Wembley Baseball Club BEGINNINGS

The establishment of a baseball club in Wembley came about mainly because of a run of disappointing form from Wembley’s cricket teams. In 1950 the Wembley Athletic Club, of which the cricket club was a member, approached Reuben ‘Snow’ McFarlane of the Perth Baseball Club to establish a baseball team at Wembley. One of the key aims of establishing the baseball club was to improve the skills of the cricket team, especially fielding skills. McFarlane set about attracting other baseballers to the newly formed club as well as supplementing the team with cricketers from Wembley. In its first season in 1950 the Wembley club, with McFarlane as coach, saw its A Reserve side promoted to A Grade and the B Grade side competing in the Grand Final.

Early Conditions

Conditions were difficult for baseball at this time. Equipment was often in short supply and because the sport was played in winter, the Henderson Park ground was often water logged. In the early days the baseballers trained on the eastern side of Lake Monger, preferring this to the sodden turf at Henderson. In the early years a number of games were played at Langley Park where diamonds were marked out on the driest patch and outfielders often fielding in water that covered their boots. One baseballer from that time remembers: "The ball would be reduced to a slimy slippery mess which required great skill to get it anywhere near the plate so that the hitter could make a reasonable swing; throwing curve balls in these conditions required a magician. Bats were also slippery to hang on to and often finished up in the infield with the players taking evasive action".

Wembley Athletic Club

The baseball section of the Wembley Athletic Club was the fourth sport to be associated with the Club. Along with football, cricket and basketball, baseball provided another sporting and social avenue for the men and their families of the Wembley district. The sporting part of the club used Henderson Park and other venues for its on field endeavours but it was the Leederville Hotel, The Tower Hotel in Charles Street as well as players’ and officials’ homes which became the hub of the social activities of the club’s four sports. In 1951 the Wembley Baseball Club commenced the season with four teams (including juniors). The junior team, comprising boys from Wembley and Jolimont were the most successful, reaching the Grand Final. By 1954 the baseball club was fielding five teams and in that year all five teams reached the finals. In the years that followed Wembley contested many finals across different grades without winning a premiership. However, in 1958 the drought was broken and the B Grade side won the premiership under coach Bill Chiew. The following year the U17 side were successful in winning the premiership, a member of that team being Barry McFarlane who was the bat boy in the inaugural 1950s team. One of Wembley’s outstanding players during the 1950s was Doug Stewart. Not only did Stewart win a number of Best and Fairest Awards for the Wembley club but also played in West Australian and Australian sides. Other Wembley players to make their mark in this decade were Frank Day, Bill Chiew, Jim Smith, Ron Herbert John Wheeler and Ray Gimm.

Clubrooms in the early days

Because of the inadequate facilities at Henderson Park, baseball families from the Wembley area opened their homes for many of the social gatherings. One family in particular were well known for their hospitality. Max and Betty Gimm, who lived at 112 Jersey St, became the unofficial clubrooms for the baseballers and the place where ‘the keg’ could be found after many of the games. The Gimm’s daughters Marlene and Carol were also scorers for many years. At the end of the 1963 season baseball changed from a winter to a summer sport. The Wembley club continued to field five teams and, with the change to a summer sport, now became a sport in its own right rather than being a sport intended to improve the skills of the cricketers.

Teeball - the beginning

In 1974 Wembley players and officials held a fun day at Teakwood Oval in Woodlands. At this gathering a modified form of the game was tried – tee ball. By October of the same year a number of tee ball teams were formed in the metropolitan area, four of them from the Wembley club. In 1975, mainly due to the rapid growth of tee ball, the club divided baseball administration into senior and junior sections. The growth of tee ball was such that by 1977 there were over one thousand youngsters involved in tee ball across Western Australia. At the beginning of the 1980s Wembley began experimenting with importing players from America. The first to arrive was Todd Di Vittorio, followed by John Greenleaf. Greenleaf proved a bonus as he represented Wembley in both baseball and basketball. Di Vittorio eventually returned to North America but Greenleaf stayed, married into the Gillard family and became an integral part of the club. Over the years that followed, the Wembley club continued to import players each year, with varying degrees of success. In 1986/87 the club’s first softball team was formed and the following year two teams took to the diamond, the B3 team winning the premiership and the B5 team losing in the grand final. The following year both teams were promoted but lost in the finals.

The nineties for the club

The following year both teams were promoted but lost in the finals. Unfortunately by 1990 there were not enough players for the women’s teams to continue and the remaining softballers pursued their interest in the sport elsewhere. Throughout the 1980s the Wembley club was still a force in baseball in WA but not to the extent it had been in the 1960s and 1970s. As well as imported players who performed well, local talent such as Heath Gillard not only played for Wembley but also represented both Western Australia and Australian teams.

Wembley Success

Due to financial pressures the number of imports coming to the club declined, however the club continued to be strong and in 1992/93 the club won its first State League grand final since 1980. Coached by Ken McGee the team contained players such as Corey Loehr and Paul Stafford. The AAA side also won the grand final in 1992/93 and followed that up with a grand final win the following year. Juniors such as Adam Stafford, Rob Leader, Adrian Scatena and Luke and Ben Risinger pressed for selection to senior ranks. During the 1990’s Heath Gillard’ sister Jodie was the first female to play baseball for the Wembley club. Even after the collapse of a women’s team which was started in 1995/96 she remained at Wembley and played for the men’s B grade team.