Oldtime Baseball Game returns to Cambridge Aug. 22 with Roger Clemens to pitch

Amin Touri
August 19, 2019 - 8:00 am

As the Oldtime Baseball Game returns to Cambridge for its 26th edition on Aug. 22, the Welch family will be front and center of an event that has meant so much to them over the years.

Seven-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens headlines this year’s game, taking to the mound at St. Peter’s Field in Cambridge with former Red Sox infielder Lou Merloni also appearing in the Cambridge summer tradition, featuring local high school and college players donning authentic throwback uniforms from down the years. From a 1939 Red Sox uniform worn by Ted Williams to early 20th-century minor league and Negro League uniforms to obscure independent league jerseys and everything in between, the full list is a thorough trip through baseball history.

Johnny Welch, a veteran of the annual charity game, lost his father, John, to ALS in December, and while Clemens will be the headliner, this year’s game will be played in honor of the late John Welch, with proceeds benefiting Compassionate Care ALS.

"This is a dream come true,” the younger Welch said. “I've done this for a few years now , and my dad literally never missed a game. Always sat with the boys, coming out of Patty's, sat down the left field line. It's an honor to be part of this again, and with Roger (Clemens), who was one of my favorite players growing up, and my dad and Roger had a close connection over at Fenway. It's an honor."

Paddy’s, a small Irish pub no more than a minute’s walk from St. Peter’s Field, would host the older Welch and his friends before previous editions of the game. A longtime security supervisor at Fenway Park, Welch was always in attendance, and will leave his mark on the game as this year’s honoree after a long battle with ALS. Johnny, wearing a World War II-era Seventh Army Air Force uniform worn by Joe DiMaggio, remembers his father’s commitment to the game, even as the disease took hold.

"It's incredible, it's truly an honor to have this (in honor of) my dad,” Welch said. “Like I said, my dad wouldn't miss a game, when I was playing pro ball and traveling around he still was here and had a blast. For this to be with my dad, it's really cool.”

Compassionate Care ALS, based in Cape Cod, is this year’s beneficiary, having been an important part of the Welch family’s fight.

“From what I understand, Compassionate Care ALS was there for his family upon diagnosis and throughout all the battles he had to face,” said Ben Weiss, a board member for the Oldtime Baseball Game. “It's one of those things where we're able to give back to an organization that's helped people we know well, and Steve (Buckley) knew John for probably 30, 35 years from all his years covering games at Fenway, so there's a lot of times where people's stories come into it, and that's how Compassionate Care ALS came to be involved."

“Compassionate Care is great,” Welch said. “With ALS for a lot of people, when you get diagnosed, it's a challenge. Compassionate Care is there to help you find that next step and take you through the journey. I'm thankful for them, and to be part of this is amazing."

The game has been organized in part since its inception by Steve Buckley, a columnist at the Athletic and Cambridge native who spent nearly 25 years at the Boston Herald, whose personal connection led to the Welch family’s special involvement this year.

Also participating this year is Shrewsbury High School senior John West, who also lost his father to ALS in 2014. A 6-foot-8 right-hander and Boston College commit, West will take the mound opposite Clemens on Thursday.

"I couldn't be more honored to be part of this,” West said. “It means a lot to play in the game for a cause that means so dear to me and my family as well, losing my dad to ALS, couldn't be more honored, and I'm really excited to go up against Roger Clemens and play in this game."

Five years on from his father’s passing, West and his family remain involved with charities fighting the disease, volunteering and participating in the ALS Family Charitable Foundation’s annual Cliff Walk in September.

"It left such a big impact on our lives that it was only fair that we gave back to families who definitely are in need and try to help them the best we can,” West said.

The high school senior also helps organize a student/faculty charity basketball game at Shrewsbury, as he continues to help others fighting the battle his family fought years ago.

“My brother and I share a teammate in high school, his name's Connor McAulay, and he saw what my family went through, and he helped create the basketball game in honor of my dad,” West said. “Since then he's passed it on to me and I've been able to lead it every year with the help of a couple teachers and the staff and the basketball teams at Shrewsbury High School. We were able to raise around $2,000 last year and $1,000 the year before, and it's just been a really special day in the town, a lot of people come together to help support our cause, it's pretty awesome."

Having completed a full quarter-century of annual games, the Oldtime Game has no problem these days attracting college players from Boston College, Harvard, Northeastern, Tufts and other local schools, as relationships with coaches and players simply hearing about the game bringing guys to Cambridge just to be a part of an electric evening.

“We're at the point where we're in our 26th year now, so we don't have to do as much advertising or recruiting as we used to,” Weiss said. “Guys hear about the experience and want to come and play, and we have more people reaching out to us than us having to recruit, so it's become a nice little dynamic."

Involved in the game for over two decades and having seen dozens of incredible uniforms pass through, Weiss has two favorites in particular.

"I definitely have two favorites; the Hawai'i Islanders, the nice sharp kelly green with the yellow stripe down the side, it's got that sort of cutoff sleeve look, and the Cienfuegos Elefantes, the mustard yellow,” Weiss said. “Luis Tiant Sr. actually wore that playing in Cuba, so it's really cool.”

The 26th annual Oldtime Baseball Game will be held on Thursday, Aug. 22 at 7 p.m. at St. Peter’s Field on Sherman Street in Cambridge.