It doesn’t get any better than standing next to Babe Ruth’s daughter and grandson after being inducted into the Babe Ruth Pacific Southwest division’s Hall of Fame.
Two mainstays from Fallon Youth Baseball were recognized on Saturday for their many devoted years to not only the local program but also the state and region. For more than 50 years, Tom Ellis and Sam Paulson devoted countless hours to youth baseball in Fallon as they helped establish one of the region’s most organized and respected programs.
“It was awesome. We got our picture taken with her,” Paulson said about the photo op with the Babe Ruth family. “His grandson had a jacket on that had the No. 3 and Ruth on the back. That was pretty cool.”
But their dedication for the sport didn’t stop at the local level as they helped Fallon create a name for itself in the state by hosting many league, state and regional tournaments at Oats Park and the East Richards Babe Ruth field.
“A town this size, the size of Fallon, it was quite an accomplishment,” Paulson said about the five regional tournaments held in Fallon. “We had a lot of help. We assisted it. Whenever Fallon hosted a tournament, it was hosted properly.
“We had a lot of good volunteer help in the years that we were involved. It’s not like we did everything ourselves. We had a lot of good board members and league directors.”
After coaching during the 1960s in Little League and Babe Ruth, the longtime baseball duo created the Fallon Youth Baseball League with the main purpose at the time to help distribute funds equally after the women’s auxiliary helped Babe Ruth one year.
“It worked out pretty good. We didn’t have any more squabbles over the money,” Ellis recalled.
For many decades, Ellis and Paulson helped run Fallon Youth Baseball with Ellis’ truck parked at the clubhouse every day as he helped teams with equipment and uniforms. As time passed, more youngsters joined Fallon Youth Baseball as Oats Park remained one of the biggest constants as the Babe Ruth division moved from the North Maine Street softball field to the East Richards ball park to regional park a generation ago.
Paulson said the biggest highlight of their run was seeing improvements every year, from adding more ball fields to building concession stands and dugouts to representing the town in the best attire.
“Fallon was one of the best equipped and dressed all-star teams,” Paulson recalled.
Ken Stern, the state’s Babe Ruth umpire consultant who was the umpire in chief in Fallon in the late 1990s, had his two sons, John and Steven, played in the organization and admired Paulson’s and Ellis’ dedication to the sport and kids.
“My recollection is of two guys, joined at the hip, who ran the leagues the way they should be run: for the kids,” Stern said. “They both did what was best for the kids in the league. They both helped some kids who couldn’t afford to play.”
As constant as Oats Park has been to youth baseball, both Ellis and Paulson helped grow the program and provided players, coaches and umpires the best opportunity to enjoy America’s favorite pastime. Cost was never an issue because it was important to the both of them that every kid had a chance to play baseball.
“If a kid couldn’t afford to play, we didn’t worry about that. They played,” Paulson said. “There wasn’t any favoritism. We were fair. We never turned anybody away. Boy or girl, they had an opportunity.”
“I think many people took for granted all the time they volunteered and how much effort it takes to run this league,” said James Richardson, who coached his two boys Connor and Brock. “I have nothing but positive memories with the league and the competition among the Fallon teams back when they were involved.”
Even though they retired from the program four years ago, Ellis and Paulson are still active as Babe Ruth commissioners for the state as they oversee the leagues from Elko to Fallon to the Reno-Tahoe region.
For Rick Cornu, who played in the league and made it to the Division I level at Utah, the uniforms and equipment stood out the most.
“When you’re a kid at that age or any age and it’s time to get any kind of gear or uniforms, it’s like Christmas,” Cornu said. “Tom and Sam took countless hours out of their time to help us kids live our dreams.”
Not only did Ellis help with the town’s uniforms and equipments, but Fallon Youth Baseball recycled their uniforms every year and provided them to several leagues, including Silver Springs and even Beatty, when the all-star team visited Fallon for a Little League tournament.
“It’s one thing to put a team together but it’s another to make that group of kids look like a team,” Cornu added. “These two gentlemen keep every piece of uniform you can think of well organized. They had the uniforms hung on racks, and pants, socks and stirrups in clearly organized marked containers. Once someone puts a uniform on, they have a different mindset, a mindset to strive to be a better player to represent that team name across your chest. Having uniforms might not mean much at the time but it really pushed kids to be better and with that, they develop to become better players at the next level.”
Fellow Division I player Owen Mackedon said the importance of the Fallon baseball duo’s shouldn’t be overlooked. Having both Ellis and Paulson helping the program year in and year out gave the youngsters the best opportunity to being successful after they grew out of Fallon Youth Baseball.
“It added some stability because there usually is a lot of turnover as far as parents moving on from the league once their kids left,” said Mackedon, who played one season at Nevada before transferring to Southern Illinois. “Tom and Sam were always a constant, and that seemed to help a lot. I think the league helped develop talent in that it provided a competitive atmosphere. That’s all you can really ask for in Little League. When I was growing up, there were always plenty of teams in the league, and a schedule that allowed a kid to play in quite a few games each summer.”
Former Greenwave and college pitcher Nate Stenberg, who helps coach the high school team with Lester de Braga, always remembered Ellis’ pickup truck being parked at the clubhouse. There was no doubt how much the league and players meant to Ellis and Paulson.
“They both were very committed and loyal and made sure we always had a league to play in,” Stenberg said. “They were also always around the fields and I still can remember always seeing Tom’s truck parked over by the clubhouse.”
During their tenure with the organization, Ellis and Paulson encountered a few bumps but were able to help Fallon Youth Baseball weather the storm.
Ellis remembered vividly of Fallon’s best year of participation when they had 14 Babe Ruth (including six prep), 18 Little League (9-12), 12 farm and 14 T-ball teams. But then the leukemia cluster rocked the Lahontan Valley and the numbers began to drop.
“That was all in one year. We were one of the biggest programs in the state,” he said. “That was before the leukemia scare. The naval base stopped bringing their families. There’s so much for the kids to do now. They’re having a hard time fielding six teams (in each division).”
Not long after, Fallon made the switch to Cal Ripken after a bad experience during the 1997 all-star tournament in Winnemucca. Ellis said that Winnemucca parents complained about one of Fallon’s coaches giving signs from the stands and even called the cops.
Back then, the host city was allowed to structure the bracket unlike Cal Ripken where teams are drawn. Fallon opened with a loss to Elko while Winnemucca coasted through an easier portion of the bracket but Fallon defeated the hosts before losing to Elko in the championship.
Fallon Youth Baseball had seen enough and switched, which has led to many state championships and regional berths.
“It upset a lot of people,” Ellis recalled. “Cal Ripken was more baseball so they decided to switch to it. It’s a way better program. Cal Ripken’s the biggest youth program running. A lot of teams have switched to Cal Ripken and because of the 70-foot base paths. It’s just like playing baseball where you hold the runner on and pitchers have to learn how to pitch.”
Although Fallon didn’t fully recover to match those numbers, families still come to the ball parks and help grow the program. While Ellis and Paulson are no longer operating Fallon Youth Baseball, their presence is still felt every time the season rolls along in March.
“They ran a tight ship, spent a considerable amount of time and energy in running Fallon Youth Baseball and kept the clubhouse stocked with everything a team would need from the 5 and 6 year olds to Babe Ruth,” longtime youth baseball coach Mike Merkley said. “Their efforts are to be commended.”