Eagle Valley Merchants celebrates 20 years
Special to the Daily
Eagle, CO Colorado
EAGLE, Colorado – The guys who play on the Eagle Valley Merchants competitive baseball team are bound together by more than playing skill and long car rides to the games.
They also share a love of the sport, and will do whatever it takes to make playing baseball part of their summer. For 20 years, the Merchants have pulled together a strong enough team to win multiple tournaments all over Colorado’s Western Slope. They’ve brought home trophies from leagues in Montrose, Grand Junction, Breckenridge and Craig. And there’s probably never been two consecutive years when they fielded the same team.
“We’ve never missed a season,” said Chris Spiegel, one of the team’s originators and still the go-to man for the local boys of summer.
The Merchants will celebrate their 20th anniversary Saturday at a vintage baseball game, to be played at 1 p.m. in the Bull Pasture Park in Eagle. The game will be played according to rules dating back to the 1880s, and will feature the “old” members of the Merchants team pitted against a team comprised of the current, younger members of the team.
Listing the Merchants’ roster of the past 20 years would be a challenge.
“Every year we had different players,” Spiegel said.
He credits former valley resident Ron Fowler for pushing the idea of a local baseball team in 1990. Fowler became enthusiastic after seeing an ad in a Glenwood Springs fast food restaurant seeking teams for a local league. Spiegel was quickly on board.
Fowler suggested that the team have the somewhat generic name of “Eagle Valley Merchants,” which allowed a variety of businesses to sponsor individual players.
That first team proved a typical mixed roster for the merchants. Some, like Derrick Wiemer, were just out of high school. Some had a bit of college baseball experience; and others were just strong players who loved the game. Among those on that first roster were J.Y. Yantzer and Dale Starr.
But just because they had the enthusiasm didn’t mean they had the equipment. Spiegel recalls that he had an aluminum bat. Players had their own gloves. Pete Nolan, at that time the athletic director at Eagle Valley High School, lent the team helmets and catcher’s gear. The Merchants then, as now, wore grey uniforms and blue hats.
The first year was a clutter of pick-up games here and there, and several tournaments. The Merchants brought home a trophy from Montrose.
The following year, they signed up for a Denver league and played there for two years, driving over the passes to play a schedule that often involved two double-header games in a single weekend. The following years saw the team competing in various West Slope leagues.
The players came and went, reflecting what was happening in their lives with career changes, marriages, families and other commitments.
Then came the years when the Reynolds brothers, Mike and Jared, signed on. Outstanding high school baseball players at Eagle Valley High School, they went on to play college ball.
“They were by far the heart and soul of the Merchants. They pitched, they caught, and they played every position possible. We were the best team on the West Slope for a lot of years because of those two,” Spiegel said.
Expect to see at least one of the Reynolds boys at Saturday’s game.
The team gained some experience one year when Spiegel, short of players, got the OK to bring in a couple of 40-year-old players who weren’t on the official roster. He recruited Kraig Keltner and Tom Klahr.
“That was good, because I was no longer the old guy on the team,” Spiegel said.
The Merchants didn’t win that particular tournament, but played well enough to raise some questions from other team managers about the new guys.
These days, the Merchants play in a Grand Junction league. For many years now, Spiegel Construction has been the team sponsor. In addition to some of the long-time players, the roster includes Todd Zinc, Mike Pietrack, Cody Coulter and Robert Pageant.
The Eagle Valley Merchants will march in Saturday’s Flight Days parade, then reconvene at 1 p.m. in the Bull Pasture Park for the vintage baseball game. The game is free, and it is fun.
“We’re just guys that love baseball,” says Spiegel.
Colorado was just a territory when its first organized baseball team was formed in 1862. The teams had names like the “Young Bachelors,” the “Rocky Mountains” and the “Blue Stockings.” Typical scores in a game would be in the 50 to 39 range, and defense was so abominable that any game with fewer than 20 errors was lauded by newspaper reporters as “extremely well played.”
Vintage baseball will return to the Bull Pasture in Eagle at 1 p.m. Saturday when the alumni and current roster of the Eagle Valley Merchants competitive baseball team play an exhibition game. It’s all part of the Flight Days fun. Expect to see players in vintage uniforms. They play without ball mitts. The fans can help field the balls. Sometimes the umpire totes six-gun in order to maintain order.
The games are a mix of baseball and a bit of theater, with audience participation. Come on out and join the fun.
Vintage baseball is hosted by the Eagle County Historical Society and the Eagle Flight Days Committee.