five short years. That’s a small part of the legacy of Ted T. Femi. The larger part is the number of players who got the opportunity to play Little League baseball that so many others before them didn’t.

And in a nice, clean woolly uniform, too. Who could’ve asked for anything more?

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