SPOILIN’ THE BROTH
A fter Bill Alford died in late 2003, I wrote a column about how much he had done for the youth of Rockdale, being a ringleader among volunteers who literally built the Little League playing field complex off Copeland Street from scratch.
Last week we lost another citizen who did a lot for Rockdale’s youth—Johnny Sonntag.
In the dark ages of my growingup days (1940s and early ‘50s), there was no organized youth baseball of any sort. Bill Alford and Johnny Sonntag, young men in town at the time, did something about it.
They organized a bunch of us kids into a traveling team, with them providing the transportation at their own expense, driving us to towns all over Central Texas to play, anywhere they could find organized competition.
We played softball or baseball, depending on what teams Bill and Johnny booked. I remember playing in a teen softball tournament at a park in Bryan. We played baseball in Gause, softball in Thorndale, baseball in Taylor and Cameron.
We didn’t have uniforms, nor did most of the teams we played. Didn’t matter. It was a great thrill to get to play organized ball, and were it not for Bill Alford and Johnny Sonntag donating their time and money, we would never have had that chance. By the mid-1950s Rockdale had a Little League and Babe Ruth League. Johnny was always involved, and when an exceptional group of Little League and Babe Ruth players outgrew those leagues, an American Legion baseball team was organized here, sponsored by Rockdale’s Carlyle Post 358.
Jim Currey, post commander, was the team manager and Ernie Laurence, baseball coach at Rockdale High School, and Johnny Sonntag were the coaches. Jim recalls, as manager, providing the transportation, arranging meals, taking care of a multitude of details. “I did about everything but coach,” he said. “Ernie and Johnny handled that expertly.”
The team was incredibly strong, advanced into the playoffs several times. The 1962 team went all the way to the finals of the state tournament, placing second.
That team is being recognized with a brick memorial at the new RHS baseball field. Our sports pages will have more about that later as the annual alumni game draws near.
Bob Dymke has many special memories of Johnny Sonntag, and visited with him often while Johnny was a Cameron nursing home resident.
Bob played on that 1962 Legion team and shared a special memory about John from that team’s trip to the state tournament in Austin:
“The Sunday morning before we played in the championship game against Austin High, John and I went to church at South Congress Avenue Baptist Church. He had asked me to bring a shirt, tie, and sports jacket on the trip to Austin just so we could go to church together. He was just such a good role model.”
Johnny later served on the city council, was a volunteer fireman, served as the city fire marshal and was also elected to a couple of terms as justice of the peace.
Johnny and wife Ann spent their professional careers with Southwestern Bell Telephone Company, moving here in the 1940s from Houston. Soon after their arrival he and Bill Alford were hauling a bunch of us kids around to play ball.
A man never stands so tall as when he stoops to help a boy.—Abraham Lincoln
Johnny Sonntag was 6-foot-6. But he stood so much taller for other reasons.