Record Board Celebrates Hastings Record-Setters Over 7 Decades on Diamond

By Steve Vedder
Special for

May 29, 2024

Bernie Oom had no intention of letting the past slide into history.

Mid-MichiganSo the 88-year-old retired longtime Hastings baseball coach embarked on a meticulous two-year labor-of-love project that recognized the Saxons’ record-breaking ballplayers from the last five decades.

The result is an impressive 63-by-52-inch record board attached to the baseball field's press box located directly behind home plate. The board chronicles a myriad of individual pitching, hitting and team marks derived from Oom's 22 years as coach as well as statistics from his six successors.

Included are records from the top players in Hastings history, including a former Saxon who collected the last hit off hall-of-famer Nolan Ryan, a slugging catcher who was drafted by Seattle and Cincinnati and spent time in the Boston organization, and a Hastings pitcher who owns the oldest mark when he fashioned a 0.35 ERA with just two runs allowed in 40 innings in 1969.

Oom, a member of the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association (MHSBCA) Hall of Fame, always kept close track of statistics and records as a coach. Two years ago when his son Wayne began a similar project with the Hastings track program, Oom thought it was time for his former diamond stars to be recognized. While a handful of schools may post scattered records in gymnasiums, it's extremely rare for a school to post records at a baseball field.

"I always liked statistics, and I decided I wanted to keep that kind of stuff up. I'm kind of a stickler for remembering things; details are important to me," said Oom, who compiled a 272-188 record with eight West Central and Twin Valley titles as coach from 1966-87.

"I talked to a lot of my old players, and they thought this was a great idea. But part of the real value is having a ninth grader looking at this and saying, 'I see this, and I want to be up there some day.' I think it will spur things in the program."

In collecting info for the board, Oom went through his 22 seasons of statistics and records, then contacted the six coaches who followed him, including one, Jeff Simpson, who now lives in Arizona. Oom and his son visited local schools such as Grandville and Grand Rapids South Christian for ideas and decided to work with a company called School Pride out of Columbus, Ohio, to produce the board. Oom and the company took two years to get it right, Oom said.

The result are 12 team, 10 offensive and nine individual pitching records as well as a list of the program's all-staters noted on the board.

A Battle Creek Enquirer story from 1991 discusses Nick Williams' accomplishments.Point to any records and the still razor-sharp Oom will have a story about the player or the team that produced the mark. Among them is the 15 doubles clubbed by star Dann Howitt in 1982. Howitt, who played 115 major league games across six seasons with six clubs, has a unique claim to fame as the last player to collect a hit of Nolan Ryan on Sept. 22, 1993. A 46-year-old Ryan, who finished with 324 wins and 5,734 strikeouts, walked the bases loaded against the Seattle Mariners, bringing up Howitt, who promptly drove a Ryan fastball over the left field fence. Ryan, a right-hander, tore a right elbow ligament pitching to the next hitter and exited the game, never to pitch again.

Oom remembers Howitt more as a line-drive hitter than a power threat. He actually hit more homers as a major leaguer (five) than he did as a Saxon (one in 120 at-bats over two seasons). The doubles record is the only time Howitt appears on the board, despite batting a combined .392 as a junior and senior.

"Teams would pitch around Dann," Oom said of Howitt, whose other claim to fame is backing up stars Mark McGwire, Tino Martinez and Frank Thomas at the major league level.

Among the other records are indicators of arguably the greatest season ever produced by a Hastings hitter. Nick Williams owns program records for batting average (.591), hits (52), homers (8), RBIs (42) and runs (47) all set in 1991. Williams said among his sharpest memories from that spring is struggling through his only hitless game of the season. He went 0-for-3 in the finale to drop below .600 for the only time all spring. At the time, no Michigan high schooler had batted .600 for one season.

"The ball looked big to me all year," said Williams, who was drafted out of high school by the Mariners, out of Central Michigan by the Reds after his junior season and eventually signed with the Red Sox as a free agent. "I had a pretty good high school career, and I was pretty confident as a senior. I had put a lot of work in hitting on a tee in our garage. Then I would play ball all summer. I improved steadily, and I saw the results that summer."

Former Saxons pitcher Steve Pocernik holds the oldest mark on the board after surrendering a meager two runs in 40 innings for a 0.35 ERA in 1969. After 55 years, Pocernik isn't completely sure but thinks the runs came in one game against St. Johns.

"I didn't throw hard, but I had a curve and I could put the ball where I wanted," he said. "(The record) kind of took me by surprise. I think it's super that Bernie had done what he's done. It's a nice thing for the guys who played for him."

Does keeping the record for five and a half decades come as a surprise? Kind of, Pocernik said.

