Barton dedicates ballpark to ex-MLB player

BARTON BRAVES Nick Koval, left, and Billy Timko stand outside Henning Field in Crescent with a sign re-naming the facility as Pramesa Park. A brief ceremony took place Sunday afternoon.

CRESCENT — Sunday wasn’t an official holiday, but it was a time of remembrance as Barton hosted Belmont County rival Maynard in an Ohio Valley Baseball League playoff encounter. The Braves honored a hometown hero who made it all the way to “The Bigs” and two other long-time “fans and friends” of the organization.

Henning Field is now in the middle of Pramesa Park, named after John Steven (Johnny) Pramesa who was born and raised in the Hell’s Kitchen section of Barton and played four seasons in Major League Baseball with the Cincinnati Reds (1949-51) and Chicago Cubs (1952) as a catcher.

“I was on the Internet one day and I happened to google Barton, Ohio, to see if there were any famous people from here,” Barton manager Billy Timko said. “I came across Johnny Pramesa and looked him up on Wikipedia.

“Nobody around here ever mentions him,” Timko noted. “This guy is the only guy from our hometown to play in the majors. (MLB Hall of Famer) Phil Niekro played for Barton, but he didn’t live in Barton. This guy lived here and has been totally forgotten about.”

Through some research, Timko found out that Pramesa has a sister that resides in Windsor Heights (W.Va.).

“I talked to some people and they said you’ve got to honor this guy in some way,” Timko continued. “I talked with the players and some of the older guys who are still associated with club, and they said ‘yea, go ahead and change the name.'”

Although he played four seasons in the majors, Pramesa, a Wheeling Central graduate, enjoyed nine successful seasons in the Cubs and New York Giants farm systems. He signed with the Giants in 1943, but was then drafted by the Reds in the 1948 Rule 5 Draft. His major league debut came in 1949, but he served primarily as a backup to Walker Cooper and Dixie Howell.

Pramesa’s best year came in 1950 when he played in 74 games, hitting .307 with 70 hits which included 10 doubles. He drove in 30 runs.

In 1951, the burly catcher was traded to the Cubs for Smokey Burgess.

In 185 major league games, Pramesa hit .268 with 141 hits and 59 RBI.

A pair of signs have been erected on the outfield fence. One welcomes fans to Pramesa Park, Home of the Barton Braves, while the other is in left-center and has the Reds logo along with his No. 9 on it.

Moment of Silence Observed

Fans were asked to stand and removed their caps in remembrance of Mike “Shakey” Smolenak and Bill Milan, both of whom passed away over the winter months.

Smolenak was instrumental in starting the Barton Baseball team. He reportedly took the initiative to approach Mr. Skoff to negotiate the use of his farm land for building a ball diamond, which would become Homer Field.

“Shake was one of the ‘hill guys’ who could be heard very vocally cheering on his Braves,” a press release stated.

He and his family has a long history with the Braves organization. His son, Mick, was a catcher on that very first Braves team, followed by son, Kirk, a former player and current assistant coach; and grandson, Shane, a current player.

Milan could be found at every Braves game, home and away, sitting in his lawn chair as close to the action as he could get.

“Bill was so much of a staunch baseball fan that he could be found at another OVBL game on Barton’s off days,” the release noted.

On a personal note, I had the privilege to meet both of those fine gentlemen. Both were truly baseball fans.

I would cross paths with Mike while covering his granddaughter, Nicole, when she starred in basketball at Bridgeport. He rarely missed a game, home or away, during her successful career.

Bill would always come up and shake my hand when he saw me at a game. His daughter, Lisa, works at The Times Leader and he would frequent the office to talk baseball with me from time to time.

Both will be missed, not only at the ball fields, but in life, as well.