McCrabb: Love of Badin baseball passed from mother to daughter

10:36 a.m. Saturday, July 15, 2017 Hamilton

There they sat, mother and daughter, enjoying what each was born to do: Sharing their love of baseball.

Badin High School’s baseball team was playing Defiance in the 2016 Division II state championship game, and since Sally Wesselman was too ill to attend the game at Huntington Park in Columbus, her daughter, Chris Wesselman, sat in her mother’s nursing home room intently listening to the game on the radio.

No one probably wanted the Rams to win the 2016 state championship — what would have been their third overall and first since 1996 — more than Sally Wesselman. Since 1975, when her daughter was a freshman at Badin, Wesselman had dedicated her life to Badin baseball.

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For a woman lying on her death bed, nothing would have been sweeter than one final wish, another state championship.

You know: “Win One for Sally.”

Instead, as so often happens, reality threw dreams out at second. Defiance scored a run with a two-out single in the eighth inning for a 3-2 victory in the championship game, denying the Rams their first state baseball title in 20 years.

The Wesselmans turned off the radio, hugged as only a mother and daughter can, and a few hours later, Sally Wesselman took her last breath. She was 82.

“I think of it as the season was over, put the tarp on the field, I’m going home,” Wesselman said of the timing of her mother’s death.

Thirteen months and a river of tears later, Chris Wesselman has decided to remember her mother the best way she can imagine. She is selling some of her mother’s baseball memorabilia — items collected during her lifetime love affair with the game — and using the proceeds to establish the Sally Wesselman Angel in the Dugout Memorial Fund.

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The goal is to help fund the Badin baseball program for years to come.

You’d be hard pressed to find a mother — and now her daughter — who have had a bigger impact on Badin baseball. Starting in 1975, Sally Wesselman served as scorekeeper, statistician and if you believe the green name badge she wore on her baseball hat, she was “Grandmother, Executive Director Personnel and Etiquette.”

In other words, Badin boys, don’t mess with the lady on the end of the bench.

“It was not like she hadn’t heard the things that boys and men can say,” her daughter said with a laugh. “They had to watch their language.”

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Badin head coach Brion Treadway, a 1997 Badin graduate who later pitched for UNC Charlotte, said Wesselman was “very welcome” in the Badin family.

“She always kept people in check, players and coaches alike,” Treadway said. “She always spoke her mind. She let us know when we messed up and she was right nine out of 10 times.”

She certainly earned her love of baseball honestly.

Her father, the late John Beckel, coached the University of Cincinnati baseball team in 1952-53 and later the Cheviot team in the Tri-State League. He served as a Major League scout. She followed in her father’s footsteps, playing catch with Reds players at Crosley Field.

In 1951, Sally Wesselmman became the first girl to earn a baseball letter from Western Hills High School, where she served as student manager. She also was as scorekeeper and bat girl when her father coached the Cheviot team.

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Her scrapbook is filled with pictures of Reds legends Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Nuxhall, Ted Kluszewski, Don Zimmer, Russ Nixon, Ernie Lombardi and Eddie Matthews of the Atlanta Braves.

“Mom was out there doing some things ahead of her time,” Chris Wesselman said while sitting in a home she and her husband, Charlie Neanover, built for her mother. “It was always baseball. I jokingly tell people that she taught me how to throw a baseball and spiral a football before I learned to boil water.”

Now that baseball baton has been passed from mother to daughter like a cherished family recipe box.

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Chris Wesselman serves the same capacity as her mother. She sat on the bench with the boys this year, and when the season ended, Wesselman collected an autographed team baseball, a tradition started by her mother.

She didn’t want to be “a distraction” to the players, but said the transition was easier because the players knew her since they had seen her with her mother.

“They were her boys and now they’re my boys, my team,” Chris Wesselman said. “Baseball was the one thing that she relied on. It was the one consistent throughout her entire life. There are football families. There are marching band families. Whatever folks are into, whatever their family identifies with. Our family is a baseball family. And there’s nothing wrong with that.”

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