Florida Rookie League: Work, Sweat, Learn, Hope

Rookie John Sanderson: 1 of a 100 in the FRL . .

John Sanderson

By John Hicks
Times Sports Writer

If 17 year old John Sanderson of Peckville, Pa. is a typical rookie, the major leagues are going to have quite a collection of dedicated players in the next few years.
Sanderson, confident, but rookie, plays shortsop for the Cocoa Colt .45's of the Florida Rookie League, housed at the Colts' stadium.
Recently, he described the rookie's training day at the stadium: We get up at nine for breakfast. Between 10:30 and 12:30 we have a workout. We play a game at 5:30 or 7:30."
He added, "They work us pretty good."

Sanderson was graduated from Blakely High School in Peckville this spring and was signed by Houston scout Harry Dorish at midnight after he was graduated.
To Sanderson, this was the fulfillment of a dream he had, but even after the signing he wasn't sure it was true.
"I couldn't believe it," he said. "In the sports magazines, you read about these things, but you never believe it'll happen to you."
The young player received his first interest in sports from his father, since deceased. "My father played a bit of high school ball and was an all-around sportsman," he commented. "Definitely, my first interest in sports--especially baseball--came from my father."

Sanderson was an all around athlete in high school, playing baseball, football, and basketball. He turned down a scholarship at a Pennsylvania college to become a major league rookie.
"I couldn't pass up the good bonus. It works out to be a little less than $20,000."
With the money, he "plans to use some of the money to go to school, buy a car, and give the rest to my mother." His pay in the FRL is $400.00 a month.
Sanderson began working towards major league baseball in Little League play. He has played American Legion ball, high school ball, and semipro ball with the Scranton Association in his home state. He was quarterback on an 11-0 Blakely High team which won the Pennsylvania Eastern Conference championship. He was a guard on the basketball team.
During the high school years, Sanderson received a good bit of helpful instruction from Coach John Henzes. The rookie gives Henzes a lot of credit for futhering his proficiency in athletics.

As with other young ball players, Sanderson has a major league idol. "My favorite pro player is Dick Groat of the Pittsburgh Pirates [Astroland note: Groat was actually with the Cardinals in 1964]. I copy most everything I do after him."
On the field at Cocoa, .45's Manager Dave Philley, former major league player, is "tops" in Sanderson's words. "He says it--you do it. I learned more baseball here in a month here than I learned in four years at home."
The first weeek the ballplayer had some adjustments to make. It was the first time he had been awayfrom home and the first time he had been in Florida. He adjusted quickly. "You have to hustle," he remarked. You have to use your abilities."
As far as being able to take the routine, "I never had any doubts," he said.

Sanderson's roomate is Hank Zelno, a pitcher from a town right next to Peckville. "We've played baseball with each other ever since Little League." Commenting on his teammates and other rookies in general, Sanderson said, they're all great guys. I get along with most all of them."
On the Houston Colts: "From what I've seen, they've got the best organization of any major league club. Things are really great here."
After he finishes this season in the rookie league, Sanderson will attend a semester of college at the University of Scranton. He wants to earn a degree in history to have something to fall back on and [have] something to do in the offseason. He expects to return to Cocoa in the spring.
Sanderson has two brothers and two sisters. One of his brothers is three and the other will be a sophomore in high school this fall. One siter is married, and another sister resides at home.
Another member of his family is his Uncle Walter Kahler of New Jersey. He has been influential in my desire to get into the majors," said Sanderson. "He has actred like a father to me. The night of the signing he was my spokesman."

An interesting sidelight on the rookie player is the manner in which he was scouted. "I was scouted as a junior in high school. Ihad a lot of offers from clubs like the Phillies, the Tigers, and the White Sox."The Phils' scout kept a lot of charts on me and I even signed a few cards for him. Harry Dorish of the Colts kept in close contact and was at a lot of my ball games."
I knew I could have signed, but I was all ready to go to college. Then, I changed my mind just like that." Now, Sanderson is in the Florida Rookie League at Cocoa, hoping that he makes it big in the majors. In his opinion, "I think my chances are fairly good."

Source: The Florida Times, July 25, 1964

  The article transcripted above was one of a series of three published by The Times that summer on the short-lived Cocoa Rookie League. There is another story on Larry Dierker--which I hope to get for Astroland at some point--and another still on Melbourne Twin Rod Carew.
John Sanderson did not, of course, "make it big" in the major leagues. He didn't even "return to Cocoa in the spring." Sanderson--now a lawyer with offices in Scranton-Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania--tells Astroland, "After I played in the summer of 1964, I made the decision to return to school to pursue a career in law. I had my shot in baseball and it was a great experience."
Astroland is of course indebted to Mr. Sanderson for providing the article, which sheds light not only on his short career in the Houston organization, but also illuminates a short-lived, but influential league whose concept would find its eventual refinement in the very successful complex/instructional leagues like the Gulf Coast that were to follow.

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