This history was compiled by Penrith Baseball members John Dewberry, Ken Masters and John Stringer.
Baseball came to Penrith in the early 1960s when Les Clarke, who had played baseball for Lane Cove in the Sydney Major League, introduced it to St Nicholas Cricket Club, who were looking for a winter sport.
Old mitts and cracked bats were coerced from Lane Cove Baseball Club, and after gluing and binding the bats, the rules were taught, a field was pegged out and practice began in Jamison Park.
Old tee-shirts and jeans were dyed black for the uniforms and a team was registered with the Cumberland Baseball Association in the winter C grade competition and was sponsored by Ken Faulkner’s Esso Garage on Castlereagh Road.
The experience gained in that first year enabled St Nicks to win the Grand Final in the following season, be promoted to B grade for the next season where they again won the championship. The team was graded once more and a second team was formed which meant that St Nicks had an A grade and a C grade competing in the competition just after 2 years.
It was decided to look for farm teams (Junior leagues) and an approach was made to St Dominic’s College who at the time only provided Cricket and Rugby League as team sports for the students.
Prior to age-divisions being introduced, there was only one grade available for boys to play, that being the under 16’s juvenile competition. If a boy of say 12 years of age wanted to play he played U-16 and took his chances – it was difficult for the younger lads.
The sport really boomed at the College in 1967, when Brother Joseph Alexis Lambert was appointed as a teacher at the school and took over the role of coordinator of baseball. He was given great support from teachers Cliff and June Bryan.
Brother Lambert was a strong disciplinarian who hated idleness and laziness; boys who were found doing nothing during recess and lunchtime were actively encouraged to ‘throw a ball’.
In no time at all kids came from everywhere to play this new game, even Rugby League players joined in. Soon the College was fielding 9 teams in the Cumberland Junior Competition, with more teams than Ruby League and Cricket.
The teams wore the school colours of white with blue trimmings and bands with blue undershirts. They played under names such as Panthers (the oldest team), Falcons, Cheetahs, Hawks, Kites, and Hornets, to name a few.
Players from St. Nick’s senior teams took on the coaching roles, these included Ken Masters, Les Clarke, Ray Hater, John Hair and Terry Mullhall. Another to ‘pitch in’ and help was Peter Hardy, a retired player and qualified Umpire who was always available to help with coaching and officiating games. Numerous parents were also available to provide transport to away games.
Scoring was a major problem, however, some parents were prepared to learn, and even bench players learnt so we were always able to get by.
Teams had mixed successes, with one season 6 out of the 9 sides making the finals, some Grand Final wins, some losses and some wooden spoons as well. The U-12 side in about 1968, which contained a number of league players, made the Grand Final and defeated Blacktown Workers, only to be told the next week that a protest had been lodged. The school was advised that one player, Sean Mcelduff, who had played all season and was one of the sides top players had been accidentally been left off the original registration sheet and Blacktown had protested. Representatives from the school attended a meeting, and despite pleas from members of the committee to act in the best interests of the game they refused to withdraw the protest and Blacktown were declared Premiers.
The first representative player from school was Alan Davis who lived at Rooty Hill. Alan a powerfully built right-hand pitcher and left-hand batter was chosen in the NSW U-14 squad for the Australian Championships in Adelaide in about 1968. He performed well and went on to play a high level of Baseball as well as 1st grade Cricket.
In 1969 Ken Masters who was coaching U-16’s at the time asked who wanted to have a go at Senior Baseball and with no restrictions on playing both Junior and Senior he had plenty of starters.
A side was put into the C grade competition and it comprised Ken, another senior player named Harry Wilson, who was stationed at Richmond RAAF base and juniors David Johnson, Mal Cross, John Stringer, Simon Bryan, Rod Morphett, Phil Horneman, David Blattman, Audie Au, Richard O’Neill and Michael O’Neill who was 13 years old and filled in occasionally. The side performed above expectations and was unfortunately defeated by Wolves in the Grand Final. Mid-way through the season Harry Wilson introduced a new player named Rick Cleary who had joined him at the RAAF base; he would have been in his mid-20’s at the time and had obviously played a good level of Baseball. He could throw rockets and hit big home-runs, unfortunately for the side he played up one night at the base and was ‘Locked-up’ for a couple of weeks, missing the Grand Final and was never seen again in Penrith Baseball.
The demise of Junior Baseball in Penrith started with the sudden death of Brother Lambert in 1969, along with the arrival of a new Principal who did not want baseball. This saw the end of baseball at St Dominic’s and a Junior Club ended after a couple of years through lack of support. It was a shame because a lot of boys were introduced to a new sport, had a lot of fun and were given the chance to wear the school colours which they had done with pride. Still a lot of these players went on to play a lot of baseball with Penrith.
The Senior Club proceeded on regardless playing at Jamison Park. The portion allocated was not a good playing field, simply being an unused part of the ground, with no ground preparation and a wide deep stormwater drain cutting right-field down to 200 feet, and resulting in many lost balls and the occasional right-fielder (temporarily of course). Good hitting left-handed batters had a ball, however, quite often getting home-runs with nothing more than mishits and pop-flies that would have normally been caught. However, they were not to complain and it was equal for both sides.
The club grew from two teams up to five with some needing to play “Away” games continually. So as the club grew in strength and standard, it was felt that “Jamo” was not the best playing field, and approaches were made to secure the use of Howell Oval for the winter months.
After many objections the club was successful in being allowed to locate the diamond in the southwest section of the oval. This was geographically ‘back-to-front’, however the playing surface was ‘true’ and allowed for a very good game to be played. Attempts were mage to get a height extension and an overhang on the back net, but were not successful, and a request to install a mound was refused. Eventually a mound was installed which improved the game even more. It was a regular practise for the Council to replace the turf wicket with black Bulli loam, usually in June when rain was not uncommon, and so made centre-field a very messy problem.
With the ongoing problems of Cricket versus Baseball, and a club membership rising and falling, it was quite apparent that something needed to be done to form a Junior Club. Approaches were made to Penrith Council around 1986 and a number of sites were requested (by the Club) and suggested by Council. Very little offered by Council was acceptable, and everything suggested by the Club was refused. The current fields at Andrews Road were totally unacceptable in the beginning, with all our objections being dismissed. The Council Parks and Playgrounds Officer, who happened to be a Canadian, presumed that he knew everything that was needed and just went ahead. These grounds are also geographically ‘back-to-front’, and have other infamous faults, especially stormwater.
Once this ground was approved, the Club at least could be positive in their endeavours to start a Junior Club, and was done in 1988.
Over the years the Penrith Baseball Club produced a large number of players, who excelled in the game, they went on to play a higher level in the Sydney Major League, and play representative Baseball. One of those players includes one of our life members sons Adam Forbes who was signed to the Chicago White sox organisation after competing successfully in 3 consecutive years in the Under 18’s NSW squad, he is currently playing in our major league squad.
For several years, various attempts had been initiated to merge the Senior and Junior Clubs instead of having them continue as separate organisations sharing much of the same facilities and resources. Finally, in 2005, under the direction of both Executive Committees, a joint constitution was drafted for consideration by both Clubs. On 1st May 2005, it was passed unanimously by both Clubs that they amalgamate, adopting the proposed constitution and carry forth all memberships.
Thanks to efforts of past committee and life members in the past 10+ years we are now the largest club in the Outer Western Sydney area due to our Major league and Womens league acceptance. Gaining acceptance from Baseball NSW to enter these competitions gives juniors and seniors in the area goals to strive to achieve without having to travel excessive distances to training and home games.