The Portland Rockets Franchise was founded in 1959 by Dick Runkle. It has been one of the longest continuing franchises in amateur baseball. Using old flannel uniforms, the locals played ball in a field out in the Portland Forge plant on the north side of town. Runkle and the American Legion moved to the existing park in the 1960's. As the team moved into the EIBL (Eastern Indiana Baseball League), the Rockets became a contender among the likes of the Redkey Wolves, the Dunkirk Watsons, Yorktown, Albany, Bank of Berne Lancers (Geneva), Upland, New Castle, and Elwood had teams. Some of the local talent included Steve Takets and his Ball State teammate, Merv Rettenmund, who is still in the major leagues as a hitting coach.
The Rockets won the league in 1968 with a record of 18-1 with a local contingent, some who continued on with the team in the early 1970's. Butch Gray, Speedy Mann, Mike Ashley, Mike Poling, Mike and Chris Hearn, Mike Medler, Jerry Abbott, Bill Blowers, Alan Morrical, Mel Smitley, and player/manager, Larry Chittum, are some names that come to mind.
In 1972, the team ran into financial difficulties and a losing record and after having donated his services as a free homer umpire, Ray Miller took over the team. It was his last and only season with a losing record. As a dynamic innovator with a vision, Ray doubled the schedule to include EIBL games with games in the Fort Wayne League and also expanded his roster outside of Portland. This was controversial as Portland was using local monies to have a team with not all local players. But, Ray persisted and, just like in all levels of play, when you win you garner support. Outside players, Bud Brown and Steve Rinker (Blackford County) and Bob Knietkamp (St. Henry), Mike Bruns (Fort Recovery), Tom Hoehamer (Bryant), Dean Monroe (Pennville), Thad Abel (Winchester), Rockey Goshert, and some Ball Staters were added to the roster that included Pat Medler, Gary and Duane Sautbine, Joe Jobe, Jim Raszkowski, Bruce Hedges, Jack Wood, Bruce and Mike Hosier, more names than I can mention.
In 1984, the Rockets combined with the now defunct Bank of Berne Lancers and champions were born. With an influx of top-notch new talent, the Rockets went 34-20 that season. The next season, the Rockets had their finest season ever going 41-14 and won their first AABC state championship. Now, with a pitching staff including Kent Maggard, Terry Bultemeyer, Lea Selver, and Scott Dubach, and the leadership of Mike and Ron Dull, draftable players like Mark Flueckiger and Dave Neuenschwander, Dave Minnich, Mike Overmeyer, and many others, the Rockets were on the Baseball Map!
The team was league champs for many more years, but the bigger prize was STATE CHAMPS. Ray Miller became AABC State Secretary in 1991 and made sure the state tourney was moved from Indianapolis to Portland. It has been there ever since. The Rockets won the title in 1985, 1991, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2004, and 2006.
Ray Miller won over 900 games in his 30+ year tenure. In 1986, Ray took a chance and found money for a grass infield and thanks to LICA Stone Company, a warning track, new fencing and electric scoreboard were added. The "Field of Dreams" was coming together.
Ray's best seasons were those in the mid-1990's when he went 39-20, most games ever played were in 1996. The Rockets had won over 35 games a year all through the 1990's. Let's mention these names of players who traveled with the team namely, Mike and Joe Luce, now successful basketball coaches spearheaded the cause. And they coerced more good players to follow: Doug Bolton, Kris Luce, Jim Geeslin, Rob Gamble, Keith Numley, Ben Lassitter, Mike Moorman, Ryan and Kurt Rammel, and so many others. Dare I say, so many names have been omitted at old memory loss and I welcome hearing from them.
The Rockets in the 2000's have carried on the tradition. Although our yellow tops may have other teams snickering, so often they were whimpering after the days' work was done. Wood bat play has come into fashion in the last two years and we have fared well. Last year's team is a big part of Rocket's history and shall always be. Record 30-15 Division Champs in the new Midwest Prospects League, State Champs in dramatic fashion, and Regional Runnerups in Cincinnati to the seven-year dynasty, the Canton Stallions. They beat us 1-0 and 4-1. We were well-followed and many fans wore Portland Rocket t-shirts. This was the farthest any Portland team had ever made it in our quest for World Series. I must mention Derek and Dean Lehrman, Devin Lee, Nick Millspaugh, Nick Bruns, Phil Bruns, Chad Geier, Mitch Waters, Pete Milas, Heath Williams, Adam Childs, Todd Graves, Lenny Koesters, Matt Ousley, Ryan Schmidt, Chad Casey, Eric VanMatre, Korey Heppeard, Greg Cauble, Corey Locke, Jimmy Linder, and of course, Ironman Pete Byrum.
The Boys of Summer have made Portland very proud. We thank them all.
Following was used by Coach Ray Miller when he was basketball coach in the 50s at Hartford Center:
I Dare You to Be a Champion...
* To Break Your Own Record
* To Outstrip Yesterday
* To Bear Trial Calmly
* To Whip Your Temper Inside and Out
* To Give Every Ounce of Energy to Each Task
* To Do Your Work Each Day With More Force and a Finer Finish
A Champion Knows...
The Most Precious Gem is TRUTH
The Most Beautiful Flower is A SMILE
The Only Worship is JUSTICE
The Only Positive Force is LOVE
The Only Slavery is IGNORANCE
The Only Good is HAPPINESS
The Only Time to be a Champion is NOW
The Only Place to be a Champion is HERE
The Only Way to be a Champion is TO ACCEPT CHALLENGE
The Only Secret to Success is COOPERATION
The Only Perpetual Thought is GOD
The only way to be successful in life is to be BE A CHAMPION!!!
Thoughts become things....CHOOSE THE GOOD ONES!
Coach Ray Miller 15