Some men dream of owning palatial estates, sea-going yachts and all the money they can count for the rest of their lifetimes. Paul Wajbel isn't one of them. What he wants to do is of more modest and meaningful purpose . . . it's about building a baseball park in the suburbs, specifically Dundalk, for the use of amateur teams.
Wajbel is a businessman; he operates General Die Finishing Inc., and for the last two years has sponsored one of the Baltimore area's most successful sandlot organizations. It won a national championship last month by winning the Mickey Mantle Division, 15- and 16-year-olds, in the World Series at Kalamazoo, Mich., that gave it an imposing overall record of 64-4.
It was always Wajbel's desire to help sports. He has been a constant financial provider for baseball, football, lacrosse, soccer and softball teams in the community of Dundalk. When recreation leagues needed help, he responded as best he could.
For the last two years, he paid the bills in uniforms, equipment and travel for the team known as the General Die Generals, which plays in the Baltimore Metro League . . . which includes among its alumni such later Baltimore Orioles as Cal and Billy Ripken, Tim Nordbrook and John Stefero. Manager Rick Waldt, the son of Dick, who pitched for the Orioles of the International League, has created something of an almost instant baseball power.
Waldt, himself, caught three years in the Milwaukee Brewers' minor-league system, and is an exceptional teacher of fundamentals. The combination of Waldt and Wajbel has had a positive influence in Dundalk, where the team has received outstanding attention from the citizens and much pride when it won the Mickey Mantle Division by beating representatives from San Diego, Dallas, Cleveland, Memphis, San Juan, Clearwater, Fla., and Kalamazoo.
"I was born and raised in O'Donnell Heights," says Wajbel, "and it always bothered me the way some people talked of Dundalk in such a negative way. Dundalk has been ignored and kind of kicked around. The Dundalk Eagle, in its coverage, has expressed tremendous pride in the success of our team. There's wide excitement. And it gives me a particularly good feeling to give a kid a ball or help provide the chance to play on a team."
Such a good feeling has inspired Wajbel to want to do more. He has budgeted $45,000 for next year's program, including a new park. Another older team also will take the field in what is the beginning of what could be a General Die "farm system." He's looking to buy property in Dundalk to build a park with lights, a grandstand and provisions for both baseball and softball without any cost to Baltimore County or the Dundalk community.
Waldt and his brother Mike, the third base coach, admit they have received assistance from Joe Binder, Rick's high school mentor at Calvert Hall; Walter Youse, who is synonymous with building strong teams that have featured the likes of Reggie Jackson, Dave Boswell, Gerry Gray, among others, and Bernie Walter, the coach and athletic director at Arundel High School who also directed Mayo to the coveted national American Legion title.
"I give tremendous credit to all of them, along with my late father, who died so suddenly in 1975 at age 49, for giving me a foundation in baseball," says Waldt. "There's a satisfying feeling to see kids develop in sports. Two of our players this year came from La Plata. So we're a Maryland team, but we're based in Dundalk. I work in sales for the Wilman Supply Co., but you have no idea how fulfilling it can be to see young athletes develop."
Lou Grasmick, a product of the Baltimore sandlots who pitched his way to the major leagues, has been aware of what the General Die team has achieved and says he's impressed with the kind of interest Wajbel has demonstrated.
"I heard Paul Wajbel mention the budget last year was $20,000 and I can understand why a first-rate operation, the type they have, would cost that kind of money," he said. "Their road and away uniforms look the part of professional teams and, naturally, every kid is going to want to play when things are made so attractive."
The 64-4 record is impressive at any level of competition. Waldt once caught for a Johnny's championship team in 1977, before he went off to play at Valencia Junior College and Coastal Carolina, which finished 89-4. It can't get much better than that.
But he likes being a part of what Wajbel intends to do -- build a park for a sandlot team with his own money without any gate receipt remuneration. This comes under the old-fashioned heading of "love of the game." Let's clone Wajbel and spread him around. Every community needs one.