By Jackie Nelson
HESSTON—Hesston will be honoring one of its icons this Friday at 3:45 p.m. at the Hesston High baseball diamond. A seat will be dedicated to Sid Whitcher, a long-serving coach, umpire and avid Hesston sports fan.
Members of the Whitcher family—wife, Kathy, and children, Rusty, Mindy and Wendy—will take part in the dedication ceremony.
“I wish he was here. That was my first thought,” Kathy said.
Rusty said the seat is in Sid’s favorite spot: in the front row behind home plate.
“Everyone knew where Sid sat. And, if you walked by Sid, and he halfway thought he knew you, he’d talk to you. My dad may have been a bit of a talker—he was a lot of a talker,” Rusty said.
Wendy said even though her father has been gone for nearly three years, “I already know people appreciate him. I feel like people tell me that. Everyone knew him; we couldn’t go anywhere in Kansas without running into someone he knew.”
Mindy said Sid’s legacy is bringing people together.
“He was always involved with sports in that way to bring people together and socialize but also as a team effort. I think he gravitated toward that,” she said.
When the couple met in 1969, Kathy said, “He was my first experience with a sports nut.”
He also taught Kathy how to keep a statistics book, a skill he passed on to all of his children, as well.
Married in 1971, the couple shared a love of sports, particularly time on the baseball and softball diamond.
“We went somewhere every night for eight weeks in the summer. If he umpired, I went with the kids to their games, or I played and my mom came and watched the kids. That’s who he was; it was part of our life in the summertime. And Sid wouldn’t have it any other way,” Kathy said.
Rusty, who was taught by his father how to keep a scorebook by second grade, said he remembered “after the game going over to the Phillips 66, Jordan Tozier’s station, and getting strawberry or grape soda, having a pop with Dad after he finished umpiring.”
Mindy said one of her earliest memories of her family on the ball diamond was watching her parents play co-ed softball. Sid also coached her little-league softball team for several years.
“I’m a left-handed batter and a right handed thrower. Dad taught me that way on purpose, to have that extra millisecond to first base. He thought I wasn’t going to be fast—neither he nor my mom were—and that extra kick he thought was a good idea,” she said.
Youngest daughter Wendy said, “He coached me from a really young age, from first grade to sixth grade. He also taught me how to keep a scorebook.”
Kathy said, as a Texan, Sid’s first love was baseball, playing as a child and a high schooler.
“He had baseball cards; he started keeping them when he was about 10. He’d carry them around in his pocket, Roger Mathis, Mickey Mantle. Those cards never stayed in mint condition; he carried them everywhere,” she said.
When Sid came to Hesston to attend Hesston College, he adopted the town, volunteering to coach a little league team before he had children of his own.
He also umpired regularly for the Rec and even his wife’s softball teams.
“I was a little embarrassed if the other team found out,” Kathy said.
Kathy said Sid developed a well-earned reputation for fairness and was aware of his faults.
“One thing I always respected him for was how he umpired. He would come home and say, ‘I missed that call.’ He wouldn’t say it at the game, but he knew,” she said.
Rusty, who umpired with his father, said one of his most memorable moments was “the first time I blew a call at second base. Dad came over and said, ‘That’s how it feels to miss one.’ I blew a call bad, and he grinned and said ‘You missed it,’ and yeah, I guess I did. I learned real quick.”
While he was an avid fan, Sid’s competitive side could get the best of him.
“We were playing in a Wiffle ball league, and I was in my 20s at the time. One of his coworkers was there and challenged him to a race, a little sprint. He ran his butt off trying to beat this woman, falling down, straining his leg; we died laughing at that. Here’s this 50, he might have been 60, year old trying to race this 35-year-old. It was just too funny,” Mindy said.
Wendy recalled an incident where Sid broke a remote during a football game.
“He smashed it because the Cowboys were losing. Mom was embarrassed because we had company over. He was so mad, he had to go pout,” she said.
At the ball diamond, Sid was hard-pressed to keep his commentary to himself.
“He was never quite able to put up the coaching shoes. One of our teammates, Justin Yoder, laced a line drive for an easy triple. He thought, being young and dumb, he could make it an in-the-park home run. Dad was just behind the dugout reminding him, at full volume, ‘That was stupid!’ Justin still talks about that,” Rusty said.
Sid was able to turn his running commentary into a gig with Rusty, providing play-by-play and color commentary for Babe Ruth games.
“He always made the joke about the A and B-minus team in the box,” Rusty said.
On Friday, Wendy said Sid “would be touched and maybe kind of chuckle about it. Deep down, I think he would really love it.”
Kathy agreed he would be pleased “and a little embarrassed, at the same time, to be singled out. He was just a little bit that way.” After receiving a plaque from Art Mullet for his 25 years as a Hesston College fan, Kathy said Sid “was pleased but a little embarrassed, but he didn’t stay embarrassed real long. He’d tell everyone he saw.”