John Smoltz made the path from Lansing to the highest honor in baseball when he was enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown a year ago.
And Smoltz credits the success he experienced on the mound — primarily the Atlanta Braves in his major league career — to what he learned during his early days playing baseball in Lansing under Carl Wagner.
Wagner had a big influence on Smoltz, and many others, during a long career spent coaching youth baseball in mid-Michigan.
And Wagner will be honored for his impact when he receives the Dick Letts Community Service Award on Thursday as part of the Greater Lansing Area Sports Hall of Fame’s induction ceremony at the Lansing Center.
Wagner guided a number of youth baseball teams to championships during the nearly 50 years he spent coaching.
“His greatest asset was he touched so many young kids’ lives and taught them how to play the game of baseball,” Hall of Fame Chairman Bob Every said.
Wagner said he gave his time and energy to coaching youth because of his love for baseball. He developed a passion for the game at an early age and enjoyed sharing that with the players he coached.
And Wagner did his part to make sure he was providing the best knowledge to his players by attending many camps from retired players and learning as much as he could from older and retired players.
Smoltz and countless others were the beneficiaries of Wagner’s dedication to baseball.
Wagner saw a lot during his nearly five decades working with youth and noted one of the most interesting and positive things was the progression of summer baseball.
“The summer time, I remember when I first started and we played 14 games that summer,” Wagner said. “We got 11 of them in. Can you imagine that – 11 games in a summer? The last summer (I coached) we played 41. It sure was a big difference and the kids really liked it. We got a lot of ball games in and we traveled all over the state. We went to a lot of tournaments and if you lasted you’d get five games in. It was good for the kids.”
Greater Lansing Area Sports Hall of Fame
What: 41st Greater Lansing Area Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony
When/Where: Thursday at the Lansing Center; dinner is scheduled for 5:45 p.m., followed by the ceremony at 6:45.
Admission: $35 (Reserved seating only, no ticket sales at door). Go to lansingsportshalloffame.org or call Bob Every at 484-0677.
Sponsors: Magic Johnson Enterprises, Dean Transportation, Auto Owner Insurance, Applegate Home Comfort, Dan Henry Distributing and Two Men And A Truck.
Race fundraiser: The Run for Fame 5K/10K Run/Walk will be July 31 in Lansing. Entry details at playmakers.com.