July 2, 2012
CHILLICOTHE — It was a big weekend for the Paints.
The numbers back that much of it up. Between Friday and Saturday, Chillicothe scored 50 runs in between raindrops and lightning bolts, and made franchise history with the biggest singlegame explosion with their 30-3 win Saturday over Slippery Rock.
That was on the field.
It was a bigger weekend off of it.
“To me, it’s the same thing no matter what league they’re playing in, because the atmosphere is the same,” former Paints pitcher Perry Cunningham said. “The people are the same, and that’s what Chillicothe is all about.” Cunningham and a handful of former Paints were in the ballpark Saturday as the team celebrated two decades of baseball in Chillicothe. A lot has happened in baseball in Chillicothe since everything got going on a wet Wednesday 20 years ago.
Over the weekend, the Paints took a minute to recognize the ride.
“The first year I was with the team, I was basically like a sports information director,” said Paints General Manager Bryan Wickline, who also has served in many capacities for the Frontier League — which the Paints were a part of for more than 15 years — and for the Prospect League — into which the Paints reinvented themselves four years ago. “I didn’t think it would last three years when I first started out, let alone 20 years. We basically just helped keep it going for a while, then when other teams and other cities started to buy into what we were doing, that’s when it really took off.” The Paints specifically, and the Frontier League in general, survived those early days even as teams such as the West Virginia Coal Sox in Wayne County, W.Va., and Tri-Valley in Ashland, Ky., shut down in the middle of the first season. So did the Paints’ first manager, a guy named Mark Jones, who rolled out of Ross County in the middle of the first summer, and never came back.
Even as slim as those early years were, it helped lay the footing for what was to come.
“Twenty years is something special,” Paints owner Chris Hanners said before the season started. “Did I think it would be here 20 years later? Yes. I did. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have gotten into it in the first place. But 20 years is something special.” Jones was replaced by Chris Hanners’s father, Roger, a Yankees farmhand in his own playing career, as the Paints manager. Eventually, teams such as the Coal Sox and Tri-Valley were replaced by teams from places such as St. Louis and Chicago.
The roots took a while to develop, but they were there.
Roger Hanners led the Paints for seven-plus seasons before Jamie Keefe, Glenn Wilson and Mark Mason took over the duties as the team played out its string in the Frontier League. Since then, Brian Mannino and Greg Cypret have called the shots as the team has lived on past the Frontier and into the Prospect League.
That’s part of what made the weekend so special. Teams came and went from the Frontier League — in fact, a full roster of Frontier League teams, and this is a little surprising, stretches past 40. The Prospect League still is an infant, with other collegeage leagues like it going back decades.
On a weekend of weird weather and bizarre baseball, the Paints still managed to stop and recognize guys like Cunningham. Rusty Swackhamer was there, and so was Gator McBride and Scott Pinoni and Mitch House, just to make it a full-house of the murderer’s row of Chillicothe baseball in the late 90’s.
Twenty years of baseball, rolled up into one celebration isn’t an easy thing to do.
“That logo is a big deal,” Wickline said. “I’m not exaggerating. People associate that logo with Chillicothe. I’ve had players from Canada, Puerto Rico and all around the country, and they come here and they see that Chorse logo and they’ve seen it before. When you’ve been around for a while, you get to that point.”