State baseball: OHSAA honoring OF’s 1968 state champions

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THE 1968 OLD FORT baseball team, shown after winning that year’s Class A state championship, included: (front, from left) coach Jim Rosendahl, Jon Williman, Ron Rau, Doug Pence, Steve Cleveland, Duane Gillmor, Ed Cantu; (back, from left) Dick Hull, Keith Whitman, Mike Hoke, Fred Wilbert, Rick Sanford, Dennis Stacy, Steve Hoke, Doug Cleveland, Jerry Wilbert, Larry Willis and Rick Myers. | Photo provided

By SCOTT COTTOS

SPORTS EDITOR

An achievement’s full significance sometimes doesn’t strike an athlete in the heat of the moment.

Ron Rau, a 1969 military draftee during the Vietnam War, can tell you about that.

“When I got into the Army, I was in Korea and I tried out for a baseball team,” he said. “I was sitting in the barracks and I was thinking, ‘We won the state!’ That’s when it sunk in and hit me, about a year later.”

In the days before pitch counts were a concern, Rau went the distance and was was the winning pitcher in both games at Ohio State’s varsity field in Columbus as Old Fort won the 1968 Class A state baseball championship to complete a 17-0-1 season.

Rau expects coach Jim Rosendahl and most of the 14 living members of the team to be present when the 50th anniversary of the Stockaders’ accomplishment is recognized prior to Saturday’s 10 a.m. Division IV state championship game at Huntington Park in Columbus.

“It’s quite an honor,” Rick Sanford, Rau’s sophomore catcher in 1968, said. “We really appreciate it, especially after 50 years.”

John Bruggemeier, the retired longtime athletic director at Old Fort, noticed that the OHSAA had begun honoring past champions during the state basketball tournament. He asked Jerry Snodgrass, the OHSAA’s director of sport management and now executive director-elect, if the Stockaders baseball team could be afforded similar recognition.

“Over the course of the past three years, we have started a great tradition of celebrating our past,” Snodgrass, an Upper Sandusky High School graduate who coached basketball and served as athletic director at Findlay High School for many years, said. “We always stress that we are creating memories of a lifetime at state championship games, and every team we have brought back in basketball and now baseball has truly indicated that it is an experience they have remembered to this date.”

That 1968 season certainly qualified as a memory maker for the Stockaders, who finished as the only unbeaten team in the state’s two divisions. Rau has hosted a reunion every five years for the team, where a film of the title game is shown — “We just laugh and have so much fun watching it,” Sanford said — and stories are told and retold.

“I think all of us do,” Rau said of thinking frequently about that season. “We were real close, the whole team. Here lately, during basketball, the high school had us come back. I have a reunion for this team every five years, so we’ll be having one this fall. We’ll get a pretty good turnout. Along with the 71 team, which was the (state) runner-up, and the ’75 team that went to state, I have a reunion with all three teams.

“We’ll still talk about it, and I think about it quite often. It doesn’t seem like 50 years. A lot of these guys play in my golf league. We still talk about it.”

It wasn’t a totally unlikely accomplishment for the Stockaders, whose four seniors included top pitchers Rau and Doug Pence. Jim Rosendahl, two years removed from completing his pitching career at Bowling Green State University, was in his second season as coach after leading Old Fort to a 16-3 record and a regional bid in 1967.

“He made practices fun, but you had to be well behaved,” Sanford said. “He didn’t put up with any nonsense whatsoever.”

Rosendahl’s former players said he brought with him from BGSU some cutting-edge coaching techniques, with Rau noting that while many other schools waited until the weather cooperated to begin practicing, Rosendahl got his players working in the gymnasium immediately after basketball season ended.

“He was a heck of a coach,” Rau said. “He taught us a lot of things that we didn’t know before. We had practices where we didn’t even get to hit the ball. It was situations for a whole practice; just working on fundamentals and stuff like that.

“He was a good coach. We’ve become real good buddies now, but you know how kids are in your high-school days. You think you know it all. But he was a good coach — very good.”

Rosendahl, a 73-year-old resident of Washington Court House and a regular at the Old Fort reunions, said he had few difficulties in coaching the Stockaders.

“They were great fun to coach,” Rosendahl, who was at Old Fort for five years, said. “They were all very coachable. They listened and worked a lot on repetitions.

“I give credit to some of the older guys. I told them I needed some of the kids to play older than they were. I give them credit to take the time to do that stuff, to work with them.”

Rau’s achievement of pitching both games in the state final four would be unheard-of now, if for no other reason than state rules disallowing it.

But it wasn’t a big deal for the senior right-hander, who registered 10 wins and carried an earned run average below 1.00 in 1968. He said he simply went to the trainer’s room for a rubdown after Old Fort’s 4-1 semifinal win over Seaman.

Rau came back the next day to one-hit Anna in a 6-0 victory, recording seven strikeouts and not walking a batter along the way.

He said throwing the final strike in the title game remains his top memory.

“Rick Sanford came out and jumped (into my arms). He looked like Yogi,” Rau said, referring to the famous photo of New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra celebrating after Don Larsen pitched a perfect game in the 1956 World Series.

“I just about knocked him down,” Sanford said with a laugh.

Unlike Rau, Sanford had more high school baseballl to play. And the 1969 season brought his full realization of what the Stockaders had done.

“The next year, coming out to the ballfield without those two pitchers, it really sunk into me in those first one or two games that we had won the championship,” he said.

That old feeling may well be in store for them again on Saturday in Columbus.

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