A Tradition of Baseball Celebrates 50 Years
This April, the Crystal Lake Babe Ruth Baseball League celebrates a half-century of serving the youth of McHenry County.
It was springtime in America, 1960. LBJ graced the cover of TIME magazine, Elvis Presley’s “Stuck on You” topped the charts and Mickey Mantle had just re-upped with the Yankees for the princely one-year salary of $60,000. Meanwhile, in McHenry County, the Crystal Lake Babe Ruth Baseball League (CLBRBL) had just organized for its inaugural season, eager to take the field at Veterans Acres Park.
Under the guidance of Frank Repp — for whom that ball field would be named in 1983 — the CLBRBL became a local bedrock of not only organized baseball, but of a community, as well.
“There were five teams that first year,” recalls Bill Gronon of Crystal Lake, a charter member of the league. “Each team had a sponsor. There was Ormsby Motors, Oak Industries, Lake City Auto, ERO Man and Freeze — not ‘the’ Freeze.
“Ormsby still sponsors us. Yes, it all started with just five teams.”
On April 22, 2010, the league and its sponsors celebrate a half-century of serving the youth of McHenry County.
Behind it all was a local barber named Frank Repp with a true fondness for the national pastime. His friends called him “Mr. Baseball.” Owner of Frank’s Toy & Hobby Shop in downtown Crystal Lake — the “unusual store” with “haircuts by appointment” — Repp was for 25 years, before his passing in 1984, the backbone of Babe Ruth Baseball.
Repp, a diehard Cubs fan known to give some friendly jabbing to Sox fans who came in for a trim, served as sponsor, manager, player agent, board member and 10-time president of CLBRBL.
An Army staff sergeant in World War II, Repp was a tremendous patriot, too, and he dedicated every season of CLBRBL play “For God and Country.”
“Frank was a great American,” adds Jim Sabo, himself active 29 years now with the CLBRBL, the past 16 serving as league president. “Frank was red, white and blue all the way. And he instilled that in the players — respect for your country, and an appreciation for those who came before you. For Frank, and for the league, it was all about family. Kids on Frank’s team all came in for a haircut.”
Repp’s shop was baseball central. The walls were coated with pictures of ball clubs. He stored balls and equipment there in the off-season, along with pop and candy bars for the concession stand during the season.
Repp would often walk home after closing up shop, stopping at Veterans Acres to take in a ball game.
“To those who remember it as a child, Frank’s Toy & Hobby conjures up the image of the train wrapping around the model city,” the Crystal Lake Times recalled in 1990. “But it was also a place where an adult could go and get a haircut and talk baseball.”
Thanks to a lot of hard work — from volunteers, sponsors, boosters and, of course, the moms and dads and kids on the field —
year after year, the league continued to grow.
“As Babe Ruth expanded, Frank built up more teams, recruited more young coaches, more young players,” Sabo said. “Every kid who tried out made a ball club, and the teams were always even. We had a lot of close games. You rarely saw a blowout.”
A lot of hard work went into each season, from player selection night to the end-of-year banquet. And sportsmanship was always key. Indeed, one league rule stated that each boy must play a minimum of one at bat or three consecutive outs in the field.
Everybody, you might say, pitched in. With the support of the park district, the league made its home at Veterans Acres. Local businesses sponsored teams.
Volunteers lined the field. Fathers coached. And the moms — who served in the CLBRBL Auxiliary — prepared and sold food to raise funds at the concession stand, staffed committees, and inventoried and mended team uniforms, all on top of being moms to their young ballplayers.
“Crystal Lake was a town of 2,500 back then — not 250,000,” Pam Philpot, who was one of the first female umpires, chuckles at her own exaggeration. “It was always the same families pitching in. You could call on the moms if you ever needed anything, anytime. Moms weren’t all off at work those days. If we needed someone to run a case of pop for the concessions stand, it was just a phone call away.”
Today, 52 teams, representing nearly 700 kids, participate in year-round baseball with the CLBRBL, which offers summer play, tournament teams, fall ball and even winter indoor workouts.
Frank Repp Field at Veterans Acres was dedicated on July 3, 1983, as the Crystal Lake Babe Ruth Baseball League celebrated 25 years. It was quite a ceremony; then again, opening day was always a big deal. Opening day, year in and year out, featured a Boy Scout color guard, an American Legion rifle squad, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” a Guest of
Honor and Sportsmanship of the Year Award. And, of course, all the teams decked out in clean, new uniforms and the much-anticipated first pitch.
“Everybody had their place, and Frank directed all the teams,” Pam recalls. “The kids knew not to step on the white lines. And nobody moved a muscle until Frank was done speaking.
Well, one opening day, Frank was right in the middle of the ceremony — his voice booming, that man needed no microphone, he could talk forever — and a huge downpour just hit out of nowhere. Nobody moved. Frank kept going without skipping a beat. We were all just stuck there in the rainfall.”
Fourth of July was another grand occasion. A traditional Babe Ruth ball game would precede the fireworks, which took place back then at Veterans Acres. One year, the ball game ran into extra innings, crowds began showing up for the fireworks, and Repp wisely started “passing the hat.” A record amount of money was raised from spectators that day.
Today, most games are held at Lippold Park, at the Mickey Sund Sports Complex, one of the finest facilities for youth baseball in northern Illinois. “We’ll always have Repp Field, though,” Sabo says. “Every year we receive a donation to help maintain that historic field. It’s marked ‘anonymous,’ and believe me, it’s enough to play ball there in perpetuity.”
One likes to think this annual gift comes from a local businessman who, as a child, plodded out for one inning in right field, and who appreciated his one at bat per game in the Crystal Lake Babe Ruth Baseball League.