WESTFIELD – In the late 1950s, John Wheeler was a Westfield Little League baseball player. Last weekend, he was the announcer at Cross Street during Saturday’s semifinals and Sunday’s final in the South bracket of the league’s post-season tournament. He’ll be back to announce the All-Star competition over the next several weeks. Wheeler started coaching in 1979, became Player Agent in 1980 and has been the league’s president since 1989. “We had a (Board of Directors) meeting and nobody was nominated for president,” remembers Wheeler. “One of my friends nominated me, but I was thinking, ‘Whoa, I’m supposed to be getting out of all this.’ It was my wife who said ‘For all the work you’ve done already, you don’t want the league to go downhill, so why don’t you take the presidency?’ Little did she know that I’d still be president now.” Wheeler sat down recently at Cross Street Field to talk about Westfield Little League baseball.
How has this past season been?
The season has been pretty decent with some minor, routine ups-and-downs that we’ve taken care of. And, of course, the last couple of weeks there’s been a lot of rain, but up until then we’ve had great weather. It’s been a good year leading into the playoffs, and the playoffs have been fantastic, I think.
Playoffs are new to the Majors Divisions this year. How have they been going?
Well, I can’t say it’s the first time ever holding post-season playoffs because I myself played in one in the 1950s, a two-out-of-three series, North against the South. So we can’t say ‘first ever,’ but we can say the first playoffs in the last 40 years at least. The kids seem to like it. We’ve done it up right by making the fields look great and we’ve been announcing starting line-ups and inning by inning results. Maybe not as much pomp and circumstance as an All-Star game, but pretty darn good. And for some of these 12-year-olds, those who were not named to the All-Star team, this may be their last year playing, so we’re trying to make it a good experience for them, and I think we have.
So where do the playoffs stand; how’d the weekend finish up?
It has been pretty exciting. In the South, the number four seeded Sons of Erin upset No. 1 seed Commercial Distributing and then beat Slovak to advance to the City Championship. In the North side of the bracket, Kiwanis was a No. 3 seed and had a great weekend to advance. [Kiwanis went on to win the City Championship, defeating Sons 8-2.]
One of the changes for Westfield Little League this year has been the renaming of the A Division to the Wheeler Division. How did that work out this year?
It’s kinda nice that they named it after me. I just think it’s a good thing they didn’t name it the Wheeler Memorial Division. Believe it or not, I was in the hospital, intensive care, when (Westfield South Vice President) Mike (Raposo) made the motion to the Board of Directors that we rename the A Division the Wheeler Division, and when he did it he said ‘Boy, I hope I haven’t jinxed John.’
The renaming was one change made this year. Adding the playoffs was another, and it’s been a great success. Are there other changes you’d like to see made in the future?
Well, I have my opinions about changing some rules, but I think the biggest change I’d like to see is that even more parents get involved as volunteers. Baseball is still the best game, I think so. To me, it’s always baseball season. I’d like to see more parents get involved, side by side with their kids because it’s still a lot of fun to learn — and teach — the game. That would be nice.
Stay informed about the Little League All-Stars postseason by checking out our daily print edition, or by visiting thewestfieldnews.com.
COURTESY OF JOHN BLAKE/LITTLE LEAGUE