Many may know him from his distinct voice and personality that paints the Valmeyer fourth of July Classic each summer, or for his articles in the Suburban Journals. But for anyone involved in county league baseball, Art Voellinger is much more than his words. His actions, support and dedication to the Monroe-St. Clair County Baseball League, many would say, has shaped the league into what it is today. Which in Voellinger’s terms, is the “best in the Midwest.”
After 58 years of Mon-Clair baseball, Voellinger announced at the close of this past season that he would be retiring.
“We need to honor him,” Bellevile Rockies Manager Marcus Barriger said when he heard the news. “There is so much he has done for the game and for the league”
So Barriger and the league put their heads together and created the first ever Mon-Clair Lifetime Achievement Award that they decided to surprise Voellinger with at last month’s Mon-Clair Hall of Fame Awards Banquet, an annual banquet that Voellinger attended as a hall of fame inductee in 1991.
“It was a complete shock,” Voellinger said.
“I don’t know if he has ever felt appreciated for what he did, until, hopefully, that night,” Barriger explained. “We wanted to surprise him.”
“It seemed fitting for him through everything he has done, because he is already in the hall of fame.”
The league has dubbed Voellinger THE Ambassador, and Barriger says “he has earned that.”
In 1954, Voellinger stepped into the world of men’s county league baseball, never to leave it. He was a bat boy, scorekeeper and foul ball chaser– something that Voellinger has turned into a child’s past-time at the Valmeyer Classic. In a way, this is how Voellinger has introduced children to county league baseball since the tournament’s inception 40 years ago. He calls over the loud speaker for children to bring up balls hit outside the fence for a small prize.
Announcing at the fourth of July tournament is one past-time, much like baseball, Voellinger says he is not going to give up yet. He says he will still be announcing at the tournament and “…always be attending Mon-Clair baseball whenever possible.”
Voellinger said the league helped shape him into a player, a coach and his latest title of league Vice President.
“I felt that I should give back to the league because of what it gave to me.”
Voellinger would go on to play college baseball and basketball at St. Joseph’s College in Indiana, where he was inducted into the Puma Hall of Fame in 1998. He continued to play Mon-Clair baseball as a member of Shiloh, O’Fallon and Millstadt teams. During his tenure, Voellinger was a player, coach, manager, statistician, league officer and publicist. In his lifetime of careers, he has been a teacher and coach of five different varsity sports and wrote for the Suburban Journals from 1975-2011, released his first book, One Home Run, and is now working on its sequel, Double Play.
“I have always stuck to and believe it, that county league baseball has died,” Voellinger added. “But not here.”
Voellinger equates the league’s tenacity to that of Valmeyer in the wake of the flood. After the destruction, the baseball field, along with a few houses, stands as one of the lone surviving pieces of Old Valmeyer. He says the Valmeyer field, its tournament and the league as a whole has, “…survived through the respect of the people in the area.”
And as for the respect they have now repaid him through the Mon-Clair Lifetime Achievement award?
“This award just adds to my good fortune. I’m one of the luckiest in the world.”
To add to his good fortune, Voellinger announces that he will be inducted into the Greater St. Louis Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame in the spring.
Also honored at the Nov. 17 ceremony, former Columbia High School baseball standout and Valmeyer player Brett Crawford was inducted into the Hall of Fame, along with former Waterloo Buds first baseman/pitcher Mark Ludwig.
Also inducted that night were former Mon-Clair baseball player, coach and manager J.R. Potthast of Highland and former league president and San Diego Padres scout Van Smith, who died May 24 at age 67.