Fun and games part of Bomber restoration

Herald Sports Writer

HUNTINGBURG — For a brief second, Mike Uebelhor managed to just stop.

He stood in the League Stadium press box and peered out toward home plate, his feet occasionally urging him to take a step, as if reminding him that he had somewhere to be. He always had somewhere to be.

It seemed that way for all Dubois County Bomber team members Wednesday night — from players and coaches to the Rockford Peaches, Casey the Clown and every other Bomber employee. They never seemed to stop. They never do.

And while the league-leading Owensboro Oilers took advantage of some untimely defensive blunders by the Bombers to escape with a 7-2 victory in 10 innings, the midweek scene at the Huntingburg ballpark offered yet another glimpse at the atmosphere Uebelhor and his bunch have striven to provide since taking over the team last season.

The year before Uebelhor and the rest of his ownership group signed on, the Bombers averaged 320 fans at each game. That’s not bad, considering they played in front of 237 on Monday night at Hoptown, the Ohio Valley League’s second-place squad, and 174 fans Tuesday in Fulton, Ky., against the Railroaders.

But then things got better. Much better.

The Bombers drew crowds of roughly 920 on average last season, and this summer, that number has inflated to more than 1,000, furthered even more by Wednesday’s 1,439 fans — many of whom didn’t leave until pinch-hitter Sam Griggs grounded back to the pitcher for the final out some three hours and 45 minutes after the evening’s first pitch.

Seemingly the entire time, however, the ballpark was breathing.

How did the organization arrive at this point? Uebelhor is quick to dole out praise. General manager Joe Mundy started working on re-establishing partnerships with local businesses in January after the team roster had been established. Of the roughly 50 corporations the Bombers teamed up with last season, large and small and almost all situated in Dubois County, every single one partnered once again this season. New companies even took the initiative to call and initiate a relationship with the team.

On the team’s prime nights, attendance figures have been staggering. More than 2,300 fans showed up on the Fourth of July, and that number doesn’t include the hordes of kids ages 6 and under who got in free — and do every game. Wednesday’s contest, though certainly aided by the evening’s rare autumnlike air, drew the type of bustling crowd that’s become almost standard.

“This is what we hoped for,” Uebelhor said. “That’s what makes you proud.”

Some 50 feet down from where Uebelhor stood momentarily, Roger Cox took in the game about a dozen rows back from home plate. Cox, a lifelong Huntingburg resident, occasionally reached over to mess with his twin granddaughters Lilly and Claire, both 9, who tagged along to the park with Roger and his wife, Pam.

Cox has been coming to League Stadium for years, first to watch the Dragons and then the Bombers, though he took a few years off from purchasing season tickets when the team’s Frontier League schedule included dozens of home games in a summer.

But Cox bought season tickets again this season. He’s never witnessed scenes at League Stadium like these, and he’s fully aware the proliferation hasn’t been by accident.

“They’ve just gone out and hustled,” Cox said of the Bombers’ promotions. “It’s just a fun, electric atmosphere.”

And one that rarely halts.

“We’re looking for a triple peanut! A triple peanut!” public address announcer Scott Sollman said over the microphone during an inning break, challenging fans to produce a peanut shell with three nuts. Within a minute, two women dashed up to the press box in an effort to pocket the night’s final “Let’s Make a Bomber Deal” prize — a $5 coupon at the concession stand. A couple seconds later, another man scurried into the press box.

“You guys still looking for a triple peanut?” he asked.

Triple peanut. A Lego piece. A pocket calculator. The requested items varied. A week earlier, Sollman asked for an expired driver’s license. A man presented one two years outdated.

You can feel the life in the park. There’s the constant hum of crowd conversation between pitches, interrupted only by sound effects of cows mooing and Tom Hanks reminding everyone there’s no crying in baseball. You feel the rumbling of children running around League Stadium’s wooden-floor concourses.

Many of the youngsters donned baseball and softball jerseys from their respective leagues in Dubois County, as Wednesday marked youth night at the ballpark. You wear your jersey, you get in for free. Ferdinand Cub Scout Pack 186 was honored, too. The connection between team and community is firmly welded.

“They’re going all out to do it right and it’s taking off,” said Rock Emmert of Ferdinand, who sat beside his father, Bob, and brother Robin, halfway down the third-base line.

Bob was celebrating his 85th birthday. He usually comes to watch one game a summer at the same field he played on as a 17-year old for the Princeton Legion team that beat Huntingburg 1-0 back in 1946 — a year after his baseball coach at Haubstadt High School enlisted in the Navy to fight in World War II.

That game 68 years ago drew “only a handful” of spectators, Bob said with a smile. But with this many people, Wednesday was fun, Bob said. He sat smiling, spryly shifting in his seat.

The youthfulness isn’t lost on the field.

After ripping an RBI single up the middle that chased Oiler starter Jordan Kesson from the game in the fourth inning, Bomber shortstop Caleb Lonkard scooted into the coach’s box adjacent to first base and broke down into the Cha-Cha Slide as his teammates howled from the dugout.

“With the time that you’re having, I mean, you’re playing baseball for this crowd, you’re out here to have a good time and have fun,” said Lonkard, who scored the Bombers’ first run and drove in the other. “There’s nothing better.”

The Bombers played error-free ball until two errors on one play with two down in the 10th brought home three runs. Even with the deficit, children waiting alongside the first-base fence eager to run the bases after the game held out hope of a comeback.

“Let’s go Bombers!” they cheered incessantly.

Lonkard acknowledges that not every team has access to facilities like in Huntingburg, and other venues still come equipped with their own unique charms and idiosyncrasies, he said. But “there’s honestly nothing better than playing in front of these people in Huntingburg.

“Everything about this atmosphere, it’s just great.”

Contact Joe Jasinski

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