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Touching Base- the History of St. Matthews Baseball

Baseball has permeated American culture, from movie references to music to commonly used idioms. Whether you learned the phrase, “Hey, batter-batter-batter. Swing, batter!” from watching “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” or know the tune “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” in three notes, baseball is ingrained, in some way, inside all of us.

Three Louisville men – Charles F. Siegel, Hunter Look Sr. and Dave McCandless – loved the game so much that their images and stories have now been commemorated in three plaques on view at St. Matthews Community Park off Shelbyville Road. Without their love of the game and commitment, St. Matthews Baseball might not be what it is today.

fieldAccording to Chris Gadansky, who served as executive director of St. Matthews Baseball until January 2024, someone from the city of St. Matthews approached a local family that owned the land that is now St. Matthews Community Park about leasing the grounds in 1953. “Rumor or legend has it that it was one of those $1 handshake deals,” he says. “Once the land was secured, Siegel, Look and McCandless were instrumental in starting a league and building those fields.”

Although the three fields at the park are named for Siegel, Look and McCandless, as the years passed, fewer and fewer people were aware of the stories behind those who made play possible in the beginning. Several years ago Gadansky was contacted by McCandless’s son, who asked if he could show him some old photos. “We sat down at the park and talked for an hour or more, looking at these old photos,” Gadansky says. “He was telling stories about his dad building the field. This was our first glimpse into the real people behind the names.”

In what Gadansky calls his “white-whale project,” he began his mission to tell part of the story of these fields and St. Matthews Baseball as a whole.

“The seed was planted in 1953, and their first charter with Little League Baseball was 1954,” Gadansky says. Siegel, called “Mr. Little League” by those who knew him, was the man behind the first field and served as one of the first presidents overseeing the league. By the end of the first season, the organization began work on the other fields.

“Enrollment for that first year was maybe 100 or so kids,” Gadansky says. “It doubled the next year and started growing and growing.”

baseball teamAnnually, the fields now see upwards of 1,200 kids playing ball. Archives of The Courier-Journal suggest that a small parade, a ceremony, and short exhibition games were held on June 7, 1953, to introduce St. Matthews residents to Little League play, with Siegel speaking to families to explain the concept. A photo from that time shows neighborhood men getting a small field ready for action.

Look Sr. also served as a president of St. Matthews Baseball in its early days. His family business, The Kentucky Model Shop, partnered with The McGregor Company, to provide uniforms for teams in the early days of the league. McCandless’s tireless work led to a light system for the fields, and he would spend countless hours ensuring the field that bears his name was ready for play.

Looking into the history helped Gadansky see that St. Matthews Baseball was truly a community endeavor, with so many people donating their time or resources, and the local St. Matthews government supplementing those efforts.

After his conversation with McCandless’s son, Gadansky began making phone calls to gather stories about how St. Matthews Baseball and its fields developed. It was a project with lots of stops and starts due to work, raising a family and, of course, baseball. He spent time tracking down the family members of Siegel, Look and McCandless, to interview them about what they remembered and the stories they heard about their fathers and grandfathers. Compiling and cross-checking this information took considerable time.

In early 2023, with a historical record finally compiled, Gadansky reached out to Best Stamp Company and began working on the plaques, which, like the history itself, took longer than one might expect. “The copy on each plaque went through weeks and months of changes,” he says. With his retirement as executive director on the horizon, Gadansky set October 14, 2023, as the date when the plaques would be dedicated. St. Matthews Baseball invited the family and friends of Siegel, Look and McCandless to attend. “We had families from four points of the U.S., down to three generations worth, so it was an awesome day,” he says.

The effort for Gadansky was fulfilling, in part because hearing about these men brought up memories of his own father, who he says was a “baseball nut,” and who passed away from COVID-19 in November 2020. “He helped me the first year and a half after I took the job as executive director,” Gadansky says. For Gadansky and for many men, baseball is a love passed down from their dads that they then instill in their own sons. “[The plaque project] took on a higher meaning,” he says. “It turned from a tedious process to a labor of love.”field

From which pitchers played on which teams in which decades, to which player has the most runs batted in, baseball is about record keeping and tracking data to tell a story. Were it not for McCandless’s son reaching out to Gadansky, the history of Siegel, Look and McCandless may have been lost to time, with their names on the fields but no one knowing much more than that.

In the 70 years since the inception of St. Matthews Baseball, things have changed, and baseball for young people is changing, with more kids moving to club play. “Recreational baseball is dying a slow death,” Gadansky says. “The fact that St. Matthews Baseball has beaten its enrollment for five years is a testament to a community that comes together. There are kids who want to play recreational baseball and want to come back [year after year]. They get something out of it that you don’t get with club ball. It’s a unique experience and has been for 70 years.”

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