Baltimore Redbirds will host free baseball clinic in Catonsville featuring former Major League baseball players

Former Major League players come to Weltmer Bowl at Spring Grove State Hospital to host a free clinic for young ballplayers.

Tim Tacka's joyous reaction, when he saw the banner hanging on the backstop of the baseball field called the Weltmer Bowl, was like a child seeing a professional baseball stadium field for the first time.

The sign reads, Home of the Baltimore Redbirds, and it's draped along the entire backstop on the field that is nestled on the grounds at the Spring Grove State Hospital in Catonsville.

Tacka, the Director of Operations for the non-profit Baltimore Redbirds organization and coach of the 15-and-under Redbirds this summer, was the leader in the project to restore the field that was built in 1936 and named after the hospital's superintendent, Silas W. Weltmer, M.D.

"He built the baseball field for patients that were here and he thought they could maintain it to help them mentally, like do it as a therapy thing, but also that was back before they had minor leagues," Tacka said. "In the 1940's and 50's they would hire baseball players as maintenance guys to make enough money so they could play at a higher level."

In 2016, Tacka, a 1987 Cardinal Gibbons High graduate and standout baseball and soccer player, became a volunteer of the state of Maryland and began restoring the field.

He guided the 15U team this summer and will coach the 16U team in the fall and next summer in tournaments, while continuing to utilize the field for practices and scrimmages.

Other Redbirds teams, from 13U through 17U, all play on 90-foot diamonds and have had some scrimmages at Spring Grove.

Tacka, a Catonsville resident, recently held tryouts for his 16U team and he is looking forward to hosting a free Legends for Youth Baseball Clinic on Aug. 28 from 5-7:30 p.m.

The clinic, for ballplayers ages 6-16, is presented by the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association and sponsored by the Baltimore Redbirds.

Tim Bishop, president of the Baltimore Redbirds and coach of the 14U team over the summer, is excited for the opportunity to host the event.

"It's another way for us to give back to the local community and give a free clinic for kids," Bishop said. "It should be a fun night."

Bishop, a Parkton resident whose Redbirds include players from Hereford and students from Gilman, Calvert Hall, St. Paul's and Friends, was the former strength and conditioning coach for the Baltimore Orioles from 1993 through 2006.

When asked by former Orioles pitcher Rick Krivda if they had a 90-foot field to hold a clinic, he didn't hesitate to offer the site at Spring Grove.

"There are very few rec 90-foot fields and the ones that are around, a lot of times there is soccer or lacrosse in the outfield, so to have a stand-alone 90-foot field in Baltimore County, show me another one that's not affiliated with a school," Bishop said. "It's a definite hidden gem, no doubt."

The Legend for Youth Clinic teaches young players the fundamentals of the game in a multi-station format and stresses the importance of education.

They hold more than 100 clinics a year and have reached more than 150,00 children nationwide.

"Retired Major League baseball players will come out to give instruction and we will have a ton of kids out and it will be free for the community," Tacka said.

He insists the field will be primed for the event.

"This year we took full responsibility of the field," said Tacka, who acquired a lease from the state in 2017.

But the work was just beginning for Tacka, who founded Tacka Motors and Tacka Properties, but left the business world in 2008 to focus on baseball.

He started coaching his son, Jackson Tacka, in the Catonsville recreation leagues and now coaches the Gilman School sophomore on the Redbirds.

Tacka is one of four Gilman students on the Redbirds 16U team.

"It's been a huge undertaking because when we did this, we had to make an agreement that we would take care of it, not only making improvements, but maintaining it as well," he said.

The renovation of the field included tearing up the mound, batter's boxes and catcher and umpire areas and rebuilding them with clay.

They replaced the infield with an infield mix of dirt that allows them to get the field playable quickly.

"If it stopped raining at 6 a.m., I would be able to play by 8 a.m., as soon as we drag the field," Tacka said.

There was a white fence that circled the field that rusted and had to be scraped and hand painted and Tacka summoned parents for relief.

In addition, the roofs in both dugouts were rebuilt and bat and helmet racks were added. They also redid the bullpen.

"This took months," Tacka said. "I can't tell you how labor intensive this was. It was all volunteer work."

The recent Home of the Baltimore Redbirds sign was unveiled by Mike Boyce, owner of Boyce Renovations.

"He has helped me tremendously and has donated some of the materials and all of his time," Tacka said. "He and I are the main guys that redid a lot of the stuff and we got help from parents. My players have also helped."

On the field in 15U competition, the Redbirds, which included Catonsville High students Kevin Alberg, Ethan Boyce, Mark Brady, Samuel Brown and Thomas Brown, Mount Saint Joseph students Corey Turner and Parker Warner and Catonsville resident Jackson Tacka, were a success.

They won one championship, reached the finals once and made the semifinals three times.

But their work doesn't start with the first pitch and end with the final out.

"Part of being a player and playing on that field is when they hit the field before practice or a game they have to take all the tarps off and at the end of each practice or game they have to completely rake and drag the field with a tractor just like a professional team would do and make sure it's completely done," Tacka said. "Every time somebody walks out there, everything is completely done as far as maintenance."

Tacka's dream is to make the field comparable to what it was like when semi-pro and amateur teams started playing there in the mid-1950's.

Amateur teams, sponsored by Leones, Leone's-Johnny's, Johnny's and Corrigans, were winners of 37 straight Baltimore City championships and were frequent residents on the field.

In 1965, future Hall of Fame Major League player Reggie Jackson played one summer for Johnny's head coach Walter Youse.

Tacka, who cuts the seven acres on and around the field, sometimes takes a break from his tractor to talk to passers-by.

"As I'm working on the field, I'll have guys that are 70 years old that will come up and tell me stories during the day about how they played on that field when they were younger," Tacka said. "There is not a field out there like this. This field is history."

Tacka held a recent tryout for his 16U team and players came from all over the state.

He expects many young baseball prospects to participate in the clinic and parents and fans will have a great place to watch the action.

Behind the backstop is a layered grass-seating bowl where baseball fans can park their chairs and not block the view of the folks behind them.

"The great thing about this is people bring their chairs and it's level," Tacka said. "There isn't a better place to watch a game."

Cutting the grass on the field, which takes about 10 to 12 hours a day twice a week, is Tacka's toughest task, but the reward is seeing his kids succeed.

The Baltimore Redbirds Collegiate baseball team, coached by former Oriole Larry Sheets, plays its home games at Calvert Hall and had 11 players drafted in the 2017 Major League Baseball draft and several play on Division I college teams.

Tacka's players could be on that same path.

"We prepare kids to play advanced baseball, but being a non profit, we are not the pay-to-play type thing, so we go for talent and we also make the kids do other things in life, like spend a day at the Maryland School for the Blind," Tacka said.