A common denominator for five inductees to the Red Devil Diamond Club Hall of Fame Saturday night was fierce dedication anytime they stepped onto a baseball field.
Mike Befort, an Allen Community College pitcher from Hays who was a handful for batters during the 1979 and 1980 seasons, recalled a comment from Joe DiMaggio, the New York Yankee great, and how it related to his approach to the game.
“Someone asked Joe why he played so hard all the time,” Befort said during his acceptance speech. Each game, DiMaggio replied, he looked in the stands and didn’t want a little boy, or anyone else, to go away from the game “wondering why I didn’t play hard.”
Befort established himself in the Hays American Legion program. He turned down a chance to sign with the New York Mets out of high school, opting instead to play for Allen County as a pitcher and first baseman.
Later he signed with the Philadelphia Phillies, who drafted him after two years as a Red Devil. He played minor league ball two seasons, before deciding his young family was more important than the vagabond life demanded by the sport.
Befort credited coach Val McLean for instructing him in more than just baseball.
“You have been a valuable part of my life; you gave me a lot of life lessons,” Befort said to McLean.
JOINING BEFORT were players Scott Vondemkamp, John Masterson and Jim Hess. Masterson, now president of ACC, was the second of three coaches for the Red Devils baseball program.
Unable to attend was a fourth player, Jeff Dinkel, who sent a letter.
When Masterson succeeded Joe Haynes, who started the program, he said he had a field, a backstop, a batter’s cage and equipment, “all I needed,” and was ecstatic for having the opportunity to coach.
“But, I didn’t have any scholarships,” he mused.
He pulled in local players and convinced the likes of Rick Bloomquist, a basketball player, and Kenny Norris, a javelin thrower, to give a helping hand.
Norris didn’t lack in confidence, Masterson quipped.
“Once he was walked after the batter ahead of him doubled,” a strategy on the opposing coach’s part to set up a double play, he said. It didn’t work out that way and when Norris pranced off the field after scoring, he told Masterson, “I think they’d have walked me with the bases loaded.”
That first year Masterson’s club was 20-12.
The next year 12 scholarships had been approved for the program.
Among his first recruits were Rich Wiesensee and Sam Sibala from Kansas City. They were Hall of Fame inductees in 2013.
Those early years were the basis of what became, and still is, one of the premier community college baseball programs in Kansas.
Masterson’s record was 64-37 for three years, but even though he was away from the college eight years in banking, the Red Devil baseball team never was far from his mind. He returned as athletic director.
“I still love to watch my Red Devils compete,” Masterson said.
And, in regard to those who played under his guidance, “They’ll always be my boys,” he concluded.
HESS WAS a power pitcher, whose fastball was so devastating that Neil Crane, then the Devil’s basketball coach, referred to it as a car-wash pitch — “He could throw it through a car wash and the ball wouldn’t get wet.”
“Val (McLean) was a good coach, and also a friend and a mentor,” Hess said.
He recalled the ACC field being soaked one day by heavy rain, just hours before an important doubleheader. At someone’s suggestion truck tires were placed strategically on the skinned portion of the infield, doused with kerosene and set a fire. They dried the field, but had some unintended consequences.
“We didn’t realize they were steel-belted and when you slid into a base, you were liable to get wire in your pants,” an observation that brought a round of laughter. “And, the field was black the rest of the season.”
Turning serious, Hess said, “None us would be up here today as players without Val. It’s always good to be around the right people and I was at Allen County.”
Dinkel’s commentary noted he was one of nine boys in his family from Victoria, a small town near Hays, “where they rolled up the street at 5 o’clock each afternoon.”
Dinkel played one year at ACC as a catcher and third baseman.
Vondemkamp, an outfielder from Tecumseh, had a sweet swing that earned him a place in three college world series. The first series he played with the Red Devils, when they finished third in the nation, and the other two with the University of Texas.
“Baseball paid for my education,” Vondemkamp said.
He recalled playing summer semi-pro ball in Alaska and getting to compete with Randy Johnson and Will Clark, who both went on to be major league all-stars.
He came away from baseball learning many life lessons, Vondemkamp said.
“I learned to trust my teammates, that they would be there for me in any situation. But my greatest gift from baseball was friendships,” he said.