HYBL legend Doc Ratchford honored with field dedication
By Mike Briotta
HOLYOKE -- Anyone who's ever set foot on a Little League baseball diamond in Holyoke has probably seen Dr. Harold Ratchford, or heard him spoken about with reverence. His name has been synonymous with local youth baseball for more than 40 years. The city recognized that legacy in November by dedicating Anniversary Field in honor of the coach -- who locals call "Doc" -- with an official dedication ceremony planned for the spring.
"The Holyoke Youth Baseball League [HYBL] initiated the whole process, so they deserve the credit," Parks and Recreation Commissioner John McAndrew, said of the decision to name the diamond after Ratchford. "[He] has been involved in baseball forever. When I played Little League in the late 1970s, he was always coaching the other team. He's an institution -- one of three or four coaches in Holyoke who were always coaching."
Asked about Ratchford's coaching style, McAndrew said, "He's a gentleman. I can't say a bad thing about him. He's top-notch. When I was playing, he had already been coaching for many years before that. He had a strong connection to Anniversary Field. 'Doc' was very well known in baseball, and dedicating this field to him was really an easy decision. He deserves the honor."
Ratchford's team, sponsored by Mel's Restaurant, always practiced at Anniversary Field and that squad became known as the unofficial home team of the field.
Throughout the decades, Ratchford taught thousands of boys, and he proudly follows their progress into adulthood. In 2000, he was awarded the Citizenship Award by the Holyoke St. Patrick's Parade Committee. The award is a special honor, presented to a person or organization of non-Irish descent that has made substantial contributions to the parade.
HYBL board member Mike Costello was among the countless young ballplayers to be influenced by Ratchford. Costello was just another young slugger on the Mel's Restaurant team back in 1975; it was the mentoring skills of Ratchford that kept Costello involved in youth baseball in Holyoke to this day.
"That's why I'm still here, because of him," Costello said. "He's a student of the game, and passed that along to his players. He instilled in us the ideas of teamwork and believing in yourself." Costello has been involved in HYBL for more than 25 years.
"The impact that he made on us as 13- and 14-year-olds was amazing," Costello said. "We can't live up to the man he is, but we're trying. He's been a great role model and is very civic-minded."
Ratchford has served as a Parks and Recreation Commissioner for many years; volunteered at the Holyoke Boys & Girls Club; the Holyoke Health Center; St. Paul's Episcopal Church; and the Holyoke Lions Club.
Ratchford, a native of Danbury, Conn., arrived in Holyoke in 1953 -- coinciding with the nascent years of Holyoke Youth Baseball. Since then, he raised a large family and also ran a successful dental practice.
The HYBL began in 1950 with 10 teams. The number of teams grew to 30 and the program was made available to all the boys in every neighborhood in Holyoke. Many years later, the Junior Chamber of Commerce Baseball League decided to expand the league to include boys aged 10 to 12. Today, the HYBL accommodates about 600 youngsters each year between the ages of seven and 14 in four divisions.
When asked to describe Ratchford's contributions to the local game, HYBL board member Jack Curtin said, "I could go on forever." The two men are also longtime friends who worked together overseeing youth baseball.
"He is, and has been for 40 years, the soul of Holyoke Youth Baseball," Curtin said of Ratchford. "I've been on the board with him for 38 years. In that time, he's been president, league director and coach. He's done it all." Ratchford currently serves as coordinator emeritus of HYBL.
"I think it's wonderful that the city is honoring Doc," Curtin said. "He's certainly deserving of this. He coached year after year, and kept on coaching after his own boys had grown up. Teenagers don't always love their coaches, but he got the most from them. It was always out of respect for him."
Curtin concluded about Doc: "He's so humble, it's unnerving. If I mentioned something like this field dedication to him, he would just change the subject. He would rather talk about the game."