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Don Botterbusch lives and works in Florida.

Botterbusch, though, made sure he was in York on Saturday.

The Fort Pierce fireman wasn't going to miss a surprise party for his former youth baseball coach.

Botterbusch carries fond memories from his days playing for Ray Baker, who coached Shiloh's 13-15 team for 17 seasons.

"That was a refreshing time of my life," Botterbusch said. "The things I remember about coach Baker is that he was very fair. You didn't play if you didn't earn it, and he never lost his cool."

Botterbusch was among a group of 75 people (former players and family members) who gathered at Shiloh American Legion Post 791 to honor Baker, who turned 81 on March 14.

Baker thought he was going to be attending a fundraiser for a baseball team. However, when he entered the upstairs banquet room and saw his former players and teammates, he was overcome with emotion as the crowd serenaded him by singing, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

"I'm still emotional," Baker said an hour later. "It's overwhelming to see all the guys I played with and coached.

"I hope I can hold it together when I go back in there," he added, while being interviewed just outside the banquet room

Baker's coaching was a labor of love. He wasn't paid for all the hours on the diamond.

Asked what kept him coming back each year, Baker said: "Making friends with the kids I coached. Every year, new kids would come in and other kids would leave. I enjoyed being around them and teaching them some baseball."

Baker's three children, Diane Baker McFatridge, Dan and Doug, put the event together to honor their father's dedicated work with teenagers for almost two decades.

"There are guys here who I haven't seen in forever," Dan Baker said. "We've been talking about it (a surprise party) for years, but we said if we just keep talking about it, it won't get done. It's just amazing how many people passed through the program."

The Bakers obtained rosters of their dad's former teams, a bat to be signed, photos and a cake to mark Ray Baker's recent birthday.

Before he became a coach, Baker played in the Central League.

"Ray caught, and I pitched," said Kenny Myers, who graduated with Baker from York High in 1954. "We played at Shiloh together, and our wives were in the same card club for 56 years."

Baker and his wife, Donna, have been married for 59 years. He worked at York International for 33 years before retiring.

One of his former players, Butch Ludwig, said everyone wanted to play for Baker.

"He was always calm and knew baseball like the back of his hand," Ludwig said. "He cared about his players. There are people here today who were on our teams who didn't play that much. But they came today."

Baker and Dick Myers, who helped coach the Shiloh teams, remember their baseball days fondly. On the day that the players came to honor the coaches, the weather was perfect for a baseball game: sunny with temperatures in the high 70s.

Reach Dick VanO'Linda at sports@yorkdispatch.com. 

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