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Festival honors baseball legend

Published: July 9, 2017 12:00 AM
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In the late 1700s, when a village in the fertile Tuscarawas River valley in southern Tuscarawas County was known as Gekelmukpechunk, its population grew to about 700 Delaware Indians.

When white men arrived, its name was changed to Newcomerstown. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was the hometown of two of Ohio's most famous sports figures -- Denton True "Cy" Young and Woody Hayes.

For the past few decades, residents have honored Young by conducting the Cy Young Days Festival. And although I'm a native of Tuscarawas County, it wasn't until this year that I attended the event.

When I was growing up, my dad and I visited Young's grave many times on drives through Tuscarawas County's hills. He is buried in an old church cemetery near the unincorporated town of Peoli.

The former United Methodist church still stands, but its congregation has disbanded. A few years ago, I took Auroran Mike DeMay to see Cy's grave, and being a big baseball fan, he thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

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Each year, the festival invites an outstanding major league pitcher to be the parade's grand marshal. This year's honoree was Jack McDowell, who won the coveted award in 1993 with the Chicago White Sox.

Some past honorees were Denny McLain, Gaylord and Jim Perry, Len Barker, Ferguson Jenkins, Dean Chance, Vern Law, Vida Blue, Bret Saberhagen and Doug Drabek, many of whom have won the Cy Young Award.

The festival features food booths, games and kiddie rides, a luncheon for the honored guest, 5K run, baseball clinic, a long toss contest, musical entertainment, a talent show and grand marshal autograph sessions.

A stretch of downtown Newcomerstown (population about 4,000) is blocked off and used as a midway, and the parade features many youth baseball teams, queens from several Ohio festivals and businesses.

ABOUT CY YOUNG

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Cy grew up on a farm between Peoli and Gilmore, a few miles east of Newcomerstown. Several Amish families now live in that area. He was born in 1867 -- 150 years ago -- and lived for 88 years, passing away in 1955.

My dad and I attended a banquet in New Philadelphia in 1967 marking Cy's 100th birthday. It was organized by Ohio Baseball Hall of Fame founder Tom Eakin, now an Aurora resident!

He pitched in the major leagues for 22 seasons -- 1889 to 1911 -- and holds several records, including notching the most wins -- 511 -- of any pitcher. Many baseball fans believe it's a record that never will be broken.

By the way, the second winningest pitcher in MLB history is Walter Johnson with 417. Johnson actually struck out more batters in his career than Young did.

Other MLB records Young holds are most innings pitched (7,335), most games started (815), most complete games (749) and losses (316). The most he was paid during his career was $6,000 per year.

Playing for the Cleveland Spiders, St. Louis Perfectos, Boston Americans and Cleveland Naps, Young hurled three no-hitters. He led the league in ERA twice, and his most single season wins (36) came in 1892.

He won 30 or more games in five seasons and more than 20 games 15 times. Young spent many of his twilight years back in the Tuscarawas County hills, and was a huge supporter of youth baseball and a much-revered local resident.

In addition to having the Cy Young Award named after him -- for the best American and National leagues pitcher each season -- Newcomerstown's village park is named after him, and a monument there honors his legacy.

An inscription on that monument always brings a tear to my eye when I read it: "In his youth on a nearby farm, Cy played baseball for the love of the game, a quality that remained with him through his long life."

Newcomerstown's 176-year-old Temperance Tavern museum has an upstairs room devoted to Young and Hayes. Young was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937.

When I was a teenager, I read a biography of Young written by now deceased Tuscarawas County resident Ralph Romig. Another great Young biography -- "Cy Young: A Baseball Life" -- was written by Reed Browning in 2003.

Cy is said to have earned his nickname when first trying out for a pro baseball team. The catcher could not stop some of his pitches, and the balls shattered the wooden backstop, leading an onlooker to say, "It looks like a cyclone hit!"

When Young began his career, the pitching mound was closer to the plate. It was moved back to 60 feet, 6 inches in his fourth season. Another interesting tidbit: Young didn't wear a glove until his sixth season.

Young's tombstone has a winged baseball engraved on it. He is buried there with his wife Roba, who died 22 years before he did. Visitors frequently leave coins on their tombstone.

ABOUT JACK MCDOWELL

McDowell, nicknamed "Black Jack," pitched for 12 seasons with the White Sox, New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians and Los Angeles Angels. His record was 127-87 with a 3.85 earned run average.

In his Cy Young Award winning season, he won 22 games (four shutouts and 10 complete games). The year before -- in 1992 -- he also won 20 games and was second in the Cy Young Award voting.

Plagued by injuries toward the end of his career, his last season was 1999 with the Angels. Since then, he has managed two L.A. Dodgers' minor league teams. Next year, he will coach the Queens University of Charlotte team.

Email: klahmers@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189


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