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Blazers Celebrate Their History
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer
2018-07-17

            Rich DeLucia spent the summer of 1985, between his junior and senior seasons at the University of Tennessee, in Quakertown hoping to develop a

Blazers franchise owner George Bonekember, left, welcomes

returning alumni Josh Tyler and Rich DeLucia at the team's

35th anniversary celebration on July 7.

changeup. Rather than return to Cape Cod League after getting drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays, DeLucia chose to stay close to home. Several years into his 10-year Major League career, the Berks County native continued to tinker with the pitch.

            In 1993, Josh Tyler struggled at the plate swinging a wooden bat for the Blazers. However, the 1991 Upper Perkiomen graduate said the experience propelled him to an 8 1/2 year professional career.  "I learned how to fail," Tyler said.

            Tom Nuneviller, a Pennridge High School graduate who played parts of three seasons for the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League team, competed against the 1988 Olympic Team in its final game before heading to Seoul South Korea for the Games. The contest attracted more than 4,000 paid spectators. 

            Earlier this month, DeLucia, Tyler and Nuneviller – along with former Manager Denny Robison – returned to Memorial Park Stadium to celebrate the Blazers' 35th anniversary. DeLucia, a 1982 graduate of Wyomissing Area Senior High School, delivered the ceremonial first pitch prior to a doubleheader sweep of the Jersey Pilots on July 7.

            More than 160 former Blazers have played professionally, including 11 who have reached the Major League. DeLucia, a Shillington resident, debuted with the Seattle Mariners in 1990. Pat Kelly, Joel Johnston, Brian Lesher, Mo Sanford, Kirk Bullinger, Ryan Vogelsong, Scott Forster and Tim Bausher put wore big league uniforms Tim Mayza (Toronto) and Lou Trivino (Oakland) are currently active.  

            In 1983, Clyde Smoll Jr. petitioned the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League to move the defunct Allentown Wings franchise to Quakertown for the 1984 season. League officials approved it on the condition that lights would be erected at Memorial Park Stadium within one year. 

            Smoll, Robison as well as George and Tom Bonekemper took control of the franchise from Lee Butz, a business man from Allentown. They dressed the players with leftover orange and black uniforms and named the team after the Philadelphia Blazers, a WHA ice hockey franchise in 1972-73.

            The first season, the Blazers played their night games at Bicentennial Park in Allentown. In 1985, lights were installed at Memorial Park Stadium with an advance from the newly created Quakertown Stadium Athletic Association. The 1988 ABCL All-Star Game – which featured Mickey Morandini, Jim Abbott, Robin Ventura, Ben McDonald, Andy Benes and Tino Martinez on Team USA – raised approximately $30,000 towards the lights.

            Every summer, college players from mostly southeastern Pennsylvania have filled the Blazers' roster. Each season George Bonekemper, listed as the franchise's owner, secretary and treasurer, scours local college rosters for prospects.

            Though the team has won six league championships, helping players improve supersedes winning, according to George Bonekemper. He said the team rarely releases players once they sign a contract.

            "Once a player signs, he stays here the entire season," he said.

            George Bonekemper credited Robison, who accumulated 601 victories over 25 years, for the franchise's longevity. He said the former manager implemented only five rules for the players: Be on time, don't argue with the umpire, no foul language, don't criticize the other team, and not to throw at opposing hitters.

            "Denny treated every one of the players like one of his own sons," George Bonekemper said.

            DeLucia, who eventually settled on a changeup with a split-fingered grip, said he didn't see "a ton of difference" between the hitters he faced with the Blazers, and those he pitched to in the Southeast Conference. He recalled watching Craig Biggio, playing for a team in the league from New York, hit three home runs in a game with a wooden bat.

            "I had a lot of fun," said DeLucia, who went on post a 38-51 record in the big leagues with Seattle, St. Louis, Cincinnati, San Francisco, Anaheim and Cleveland.

            Tyler, who signed with the Blazers following his sophomore year at the University of Pittsburgh, hit just over .200. Through that adversity, he learned to simultaneously relax at the plate and make timely adjustments.

            The following spring, Tyler was named the Big East Conference's Player of the Year and signed with the Brewers, who selected him in the 24th round of the 1994. He called the experience in Quakertown vital towards his development on the field.

            "I had always been pretty successful," said Tyler, who currently works as a YMCA branch executive in Doylestown. "That summer I figured out how to make adjustments at the plate."

            Nuneviller made the team in 1988 despite a fractured ankle. Wearing a cast, he watched the tryouts from the stands. He described the decision by Robison, his high school coach at Pennridge, to keep him as a confidence builder.

"When I heard my name called, I was pretty excited," said Nuneviller, who had completed his freshman season at West Chester University. "It was a huge opportunity. Robison knew I had hit the ball fairly well during the previous spring. Watching the other guys work out, I decided I could play with them."

A fifth-round pick of the Phillies in 1990, Nuneviller spent six years in their minor league system. Multiple knee injures ended his professional career in 1995.

Nuneviller described his time with the Blazers a highlight. The Ottsville native, who led the team in hitting in 1988 (.441) and 1989 (.397) set the franchise record with 18 doubles in 1989, said he grew up attending and competing at Memorial Park Stadium.

"It's a great place to play," said Nuneviller, whose son Tom is a member of the Blazers.


 

 

 

 

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