"Yes and no," he said. "Yes in that it's been a lot of years. No because I don't think pitchers today pitch like we did. There are a lot of guys who've come after me."

Another of the Hastings pitching marks is the tiny total of 12 walks in 57 innings by Mike Hause in 1979. That's an average of just 1.4 walks over seven innings. Like Pocernik, Hause said he didn't throw hard. He mixed a curve with a fastball that rode in on righthanded hitters. Speed aside, Hause explains the low number of walks with having a definitive plan as a pitcher. He remembers focusing on throwing first-pitch strikes and then keeping hitters off-balance with an occasional knuckleball.

"I would work on hitting my spot even in the preseason in the gym," he said. "We put up a strike zone mat with holes in it, and I would try to throw the ball through that spot. I didn't throw as hard as some guys, but I threw strikes."

PHOTOS (Top) Retired Hastings baseball coach Bernie Oom stands with the record board he’s created that is displayed at the school’s diamond. (Middle) A Battle Creek Enquirer story from 1991 discusses Nick Williams' accomplishments. (Photo by Steve Vedder.)

For Coach: Powers Completes 1st Title Run for 42-Year Leader Dutkowski

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

June 15, 2024

EAST LANSING — On behalf of this current Flint Powers Catholic baseball team, Saturday’s message was loud and clear to past players, alumni and school officials:

We finally did it for Tom. 

Tom would be longtime head coach Tom Dutkowski, who after 42 years and 872 wins finally got to coach in a state championship game Saturday. 

Not only did Powers get there for Dutkowski, but the Chargers delivered win No. 873 and his long-awaited first title as coach with an 11-0 defeat of Spring Lake in the Division 2 Final at McLane Stadium. 

“We just made Flint Powers history, and to be a part of that is amazing,” Powers senior Fischer Hendershot said. “We have a lot of alumni and a lot of alumni on the coaching staff. To do it for the coaching staff, everyone here, everyone in Powers, every alumni and everyone who cares about us is a great feeling.” 

The Chargers’ Fischer Hendershot delivers a pitch.After accepting the championship trophy and raising into the air triumphantly, Dutkowski reflected on the journey and long wait.

It was the third title for Powers baseball, joining the 1974 and 1980 championships. Dutkowski was an assistant on the 1980 team. 

“I played in ’73 here, and my joke for that was that I taught the ’74 guys everything they knew and then they won a state championship the next year,” Dutkowski said. “We won it in ’80 with just a gritty team. My third year as a head coach we got to the final four in Class A, and I figured this was going to happen every three years. And then it was a 39-year drought in terms of that.”

The game ended after five innings via the run differential rule and capped off a fairly dominant season for Powers — or at least as dominant as a baseball team can be for a season.

The Chargers finished 37-6 and outscored opponents by a combined 57-13 during the MHSAA Tournament.

The only close call during the playoffs came in Friday’s Semifinal, when Powers blew a 3-0 lead to Trenton before prevailing in the bottom of the eighth inning, 4-3, on a walk-off single by senior Gavin Darling. 

“These guys, they never flinched and they never wavered,” Dutkowski said. “They developed into being a great team, not just individual talent.”

Powers wasted no time against Spring Lake, taking a 2-0 lead with one out in the top of the first inning on a two-run double to the gap in left-center by Darling. After a ground out, Darling scored on a Spring Lake throwing error to give Powers a 3-0 lead. 

Powers added another run in the second inning on a bases-loaded walk to make it 4-0. 

Teammates congratulate Michael Klein (6) as he returns to the dugout.In the third, Powers scored four runs to take an 8-0 lead on an RBI single by Hendershot, a walk with the bases loaded and a two-run single by freshman Connor Kelly. 

Powers then put three more runs on the board in the fourth inning to take an 11-0 lead. 

Hendershot was the winner on the mound, allowing two hits and striking out five in five innings of work. 

Spring Lake also was attempting to win its first Finals title, but had to settle for its third runner-up finish (to go with those from 1995 and 1978). 

The Lakers finished 32-10. 

“They are a good team, and this was their year,” Spring Lake head coach Bill Core said. “We just couldn’t keep them off of the bases, and our pitching wasn’t as sharp as it’s been. We gave them a couple of free passes, and they mixed in some good hitting. That’s a good team, and that’s why they’ve been ranked No. 1 in the state all year.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Flint Powers Catholic raises its championship trophy to complete the 2024 baseball season Saturday evening at McLane Stadium. (Middle) The Chargers’ Fischer Hendershot delivers a pitch. (Below) Teammates congratulate Michael Klein (6) as he returns to the dugout.