When I arrived in Lexington, Illinois my mind wasn’t on baseball, it was on getting home to Milwaukee which was three hours north to see my daughter. I picked Lexington because the Midwest Collegiate League game fit perfectly with my schedule. I drove back roads reminiscent of Gene Hackman in the movie “Hoosiers” to get into town. I was craving a Starbucks coffee but had to settle for the breakfast buffet at the Shake Shack since the nearest Starbucks was at least 15 miles away in Bloomington. I noticed taped to the door of the Shake Shack a flyer that said “Snipes” game today.
I took a left at the Community Center and drove to the end of the road. There was a swimming pool and some ball fields. I pulled onto a grass field that served as a parking lot. Two men were getting the field ready and I instantly thought of my experience on Cape Cod the week before. Zach Mason came up to me and inquired if I was there for the game. I asked who was in charge and if the game was going to be played since there was a lot of rain the night before. He pointed to Billy Dubois, who was marking the foul line in left field. I thought to myself, Billy must be a city worker in charge. Billy walked over, I explained what I was doing and asked if he would mind if I just hung-out and observed.
I assumed correctly that Billy did work for the city as the Superintendent of the Water Department, the owner of the Lexington Snipes, and also a part time EMT for the volunteer fire department. As I was standing there talking with Billy, another person showed up and started raking out the pitchers mound. Billy said, “That’s Tyler Cook. He is the manager”.
Billy told me he basically revamped the entire baseball field. He stood shirtless pointing towards the outfield where he had taken out the outfield 4 foot high fence and re-purposed it using it down the first and third base line. A neighbor had 800 feet of six foot high fencing that he could have if he tore it out. He, and that same neighbor, installed all the fence poles down the lines and outfield in a weekend. The old dugouts were in bad shape, so Billy knocked them down and got a mason buddy to build two new dugouts from brick that was donated. Billy was able to get the city to foot the bill for the roofs. A concession stand was needed. Billy persuaded the high school AG program to construct the stand for their class project. Also, a scoreboard was needed. A friend of Billy’s gave him an old one. Once again Billy recruited the AG program to paint it. A local electrician donated his time to rewire the board and install it with posts that were donated by another person. As Billy was telling me this he shrugged and said, “This is what is good about living in a small town”.
The ball field was in rough shape and he consulted with Andy Ommen, who takes care of the Babe Ruth fields in Bloomington, on what the best approach would be. Billy aerates, mows, and fertilizes it all with donated time and materials from people around the community. He pointed out that the town is only 2200 people and proudly states that the Snipes are the Cape Cod addition to the Midwest Collegiate Summer Baseball League. The other five teams have much better stadium facilities, according to Billy, further stating, “It is about the baseball with Lexington.” He understands that the other teams are in better position to make more money than he would ever be able to. It costs Billy about $18,000 a year to run the team and they make just enough to cover all the bills annually. Each player pays $400 to play and sponsors add about $3000. His wife and kids run the concession stand. Games cost $2 to attend, if people remember to pay.
Tyler Cook is in his first year as manager of the team. He is only 25 and needed to build his coaching resume. He asked Billy if he could assist him this year. Billy said, “Why don’t you manage just manage the team.” Tyler who played for Billy a couple of years ago was floored. He told me, “That is Billy though, he is very giving.” Tyler consults with Billy on strategy and how to deal with personalities. Billy explained that Tyler has the leadership skills necessary and was recently offered a coaching job at Eastern Kentucky University, which Tyler starts this fall.
I love Billy’s enthusiasm for the game. He just wants to field a team, small town baseball, at its finest. Billy said that the team was formed in 2000 because he wanted to play baseball and another team passed on him after he tried out. That set ‘the wheels in motion’ to form the Snipes. Billy and some of his buddies from his 1990 High School State Championship team created the team that played in a merchants league. Billy said that the merchant league, and ones like it, have died off. Their team evolved to what it is today.
College summer baseball is exploding around the country and the best known leagues are the Cape Cod League in Massachusetts and the Northwoods League in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Lots of the top talent goes to these two leagues. However, Billy’s approach is to take kids from Central Illinois or kids that have ties to the area in other ways. He taps the talent from Illinois State University, Illinois Wesleyan University, and Heartland Community College. This way the kids can sleep in their own beds during the summer instead of a host family. The best talent at least considers playing close to home. This approach has worked for Lexington. Billy’s teams have been league champions numerous times in the different platforms they have played in.
Billy had to get the field ready with the help of other coaches and players. He asked Jack Warren of Top Coach come by to talk to me. Jack had recently done an interview with Billy, which you can listen to here. Jack told me that Billy is the type of guy that just gets things done and can get people to see the value for the community. Jack admires Billy as he makes sure to defer all the credit to others within the Lexington community. Billy points out that he may own the team, but it truly is the towns’ team.
Billy is the guy that has to chase down the foul balls, the bus driver, make sure the umpires get their checks, head ticket taker, concession stand supervisor, grounds crew laborer, the “General Keeper” to assure all aspects are taken care of. For some reason, I think he loves all of it; that, or the smile, that he had plastered on his face the whole time I observed him, was surgically attached.
I want to quickly say something about Jack Warren. On his website are interviews with some of the best coaches in America. Jack’s approach to the interviews and website is not baseball strategy but how the coaches got to where they are. The website is great and one I recommend if anyone wants to find out what it takes to get to the top collegiate and professional levels of baseball and succeed. Jack did a great interview with NCAA World Series Champion Coach Tim Corbin of Vanderbilt back in February.
Jack Warren and Billy Dubois are a couple of guys that want to be around baseball and both have carved out their own unique niche within the game. Lexington is a baseball community, a community where baseball is front and center. I loved the fact that I got to experience this “hokey” home town team, a true community team. I will be back to Lexington to enjoy more baseball. I rank it up towards the top of all the games I have gone to.
Again, this is another story I could spend a great deal of time on but I am running over my word limit. Writing a book is still in the recesses of my mind. Should I accomplish the feat, I will be able to share more of the baseball community in Central Illinois!
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