WESTFIELD – A local youth baseball legend has put away the bats and balls for the last time.
Longtime Greater Westfield Babe Ruth League President Dan Welch officially resigned his post Monday night, turning over the reins to Annalise Eak, who served as vice president the last year as well as Coordinator of Group Sales & Fan Experiences for the Westfield Starfires.
“It’s been a great run; I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Welch said. “I felt it was the right time to have some new leadership and grow the league with some new ideas.”
Welch, who started off as a general board member of the city’s Babe Ruth League in 2001, served as league president for the past 18 years. During that time, he coordinated dozens of state and regional All-Star tournaments throughout the summer months, spearheaded efforts to twice bring the World Series to Westfield and helped make Bullens Field one of the premier destinations for baseball in the western half of the state.
“He has been a major blessing to Westfield Babe Ruth,” Eak said. “We wouldn’t have many of the things that we have now without him.”
In 2016, the City of Westfield hosted the Babe Ruth 14-Year-Old World Series. Due to the overwhelming success of that event, the Whip City served as the host site for the 13-Year-Old World Series in 2019.
Some of the most recent upgrades to Bullens Field have been made possible due to the funds raised during those events.
Welch has been instrumental in providing several upgrades to Bullens Field, including new lighting, new grandstands, an expanded press box which now includes a live stream of tournament and regular season games, an updated backstop, a new scoreboard (approx. value $32,900), and ongoing field improvements, such as new sod to the infield on the baselines and around home plate, a project estimated to cost some $30,000.
Welch has been involved in local baseball for nearly three decades, first as a coach in Westfield YMCA T-Ball games and Little League, then serving as Little League vice president before succeeding Dick Baldwin as president of the Greater Westfield Babe Ruth League in 2002.
Welch accompanied two Westfield teams to Babe Ruth World Series appearances in Kitsap County, Wash. (2012) and Ocala, Fla. (2014). It proved to be a harbinger of things to come.
“Having the opportunity to have our two teams in 2012 and 2014 earn a regional berth in the tournament and World Series was a delight after hosting a numerous number of regionals,” Welch said. “I came home from Ocala and said, ‘we can do that.’”
Welch immediately began the application process to host a World Series, and after receiving the support of the local Babe Ruth board and city officials, hosted a kickoff attempt meant to showcase the city to the Babe Ruth headquarters. National Babe Ruth officials were blown away by the efforts. Robert Faherty, a senior V.P./Commissioner of Babe Ruth League, Inc. told Welch: “No doubt I know you guys are ready.”
The only thing the city did not anticipate was a blistering heat wave and late afternoon/early evening thunderstorms throughout much of the tournament.
“Hosting that one in 2016 was one of the hottest, most humid with downpours … but the community support was tremendous,” said Welch, noting the overwhelming effort from local volunteers.
One of those volunteers was Dan’s wife, Jeanie, who coordinated concessions and souvenirs, among other duties. Said Welch: “She was in it from the beginning to the end.”
The Greater Westfield Babe Ruth League duplicated that effort again three years later. Soon after, the country was in the grip of a pandemic. The league, like sports all across the country, came to a halt, then a crawl, before making a full-fledged return. Through it all, there was one constant – Dan Welch.
“His commitment to the league, youth baseball, and the game of baseball in general within Westfield and around Western Mass has been huge,” newly-appointed Greater Westfield Babe Ruth Vice President Bob Eak said of Welch. “You don’t really see someone stick around that long unless they have a vested interest in it.”
Welch was invested in more ways than one. When not coordinating spring and summer baseball activities, Welch also umpired high school and youth baseball games, and ran an offseason high school league.
Welch’s contributions to further the game of baseball in the Whip City is endless. Hopefully, for future generations those efforts prove timeless.
“(Dan) has absolutely provided a very good foundation,” Bob Eak said. “A lot of that has to do with the tradition of Westfield baseball, Now, if we can get a whole lot more kids playing baseball, that would be great.”