Stan Ziomek’s influence reached all levels of Amherst baseball

  • Stanley P. Ziomek listens to his son, Peter Ziomek, emcee a short ceremony in 2010, dedicating the baseball scoreboard at Community Field to Ziomek, who founded Amherst Little League in 1952. He passed away July 6. GAZETTE FILE

  • Stanley P. Ziomek smiles after throwing out the first pitch for Amherst Regional's senior night game against Cathedral in 2010. The scoreboard was dedicated to Ziomek, who founded Amherst Little League in 1952, in a ceremony prior to the game. Ziomek died July 6. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Stanley P. Ziomek sits behind the backstop of Stan Ziomek Diamond at Community Field to watch his grandson, Kevin Ziomek, pitch his last regular season game for the Amherst Hurricanes on Friday, May 28, 2010. — KEVIN GUTTING

  • Flowers and an Amherst baseball hat are placed on the pitcher's mound at Mill River Field in Amherst on Wednesday in honor of Stan Ziomek, who passed away after building and supporting baseball in Amherst. Courtesy Edward Mills

Thursday, July 14, 2016

When Amherst baseball comes to mind, it’s hard not to think of Stan Ziomek and his influence.

He touched multiple generations of baseball players, from youth baseball players to high school players and beyond.

Ziomek passed away Wednesday at the age of 92. He injected life into youth baseball in 1952 by starting a league, as well as a Babe Ruth program.

At little league camps every summer, the pint-sized ball players take a tour of the Stanley Ziomek Diamond at Amherst Regional during water breaks. They stop to look at the plaque commemorating the field’s dedication to Ziomek’s decades upon decades of service to the game of baseball in Amherst.

What he taught players throughout his life wasn’t just how to have a level swing, or to use two hands catching a towering fly ball. It was the little things about how to carry yourself, on and off the baseball diamond.

Current coach of the Amherst baseball team Greg Vouros met Ziomek when he played youth baseball.

“I got to know Stan as a little kid. He taught us the little things,” Vouros said. “Running on and off the field, having your shirt tucked in. But also how to be respectful and treat others the way you want to be treated. He commanded respect and gave it back to everyone.”

Ziomek’s teachings to Vouros have a direct line to the players who go through the Amherst baseball program. Ziomek’s baseball legacy reached everyone, even if the players never met Ziomek personally.

“I fully believe in everything he taught me and I try to instill that in my players,” Vouros said. “It’s an honor to carry on his legacy. We were taught to have the utmost respect for the game. He had such a dramatic impact on everyone.”

This included current and former baseball players for the Hurricanes. Jamey Carey graduated in 2015 and played baseball his whole life in Amherst.

“Stan changed the game in Amherst. Ziomek is a name brand everywhere,” Carey said. “I’ll always remember his constant smiles. He created professional relationships. I had the honor of playing on Ziomek Diamond throughout the duration of my career, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Current junior John Bella-Hunter also knew Ziomek.

“We lived close to him, and he would always stop by and talk baseball,” Bella-Hunter said. “He was really nice to me and my brother and always had encouraging words for me. He loved baseball, and Amherst baseball would not be what it is today without him.”

Ziomek’s dedication to baseball has been recognized with inductions into the Babe Ruth League Hall of Fame and the Western Massachusetts Baseball Hall of Fame.

“He was really the patriarch of Amherst Baseball and always will be,” said Jonathan Kane, president of Amherst Baseball, Inc.

With the 11- and 12-year-old All Stars playing a game Thursday evening at Mill River, Kane said a moment of silence was planned in Ziomek’s honor.

“Stan’s legacy in Amherst can’t be overstated,” said Kane, observing the fundraising and organizing Ziomek did after starting Little League in Amherst in 1952 and supervising it for 60 years.

“He obviously loved the youth baseball program and helped nurture it for many years,” Peter Ziomek said.

Youth coach E.J. Mills had an Amherst baseball hat and flowers on the pitcher’s mound during the moment of silence.

“He was an incredible icon,” Mills said.

His mantra, according to his son Peter Ziomek was always for the children, and he advocated for inclusion, with Amherst becoming the first town in Western Massachusetts to allow girls to play baseball alongside boys.

“Some objected to it, but he wasn’t going to hear it,” Peter Ziomek said.

In addition, Ziomek liked to see the children with lesser skills perform well. He’d smile broadly from his well-used folding chair under the tree to the first-base side of home plate.

At a gala in 2012 following Ziomek’s retirement from Amherst Baseball, Kane said people of all ages wanted to offer thoughts.

“I think it’s incredible one person would impact multiple generations in one town and one region,” Kane said.

After his retirement, he became a regular at Red Sox spring training in Florida and was constantly following his grandson Kevin’s career, first as a star left-handed pitcher at Vanderbilt and then as he climbed the minor-league ladder as second-round draft choice of the Detroit Tigers.

As past national president of the Babe Ruth League and a member of the board in New England, Ziomek’s children remember his travels to Babe Ruth World Series games including one time in New Mexico where Ziomek, at the urging of Baseball Hall of Famer Lefty Gomez, brought back lizards to the hotel room to scare his children.

In Alaska in 1967, Ziomek returned to Amherst with enormous vegetables that had grown under the midnight sun.

“I remember marveling at their size,” Peter Ziomek said.

Upon his induction in 2015 to the region’s baseball hall of fame, Ziomek said he always tried to do right by the children.

“I always did what I feel was the right thing for them, and a lot learned the game because of the work of the people in Amherst baseball,” he said at the time

When corresponding in writing, Ziomek would often write quick notes on a notepad “I’d rather be at Fenway.”

But Amherst was where he always remained.

“He absolutely loved his wife, his kids and his grandkids,” Peter Ziomek said. “The greatest thing for him was presiding over his family at Christmas dinner.”

Even in his last days, he wanted to hear how everyone was doing and what was going in their lives.

“It was wonderful to share the stories with them, you could see him beaming over recent successes of every member of the family,” Peter Ziomek said.

Staff writer Scott Merzbach contributed to this report.