A pickup truck was parked along the clubhouse long before kids arrived to take batting practice.
The door swung open and as they entered this old, grey building, they felt overwhelmed about the long and successful tradition of youth baseball in Fallon. Many team photos and articles from the regular-season and state championship teams clouded the walls as you climbed the staircase, only to find several championship banners, including the town’s first-ever Cal Ripken state flag when Fallon switched from Little League 16 years ago.
Like Terence Mann’s speech in “Field of Dreams,” youth baseball has remained a constant and weathered many changes since Tom Ellis and Sam Paulson started creating something special in the Lahontan Valley. Almost every boy – along with quite a few girls – participated in Fallon Youth Baseball and progressed through the ranks from Little League or Cal Ripken to Babe Ruth before continuing in high school or finding another love to replace the void.
Both Ellis and Paulson will be recognized this weekend for their dedication to Fallon baseball as the duo will be inducted into the Babe Ruth Pacific Southwest division’s Hall of Fame in Las Vegas.
For more than half a century, Fallon’s baseball program continues to set the blueprint for organized youth baseball in the rural areas because of Ellis and Paulson were at the ballpark before teams arrived and did not leave until the lights at Oats Park were shut off. Baseball, and more importantly, the kids were their life and nothing felt better than giving everyone an equal opportunity at experiencing America’s favorite pastime. And it was nothing short of fun.
Sports — in particular baseball — continue to be a rite of passage with young children as they begin exploring the world of sports and adventure while going to school. Friendships were created and relationships with coaches and their families exist long past the players finished their time in the program.
My brother and I were fortunate to experience baseball in Fallon, from playing T-ball on the grass at Regional Park to Farm League at the old high school softball field on East Richards to revisiting that complex to finish out our time in the Babe Ruth division.
We won lots of games. We lost lots of games. We were all-stars but felt like rock stars.
But the beauty of playing baseball in Fallon was that even if high school didn’t work out, there was always a place for us. Either as a coach or in our case, an umpire, Ellis, Paulson and Fallon Youth Baseball welcomed your enthusiasm and dedication for the game. But more importantly, they cherished your love and passion into making the program all about the kids.
“I just remember both Tom and Sam being committed to helping the league out,” said Owen Mackedon, who played through Babe Ruth, starred on the high school team and reached the Division I level at Nevada before transferring to Southern Illinois. “At least while I was playing, they didn’t have any of their own kids playing in the league. They were there just helping out on their own. I always found that commendable. Usually, everyone involved in Little League has a kid in the league, but those guys were just there on their own.
It wasn’t about the coaches, no matter how many times they came out to intimidate you as 13-year-olds. It wasn’t about trying to make a scene with an outrageous strike-three call that would make Leslie Nielson grind. And it certainly wasn’t about money, which was much lower than the leagues in the Reno area.
No, the many hours spent on the field and in the classroom were intended to make Fallon Youth Baseball the best possible program for every child who dreams of playing sports, regardless of circumstance.
If you couldn’t afford playing baseball, they would find a way. Lack of uniforms and gear was never a problem. Even for umpires, gear was provided as long as you had a navy shirt and heather-grey slacks. And former umpire in chief Ken Stern always made sure that you had steel-toed shoes for behind the plate.
This was about seeing the reactions of those kids when they hear their names echo over the Oats Park sound system. You would have thought they were on ESPN for the first time and wanted to make their parents proud.
The drive that fueled Ellis and Paulson could not be matched. Their love for the sport and helping every kid succeed has made Fallon Youth Baseball one of the most respected organizations in the area.
Thomas Ranson can be contacted at email@example.com.