As Kiddie caretakers, the members of the Mansfield (Pa.) University baseball team have a way to go before they eclipse the standard of caring set by Fr�ulein Maria, the beloved governess of the von Trapp kids in The Sound of Music. But the players don't care. Perhaps they are just a tad burned out from serving as playmates to the town's tykes.
"It was fun the first two or three times we did it," says outfielder Matt Butler.
"Just the last 40 or 50 times sucked," chimes in pitcher Derek (Hummer) Hmiel.
Moms and dads of Mansfield: It's Saturday night; do you know where your children are? Of course you do. They are at what's known around town as Kids' Night Out (or KNO). Inside Decker Gymnasium on the campus of Mansfield U, about 200 boys and girls of all ages are engaging in hearty play with the 28 members of what happens to be one of the best Division II baseball teams north of the Mason-Dixon line. Coach Harry Hillson is there, as is his assistant, Bruce Peddie. Butler, it should be noted, is present even though he is on injured reserve—he broke his ankle playing football with the kids during a KNO a few weeks back.
Included among this evening's activities are badminton, basketball, dodgeball and swimming. A few wrestling mats are strewn about the auxiliary gym, and downstairs, in classroom 114, a couple of players are chaperoning a dance (no kissing allowed).
Remember, parents: You dropped them off at 5:30 and paid $5 per child, and you won't see them again until you pick them about five hours later. Remember, parents. Please.
"A few years back," says Peddie, who says the program should be called KRW (Kids Run Wild), "nobody came to pick up one boy. His parents were divorced, and the mom had dropped him off thinking the father would get him. He didn't. We waited for two hours, and I wound up driving the boy home."
Mansfield, a school of about 3,000 students, is located 50 miles north of Williamsport, site of the Little League World Series, and 30 miles southeast of World's End State Park. The Mounties have been playing baseball since 1867, when they lost their first game 143-30 to the Wellsboro (Pa.) Athletic Club. The team's baby-sitting program began much later, in 1983. That year then baseball coach Roger Maisner had two bright ideas. First, he hired Hillson as his assistant. Hillson was a 23-year-old player who had spent 17 days with the Class A Oneonta Yankees. Second, having no children of his own, Maisner started the program of using his team to look after the town's kids.
"I guess if I'd had children we'd be doing car washes instead," says Maisner. Four years later Maisner became the school's athletic director, and Hillson became the baseball team's head coach.
"We baby-sit a dozen Saturday nights a year, all prior to baseball season," says the coach. "The team earns about $11,000 a year, which pays for our spring training trip to Florida as well as for equipment. These guys are devoted to KNO. Just like they're devoted to our 6 a.m. winter workouts."