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 Saturday, July 23, 1987




Almost 'pure', and tracking Gilbertsville again

Of The Morning Call

The Upper Perkiomen Chiefs are the Ivory Snow of the Tri-County Baseball League.

The Chiefs are almost 99 and 4/10ths pure - pure in the sense that every man on the roster except Kevin Leamer is a proud native son of the Upper Perkiomen area.

The Chiefs have harvested the bumper crops produced by the Upper Perkiomen high school and legion programs in the past decade, resulting in a perennial challenger for Tri-County honors.

"We're the team here," playing manager Bob Graber said. "There's nobody else around, really. If you are from this area and you want to play baseball you'd either have to go to Gilbertsville, Quakertown or Harleysville.

"The guys that want to keep playing stick around," Graber said. "We're all good friends and it creates a real team unity. We've all grown up in the area, we've had the same teachers and coaches at school and that gives us a common ground.

"The level of play has really picked up the past 10 years or so," Graber said. "That's helped us. Every year we add one or two guys from the legion program to go with our veterans."

The "old-timers" are outfielder Glenn Mensch and catcher Jon Yeakel.

"They've been around for 13 years at least," Graber said. "They do a great job yet. They are enthusiastic. They want to play and they always help out."

The heart and soul of the Chiefs are names area fans have followed in football, basketball and baseball for the Upper Perk Indians. Names like Tim Fox, Matt Duka, Tom Cichocki, Mike Svanson, Pete Hoff, Joe Ricapito, Bruce Blank and Graber.

Graber, who plays outfield and pitches, has been the manager for the past three seasons.

"The on-the-field stuff is fun," Graber said. "It's all the paper work that gets tiresome. It would be a lot easier if someone would just manage the team, but we don't have anyone like that, so I just try to do the best I can. Everyone understands the situation and co- operates."

The Chiefs were regular season champs in 1983 and this current crew is threatening to break into the 20-win column before long.

"This is a good bunch," Graber said. "All three years I've been managing I've felt we could have done a better job. We've had some bad streaks each year where we've lost a couple in a row and Gilbertsville doesn't give up. They really put the pressure on you."

Ah, yes, Gilbertsville. The dynasty of the Tri-County League always seems to be just one step ahead of the Chiefs.

"It seems like every year Gilbertsville and us are 1-2. That means every game with them is big. You want to beat the top team and it seems like every game with them is a one-run decision. Both teams have good pitching and both have good hitting. The hitting has been off-setting that good pitching lately."

Graber has a healthy respect for the entire Gilbertsville team. In fact, he considers many of the players on his archrivals good friends.

"I've joined with them for the York Labor Day tourney the past four years," Graber said. "I got to know them pretty well because you're with them for an entire weekend and we play them a bunch of times during the season.

"You are friends, but when you meet on the field you still want to win bad," Graber said.

Graber ran into an interesting situation last week while nursing a two-run lead with two outs in the last inning. He served up a screaming line drive homer to Gilbertsville's Jeff Evans that tied the game. The blow was erased from the books, though, when the umpires called the game off because of darkness two batters later.

"Jeff's a real friend," Graber said. "And, I had always had good luck against him until then. I am going to find a way to dig him about the way that one turned out."

The Chiefs were 16-5 entering the stretch drive of the regular season and Graber said it's been a team effort all the way.

"Tom Cichocki (3B) has been our No. 1 hitter this season,"Graber said. "Matt Duka (2B) has supplied most of the power. He's had four homers."

Mike Svanson, the regular catcher, is one of the top hitters. He splits time with the Quakertown Blazers in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League.

Todd Swenk (CF) and Pete Hoff (SS) have been hot lately.

Tim Fox, 4-0, is the team's ace.

"He's the guy we go to in the big games that we have to win," Graber said. "He's had some problems the last few weeks, though. He's had a blister that's made it tough to pitch. We're looking for him to be there down the stretch."

Bruce Blank is another key starter. Graber has seen spot duty as both a starter and reliever.

Chris Fluck, the team's only lefty, has been a pleasant surprise.

"He came out and got some early wins,"Graber said. "He has been strong for about four innings andthen he's struggled a bit, even though he didn't get credit for the wins. He was keeping us in games and then we could go to the bullpen. He's been a surprise."

The fact that UP is a title contender again is no surprise at all.

"If we can win all our games down the stretch we'll have a shot," Graber said. "It's going to be tough for us, but we still have hope."

The Chiefs have solid backing from the community.

"I can't say enough about our fans," Graber said. "They are behind us just about every game. We really pack them in for some games. It's good to see because we need the support. I think they have a good time following us."


From The Morning Call -- July 23, 1987

Copyright 1987, The Morning Call