Four Imperial Valley baseball icons were inducted into the Imperial Valley Baseball Network’s Hall of Fame at the Eagles Lodge Monday night.
The IVBN is a group of former and current players and coaches who promote baseball in the Imperial Valley by sponsoring teams and helping youth players get to the college level through financial scholarships.
It was the IVBN’s second induction dinner and ceremony as it honored Doug Harvey, Richard “Babe” Henry, Dave Middleton and the late Ruben Canche.
Harvey, only the ninth umpire inducted into major league’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, is a Valley native and was a standout three-sport athlete at Central Union High.
Clarence Nichols accepted the award for Harvey, who was unable to attend because of failing health.
“Doug would have appreciated this almost as much as Cooperstown,” said Nichols, who read excerpts from Harvey’s Cooperstown acceptance speech where he praised his Imperial Valley roots.
Henry, who was a teammate of Harvey’s on many championship teams at Central and Central Junior College, was himself recognized for his many years of dedication to local baseball.
Henry was lauded for his work as a youth coach and umpire at the Little League, Colt and Senior League levels.
Alvin “Lefty” Martin, a 2009 IVBN Hall of Fame inductee, introduced Henry.
“I taught many of you out there how to hit but Mr. Henry is the one who taught me how to hit,” Martin said.
Henry talked about the honor in a quiet voice, taking his time at the dais to recognize his wife, son, daughter and five granddaughters.
“This is very much a great honor … you dream of something like this … it’s an honor in so many ways to be recognized by this organization,” Henry said.
Ruben Canche taught, coached and umpired for 35 years in the Valley after moving here from Texas in 1962.
His award was accepted by his widow and son Ken.
“My dad would have felt that this was an honor for all the years of hard work he put in on the field and in the classroom,” Canche said. “He loved the kids, he loved the notoriety of being an umpire … he was always sure of himself and he never backed down.”
The biggest applause of the night went to Middleton, an El Centro native who played at Central and returned to coach the Spartans for 30 years.
Inducted last, Middleton’s legacy was revealed when Martin, introducing a man he played and coached with over four decades, asked for everyone in the audience who had played for Middleton to stand and applaud.
At least a quarter of the people rose to salute their ex-coach.
“It is neat to see so many who played for me or against me,” Middleton said. “It’s the greatest compliment a coach can have when your players become coaches.”
Despite the obvious outpouring on his behalf, Middleton was quiet and reserved.
“This is an absolute honor and quite humbling. … I don’t think I did anything special,” Middleton said. “Baseball is one part of a person’s life. There’s so much more you can teach kids — things like moral values and how to be good people,” Middleton said.