Local baseball legends to be honored at Suplizio
The last member of the original JUCO World Series Committee passed away in February.
Five others who made their mark on the Junior College World Series have died since last year’s tournament, including two umpires who called some of the tournament’s first games.
Also passing away were a longtime volunteer who made sure school children who wanted to go to games got tickets, a man who had a ready smile and did the little things behind the scenes, and a police commander who kept everyone in line with a laugh.
Dr. Hurst Otto, Jim Bonella, Bill Fanning, Si Grantham, Carl Hochmuth and Greg Assenmacher will be remembered during this year’s JUCO World Series.
Committee shirts will have an “In Memory” insignia on one sleeve, and part of the pregame ceremonies on Memorial Day will honor the six.
Otto was the final original member of the group of men who convinced the NJCAA to give Grand Junction a shot at hosting the national baseball championship tournament in 1959. He was inducted into the Junior College Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2001.
His duty was to oversee the service clubs that are hosts to the 10 teams.
A member of the Grand Junction Lions Club, Otto attended the committee meetings and tournaments through last year, although he had become an emeritus member of the committee after he became ill. Otto, 86, died Feb. 28.
Grantham was in charge of the school program for JUCO. The years school was still in session during the tournament, he organized visits by the teams to area elementary or middle schools, where players had lunch with the students and often played with them during recess.
He also handed out tickets to school children throughout the Western Slope.
“Si is the epitome of everybody just doing their job,” said Jamie Hamilton, the tournament chairman. “Si has driven all over this county giving away tickets.”
Grantham, 91, died Dec. 16, 2012.
Fanning and Bonella both umpired JUCO games in the early years, and Bonella was a team host through the Optimist Club, which sponsored teams from Texas.
Fanning, the longtime Grand Junction High School baseball coach, helped with the baseball details of those early tournaments and umpired JUCO games for 13 years.
Fanning, who died Feb. 8 at the age of 91, won three state baseball championships at Grand Junction and went 467-172 over his 35-year career with the Tigers.
He’s in numerous halls of fame, and was in the first class of JUCO’s Home Run Alley Heroes.
Bonella formed a close relationship with San Jacinto (Texas) College-North’s baseball program when he was hosting those clubs in Grand Junction.
The Gators returned the hospitality by inviting him to Houston each autumn.
“He and Jimmy Johns used to host them for years,” Hamilton said. “They had the San Jac district when they were winning all those. They used to bring him down in the fall to watch their fall World Series, and we got donations and cards from people there for his (memorial) scholarship. It’s those little things you don’t know the hosts to that make the tournament special.”
Bonella, 75, died Sept. 14, 2012. His family set up a memorial scholarship through JUCO in his name, which will be awarded each year to a graduating high school senior.
This year, a Jim Bonella Scholarship will also be awarded to the children of Greg Assenmacher, who was the liaison from the Grand Junction Police Department on the JUCO Committee.
Assenmacher, 54, died Jan. 29 while exercising at his home.
During JUCO, Assenmacher oversaw security at the stadium, but his quick wit fit right in with the tournament directors.
His brother, Paul, was a relief pitcher for 14 seasons with Atlanta, the Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox and Cleveland, so baseball was a natural fit for the police commander, who was also involved with the Western Colorado Honor Flight.
Hochmuth, 75, passed away May 4, only a few weeks before this year’s tournament.
Hochmuth was a member of the JUCO Committee for 35 years, working on the ticket committee and running the scoreboard during games.