So you want to be a colt… learn to fight for bench space
By MIKE MURPHEY
Roy Hobbs Baseball
Whenever a new player comes along to be introduced into the Cincinnati Colts baseball family, the first advice Roy Wimmers gives them is to learn how to “fight for bench space.”
“They’ll look at me like I’m crazy and say something about how they want to play every inning of every game,” Wimmers said. “I tell them, ‘You say that now, but I guarantee you that six games into the season, you’re going to want your fair share of bench time, because we have a lot more fun and camaraderie on the bench than we do on the field.’”
Fun and camaraderie are the watchwords of the Cincinnati Colts baseball program. The Colts “family” includes 60 people who play on three different teams in Cincinnati’s Roy Hobbs Baseball League. The Colts will send four teams to the Roy Hobbs World Series in 2012 competing in the 38s, 48s, 55s and 60s age divisions.
The Colts were founded in 1996 by Bob Hawkins.
He gathered a group of guys, mostly in their 40s who got together “because our children were grown up and we wanted something to do besides softball. It was just sort of a fluke that I was the guy doing the organizing in the beginning, and over the years, that’s a job that’s just sort of fell to me.”
Ask almost any member of the Colts group and they’ll tell you that Hawkins and his wife Juliet are far more than just organizers. They are the heart and soul of the Colts and create the atmosphere that has allowed a very diverse group of guys to forge a tight-knit baseball family that is almost two decades old.
“They are just very giving people to begin with,” says Gordy Webber, who has been a Colt for 10 years. “It’s just a part of their DNA. I can’t image the sacrifices in time and money they go through to make every one of us feel a part of this family. But it’s just what they do.”
The core group of the Colts met at a Cincinnati Reds Fantasy Camp in the mid 1990s. Hawkins built the first Colts team around that group in 1996. They played in a 30-and-over league for several years and then founded a 48-and-over league “so we could continue to compete,” Webber said.
“As we got older,” Hawkins said, “it was clear we needed to involve younger guys so over they years, we have gone from our original 16 to 50 or more on the roster.”
The Colts now have two teams in the 48s division of Miami Valley Roy Hobbs Baseball, and one team in a 38s division in the Cincinnati adult baseball league.
According to Webber, Bob and Juliet participate in every game for all three teams.
“If it’s a doubleheader, she always brings food – sandwiches, sports drinks, candy bars and fruit. For special occasions and triple-headers, they make London broil or pulled pork and set up a whole food table.
“I’ve never been around people who are so dedicated to making everybody feel a part of an organization. Can you imagine the amount of work that must involve?”
“But it’s not work,” Hawkins explains. “For my wife and I it’s a lifestyle, something we both love to do.”
And for the Roy Hobbs World Series, Webber says, the take it a step farther.
“They take six weeks out of their lives,” he said. “They pack up their pets and they literally move to Fort Myers Beach in October and set up an office so they can maintain their business.”
And all of that dedication – the Colts’ players say – has produced a family in just about every sense of the word.
“We love each other,” said Wimmers. “We genuinely enjoy each others’ company. We can just tear at each other and have a good time and everybody knows it’s all done in the spirit of fun. Not everybody gets to play for the Colts. You have to have some special qualities, and one of those is how you treat your teammates.”
Hawkins grew up with baseball in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. His father was a town-ball pitcher during the Depression where he earned $8 for a single game and $12 for a doubleheader. Bob earned some money playing summer ball after high school as well, but drifted away from the game as a player until his business took him to Cincinnati where he found a recreational league and played on a team with his son. He became a part-time scout with the Houston Astros in 1993. In 1995, a severe automobile accident almost resulted in the amputation of his leg. He kept the leg, and went to the ballpark in a wheelchair to help coach the team he’d been playing with.
He married Julia in 2003. Everybody in the group calls her Baby, and she is the Colts’ team mom. She had a passion for baseball before meeting Bob. “She loves to be around baseball as much as I do,” he says.
“We’ve shared many things as a baseball family,” he said. “We celebrated a lot of high moments both on the baseball field and in the personal accomplishments of our teammates in their personal lives. And we’ve shared tragedies, too.”
One long-time Colt, Roy Yocum, was killed in a motorcycle accident on his way to a game just a short time after his retirement as a top official in the Cincinnati Fire Department.
“We all attended the funeral in our jerseys,” Hawkins recalls.
“The success of the Colts as a family all stems from Bob,” said long-time Colt Phil Reicle. “He takes you in with open arms. He’s why the guys keep coming back. He’s why guys leave other teams to play with the Colts.”
“Bob Hawkins sets the tone,” said Denny Ehrhardt. “We all know there are no scouts out there looking at us. We’ve all made errors and struck out. We understand that. We’re just there to have a good time. With Bob it’s all about camaraderie. There’s no pressure to win.”
“I think we play at a very competitive level for our age,” says Colt Jack Herbert. “But Bob doesn’t emphasize the competitive side of it. We do our best to stay competitive, but over the years, what keeps people involved are the friendships and the family relationships. We do things in the off-season together. We connect through events off the ball field.”
(The Colts have had more than their share of competitive success. They have made the medal rounds several years at the Roy Hobbs World series, winning the 2002 Masters AAA title and last year winning the Veterans B championship and finishing second in the Legends AA playoffs.)
“It’s quite an organization,” added Wimmers. “I’ve heard players from other teams say many times, ‘I wish our team was like yours because you guys all care for one another.’
“Well, that’s the Colts. And it all comes from Bob Hawkins and Baby.”