Cortez: Easter means it’s time for baseball and softball tournaments

jcortez@modbee.comApril 16, 2014 

AM Windemuth Field 2

View of the scoreboard of Dick Windemuth Field at Enochs High School. The Dick Windemuth Baseball Tournament will be held beginning Monday, April 21.

ADRIAN MENDOZA 06282007 — Modesto Bee Buy Photo

Easter will be here in just three short days, and you know what that means.

For many of us, it means our Lenten observances are over, and we can go back to consuming dubious amounts of whatever we gave up (Here’s a tip: buy stock in Coca-Cola and Hershey’s).

It also means it’s time for Spring Break and that, in turn, means it’s time for softball and baseball tournaments.

The biggie around these parts will the 45th annual Dick Windemuth Easter Baseball Tournament, which gets underway Monday at Modesto and Enochs high schools.

The Modesto pool will feature Gregori, Turlock, Tracy, Modesto Christian, Escalon, Davis and the host Panthers. The Enochs pool includes Downey, Beyer, Pitman, Ripon, Central Catholic, Johansen and the host Eagles.

The championship game will be held April 24 at 4:30 p.m. at Modesto High.

Also on tap next week is the 55th annual Fran Oneto/Atwater-Winton Lion Easter Tournament – Atwater, Livingston, Los Banos, Pacheco, St. Joseph (Alameda), Moreau Catholic (Hayward), St. Mary’s (Berkeley), and Minarets (O’Neals) will participate. Like the Windemuth, the tourney starts Monday and concludes Thursday, with the title game slated for 7 p.m. at Memorial Ballpark in Atwater.

The Hilmar tournament and the Art McRae Tournament in Ceres also get underway Monday.

As far as softball is concerned, there’s really only one tournament worth mentioning – the NorCal Classic in Tracy that plays host to 64 varsity teams and 36 junior varsity squads.

Tuesday was Jackie Robinson Day in the major leagues. On that day, every club honored the man who broke baseball’s color barrier by having every player wear uniform No. 42.

A lot of baseball old-timers lament the fact that many of today’s big-leaguers don’t know of Robinson’s contributions to the game and to society (though I bet more and more are learning about the Dodgers great since they have to wear his number once a year).

During Tuesday’s Modesto Metro Conference showdown between Gregori and Enochs, Jaguars shortstop Tyler Janitz showed he’s aware of Robinson’s legacy. He brought a Jackie Robinson T-shirt to hang in Gregori’s dugout. The royal blue shirt, with “Brooklyn” emblazoned on the front and No. 42 on the back, waved in the breeze for all 3 hours, 11 minutes of Tuesday’s game.

It made me wonder, though, if Janitz and the rest of the players in the MMC know anything about Dick Windemuth, the man for whom the field on which they played was named – not to mention next week’s tournament.

“I know he was a coach in the area for a long time and the Windemuth Tournament has been around forever,” Janitz said. “And I know my coach is going to be mad at me because that’s all I can remember.

“But I bet half the kids on our team know who he is.”

Enochs coach Chris Butterfield wants his players to become better acquainted with the legend.

“Maybe on Monday before the tournament we’ll have a little conversation about the man,” Butterfield said. “That’s the name of our field. It’s Dick Windemuth Field for a reason.”

Personally, I never met Dick Windemuth and never saw any of his teams play. But I know a lot of the legends.

Dubbed “Mr. Baseball” – and sometimes called “The Mad Russian” – Windemuth immigrated from Russia as a teenager in the 1920s, settling in the Midwest before a stint in the U.S. Navy brought him to California. He embarked upon a coaching career that lasted four decades and he coached just about everybody in this town who knows anything about baseball. He died in 1991 at the age of 79.

Paul Cornwell, who just had the field at Beyer High renamed in his own honor, played for Windemuth; so did Modesto JC coach Bo Aiello, as did former Pirates coach Jerry Streeter. Former Modesto City Schools superintendent James C. Enochs, for whom an entire school is named, was a catcher on one of Windemuth’s early Modesto High teams.

My old Modesto Bee colleague, Dave Lyghtle, also played for the legendary coach. More than once, I paid a visit to Dave in his office, steered the conversation toward his playing days, and then just listened to Dave go.

Among other things, I learned:

Windemuth called sunflower seeds “Russian peanuts.”

Pitchers were instructed to hold the ball and their glove a specific way (glove resting against the belt buckle, bare hand cradling the ball at the small of the back) while standing on the mound.

Once, Lyghtle told me, when Windemuth was hitting infield and the opposition was engaging in a little too much bench jockeying, the Mad Russian turned and launched a ball with a fungo bat into the foe’s dugout.

End of bench jockeying.

By most accounts, Windemuth was a stern disciplinarian with a heart of gold (his daughter, Susan, was my boss here at The Bee for about five years and if Dick’s heart was half the size of Susan’s, then it was twice as big as anybody else’s).

A lot of readers already know these things about him. But I’ve never before written about the force of nature that was known as Dick Windemuth and, with his tournament fast approaching, and Jackie Robinson Day recently past, I thought it might be a good time for a refresher.

So, the next time you’re at Enochs High and you look out at that huge scoreboard in left-center, take a moment to contemplate the greatest coach Modesto has ever known, and his impact upon this town, and many of its residents.

And don’t forget the Russian peanuts.

Bee staff writer Joe Cortez can be reached at or (209) 578-2380. Follow him on Twitter @ModBeePreps.

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