David Davidson, Scott Huntington and Joseph Kibler Jr. love to reminisce about the “good old days” of the Lockport Midget Baseball League.
Davidson, the interim president of the league, played from 1976-80 and has been a board member the past three years.
Huntington started playing at 13 years old and has a combined 44 years under his belt as a player (1971-78), coach and the current longtime treasurer.
No one’s been around longer than Kibler, whose father, Joseph Sr., was one of a handful of men who founded the league back in 1939.
“He was a better officer and manager than umpire,” quipped Kibler, now 83 and a member of the Western New York Baseball Hall of Fame. The lifetime board member has spent 68 years as a player, manager and officer.
The league has come a long way since its heyday, when there were 16 teams from Lockport broken up by the city’s eight wards into two age brackets. But not in a good way.
Primarily formed to give Lockport youth the opportunity to play the game, the league has been on a downward trend since the mid-1980s due to a loss of financial support and a decline in city population.
No longer tasked with trying to lead their respective teams to wins, Davidson, Huntington and Kibler are now trying to use the league’s long-standing history in the community to continue to help enrich the lives of future generations of players.
“I think it would probably be categorized as the best days of my life,” Kibler said. “I was playing six days per week and enjoyed it thoroughly. These kids today aren’t out there. They won’t be young forever. Once they’re married and have kids, you’re not going to the ballpark every day.
“The camaraderie, the competition, playing against neighbors in the midget league or in the suburban league, it was a community affair at its peak. I still see the guys around and we reminisce about the old times.”
The 78th annual season began in June with just five Midget A teams: Albion, Orchard Park, Roy-Hart, Somerst and Tri City, the team from Lockport. They’re mostly varsity teams that transition over to play summer ball.
“We’ve really had to adapt and evolve into more of a regional league,” Huntington said. “Lockport unfortunately became like some of the smaller communities we serve. What we’ve done is we’ve reached out to places like Barker, Lyndonville and Albion. We want to bring in good people and allow more kids to play.”
Past teams have been fielded from Akron, Cambria, Lewiston, Medina, Newfane, Niagara Wheatfield and Wilson, but the emergence of elite travel teams and the growth of other sports such as lacrosse have taken athletes elsewhere.
“The main challenge is travel baseball,” said Davidson, who added he plans on reaching out to teams in Amherst and Clarence in the future. “Some teams travel all over the Northeast. It’s a little more sexier than midget league.”
There has not only been a lack of players, but a lack of coaches and leadership as well.
“Usually every year in one of the towns, the coach is a father of one of the players,” Kibler said. “Once the player graduates out of the league, they leave as well. We had a team that wanted to get into the league two years ago fold because they couldn’t get any parents to coach the team.
“The leadership makes or breaks us. It’s disheartening when you don’t get it.”
While the league has its share of challenges, the trio thinks a few personal touches still make the league appealing.
The first is the all-star game. It’s been a league staple for a while now, but there’s been an added emphasis the past few years. The color guard has been in attendance, and there’s been music and giveaways for fans and kids.
“Even though we’ve been around,” Huntington said, “we’re trying to re-establish and keep it strong.”
Another is the annual end-of-year banquet, which Kibler believes is the longest running sit-down banquet in Western New York. Awards are given to the kids, including a Louisville Slugger bat with the league MVP’s name engraved in it.
“I don’t know if any other league does that,” Kibler said.
Then there’s the community aspect.
Davidson and Huntington remember the days when all the local kids rode their bikes down the street to the closest field. Now there’s so much travel time and additional costs with some leagues.
“Unlike travel baseball, where kids from all over meet up every weekend to play, these kids are all from the same community,” Davidson said. “They’re all buddies and friends, and it forms lasting memories. I still have pictures at home of former teams and teammates. I still see them around from time to time and we’re still friends to this day.”
Kibler and his neighborhood buddies used to ride their bikes to Outwater Park, where Tri City still plays its home games, to watch the local Middle Atlantic League team practice.
“It made us think that maybe someday we’ll be playing there,” Kibler said.
That may not have happened, as the league folded in 1951, but there have been a handful of notable alumni, some of whom have been drafted by Major League teams.
Phil Rosenberg was a standout pitcher at Lockport High School in the 1970s and also threw for the University at Buffalo and local suburban and MUNY leagues. He briefly played in the Toronto Blue Jays’ organization before becoming a local firefighter. He also played a role in the hit movie “The Natural,” starring Robert Redford, Robert Duvall and a contingent of local baseball greats.
Twardoski played pro ball for 10 years in the Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, New York Mets and Atlanta Braves organizations after being drafted in the 19th round by Cleveland out of the University of Alabama. He played five seasons of AAA ball with Pawtucket, Norfolk and Richmond, earning team MVP honors for Pawtucket in 1990 and 1992. He’s currently the head baseball coach at Division III Emory University in Georgia.
Voutour was drafted by the Detroit Tigers and played a year in the New York-Pennsylvania League in 1990 for the Niagara Falls Rapids. He’s currently the Niagara County sheriff.
Another notable former player and coach is retired Niagara County judge Charles Hannigan.
Current midget league players are most likely too young to remember the local greats of yesteryear. With the abundance of young talent in the MLB right now, Kibler hopes the next generation of ball players are drawn to the game the way he was.
“The way that these young kids can hit the ball,” Kibler said, “like Aaron Judge and these 450-foot bombs, I think that can bring some of the popularity back.”