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 Sunday, June 20, 1999




Like father, like son

Four dads get to play on same team with sons in Tri-County League.

Of The Morning Call


Sometime today, probably soon after the family crawls out of bed, Brendan Witkowski will give his father Mike a case of beer for Father's Day -- even though his mother will have made the actual purchase.

Teague Fatzinger will give his father, Bob, "something that has to do with golf; he's an avid golfer."

Ryan George said he'll probably give his dad Tom, "a baseball T- shirt. And there's always some kind of family present."

Chad Waelchli figures he'll forego the merchandise and instead offer his father Dan some free labor.

"We have a really big yard," Chad said. "I'll probably cut the grass; that's what I usually do."

Later, at 5:30, the four youngsters will gather at Fegely Stadium in Limeport and try to give their elders a group Father's Day gift: an important victory over the Limeport Bulls.

The four young adults share a unique bond with their fathers most American kids would envy. They're all teammates with the Tri-City Fleetwings, a first-year Tri-County League team that's currently in first place in Tri-Co's East-Central Division.

Throw in veteran pitcher Ray Ganser and his son, Adam, who's the team's fully uniformed batboy, and the 'Wings boast five father-son combinations.

Bob Fatzinger and Dan Waelchli hatched the notion of forming a new Tri-Co team last fall, during the Lehigh Valley Prospects' season. The idea of actually suiting up with their sons came along later, but they quickly became very enthusiastic about it.

They saw first-hand a bunch of young baseball players, most of whom would soon run out of American Legion eligibility and would be faced with the task of breaking in with an established adult amateur team this summer.

"Getting on someone's roster probably wouldn't have been that difficult," Bob Fatzinger said. "But most of the teams in the Blue Mountain and Tri-County Leagues have pretty set lineups. And more and more guys are playing well into their 30s and 40s. So it would've been pretty tough for them to get much playing time."

So, he asked Waelchli, "Why not field a new team? I (actually his steel erection company, Tri-City Erectors, Inc.) can foot the bill. And we took it from there."

Brendan Witkowski was at college in Virginia last fall.

"That's when Dad told me we'd have this team," he said. "I thought it'd be fun, and it has been. We didn't know how good we were going to be, but that changed in a hurry. We have good players here, young and older, and we can contend."

Mike is in the 'Wings' starting rotation. He's 2-0.

"It gives me an extra adrenaline rush when Dad's pitching," said Brendan, the center fielder. "I know I have to make all the plays, go into the gaps and get it."

The elder Witkowski is enjoying this season with his son. But he remembered an even bigger thrill two years ago in the Mens Senior Baseball League's annual charity event, 24 Hours of Baseball.

"Brendan and I played in one of the games," Mike said, "and so did my father, Walter. All three generations. It was a thrill. And dad, who was 73 at the time, hit a line drive single to right!"

"This team's a great idea," said Teague Fatzinger, whose father, the field manager, has kept himself out of games. "I'd like Dad to play, too, but I understand why he doesn't. I also tried to get my older brother, Joe, to play. But he's 28 and needs back surgery. Maybe he'll play before the season's over."

"This team's for the kids," said Bob Fatzinger, a catcher. "I'll probably get in a few at-bats, if we're in a blowout. But the kids are doing a great job, so why take 'em out?"

"I'm really enjoying this," said left fielder Ryan George. "Dad (who's also an outfielder) and I have been in one game at the same time. That was neat. But to me, the best thing is that Dad's been able to stay in shape all these years and can still play ball."

Chad Waelchli, a catcher, hasn't played that often with the Fleetwings. That's because his first responsibility is to South Parkland's Legion team. South Parkland's manager? Tom George.

Dan Waelchli pitches mostly in relief. So far, he and his son haven't teamed up as batterymates.

"I was supposed to go in and catch the end of a game when Dad was pitching," Ryan said, "but the game was called when it got dark. But I'm sure it'll happen, and I'm really looking forward to it."

Chad is also rostered with the Bethleon Blue Jays -- as is his older brother, Ryan, and his Legion manager.

"It'd have been nice if Ryan could've played here, too," Chad said. "But, between playing for Bethleon and working, he's just too busy."

Ray Ganser also takes a regular turn on the mound. He'll have to wait a few years, though, for a chance to play in a game with his son.

"Adam's only 10. He's playing first base and pitching midget ball for West End Youth Center," Ray said, laughing.

Who knows? With the staying power he and the Fleetwings' other playing papas have, he probably will be around long enough to take the field with his son.


From The Morning Call -- June 20, 1999

Copyright 1999, The Morning Call