Involved in the game of baseball for most of his 80 years and now a legendary manager entering his 55th season at the helm of Waterloo in the Mon-Clair League, Vern Moehrs still has that sparkle in his eyes.
A native of the tiny town of Renault, Moehrs can’t do the things that once came so easily on a baseball field. He hasn’t thrown batting practice in nearly a decade and he long relinquished the duty of hitting fungos during pregame drills to assistant coaches Mark Vogel and Lon Fulte.
But for one pitch, 27 feet from home plate at Busch Stadium on Friday, the pain in his pitching arm went away. Moehrs had the honor of throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before the Tigers-Cardinals game.
With his wife Lucy, daughter Gina and son Clay and many other family members and friends among the near capacity crowd, Moehrs whistled a strike across home plate.
“I pitched batting practice up until I guess, maybe 10-15 years ago until I hurt my labrum. So when I was told I was going to throw out the first pitch ... about 27 feet was my limit,” Moehrs said.
“You get to say where you can throw the pitch from. When I got to the mound, I just wanted to look around and see what 40,000 people look like from that view.
“It would be nice if everyone of those 40,000 people would give me a penny. That would be $4,000. Yes, that would be nice.”
As a manager in one of the top amateur baseball leagues in the Midwest for over a half a century, Moehrs has no peers. Moehrs has a career record of 1,897-483 with 40 Mon-Clair Division titles, 23 league championships and 14 Valmeyer Mid-Summer Classic titles. Moehrs is a charter member of the Mon-Clair League Hall of Fame since 1984 and a member of the St. Louis Amateur Baseball of Fame since 2003.
Moehrs big night at Busch Stadium was set up with the help of his wife, Lucy, Nick Dunning, a member of the the Waterloo Millers and Mark Taylor of the St. Louis Cardinals.
“Nick has played ball with Waterloo for a couple of years and he’s a good friend of Mark (Taylor) who is in charge of getting people to throw out the first pitch at Cardinals games,” Lucy Moehrs said. “Well I talked to Mark about it at Nick’s wedding and he said that he would set it up.
“That was in November, I think, and Mark told me to send him and email to remind him. I did that and now here we are. I don’t know where they came up with doing it on May 15. But I know it means a lot to Vern. Baseball and his family have been his life. I was a farm girl when we met 60 years ago and had never been to a baseball game. But I love the game too.”
Growing up in Renault, Moehrs youth revolved around baseball. In 1952, Moehrs played on an independent amateur baseball team then called the Waterloo Warriors. His coaching career began in 1961 when he became the player-manager of that team.
In his first season as player-manager, Moehrs, a combination second baseman/catcher won the batting title with a .411 mark. He would go on to serve as player-manager until 1973. The team got a new name — the Waterloo Buds — in 1962 when Koerber Distributing began sponsorship. They would would remain the Buds until 2008 when Chick Fritz Distributing took over sponsorship and they became the Waterloo Millers.
When asked about his best players and best teams during the last 55 years, Moehrs talked only about one team — his 1998 Waterloo Buds squad that finished an amazing 47-1.
“That was a great team,” Moehrs said. “The thing about that year was that the one game we lost was against Corey Blackwell when he pitched for Sauget. Corey also pitched for us that year when we had extra games and was 2-0. Corey then joined us and pitched through 2013. You’re talking about one of the best pitchers in league history.
“I’m not going to say who the best player was. There were several great ones, but I’m not going to pick one.”
While most of Moehrs’ baseball life came in Waterloo, the love of baseball goes back to growing up in Renault.
“In the summer we would play baseball from early in the morning until sunset sometimes and it didn’t matter if we had four or if we had had 10 guys playing. If we only had four, we would play two-on-two,” Moehrs said. “We would take our thermos jugs of water and maybe a sandwich or two and we would play all day.
“Kids don’t do that today. They don’t know what they’re missing, either.”
But the passion for the game still burns in the heart of Moehrs.
“Do I still love the game?” Moehrs asked, his voice cracking with emotion. “How many times have you seen me down at Sauget or at SWIC (Southwestern Illinois College) watching baseball. It’s the best game in the world.
“I don’t know how long I want to keep managing. Right now, I’m going to do it this year and then we’ll see. At my age, I take it day by day. I’ll tell you one thing though, when the time comes, it will be a very sad day. I love the game very much.”
Moehrs and the Millers kick off their 2015 season on Sunday when they host O’Fallon in a Mon-Clair League doubleheader beginning at 1:30 p.m.
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2661.