Dittrich's Life in Baseball Brings Him Back Home as Flyers' GM

Article excerpt

Byline: Timothy S. Rooney Daily Herald Staff Writer

As a boy, John Dittrich loved playing baseball with his friends.

When he was about 10, they mowed the nearby weed lot and marked the bases. Dittrich envisioned dugouts for the players and grandstands for fans to cheer during their pickup games.

In his fantasy, Dittrich was the team's owner. He actually paid those players - with monopoly money.

Dittrich still pays players, but these days it's with his signature on their checks. He's the vice president and general manager of the Schaumburg Flyers, who'll take the field in their first home game tonight.

Dittrich continues fantasizing about baseball, a job he's never stopped loving. "I've never had to work a day in my life," Dittrich fondly professes.

The 48-year-old baseball roustabout has come a long way since the Kankakee County pickup games. In between then and now, he married the girl next door, Lois, and started a family. One thing that seemed to stay constant was baseball.

Dittrich says America's pastime has always had an influence over him. As a child, there were the pickup games and task of settling bets about players between grown men in his father's tavern. Dittrich had memorized his baseball cards and knew all the statistics.

Dittrich's family lived in Irwin, Ill., above the small bar. The Cubs (his favorite major-league team) were always on television, and patrons constantly talked about baseball.

He entered baseball employment rolls in 1974 when he dropped out of college.

"I thought it would really make my dad proud if I got into the game," Dittrich said. "I was raised in the Chicago area where I never gave much thought to the minor leagues."

Dittrich struck out after sending queries for employment with major-league teams. Eventually, he got his break.

When a Texas League team president said "give me a call sometime if you're in town," Dittrich took former Brooklyn Dodger Bobby Bragan up on his offer and persevered his way into a secretarial job paying $100 a week.

"He must have called me every week for three or four weeks and then he came and knocked on my door," Bragan recalled. "I was impressed with him right from the start."

Dittrich says he was somewhat impressed with himself early on and thought he knew what it would take to run a team as he learned the ropes of baseball doing various jobs from groundskeeper to general manager. He also picked up a few books to read.

He read Bill Veeck's "Veeck As In Wreck" and "Hustler's Handbook" and thought, by using gimmicks, it could be as easy to turn a profit as a double play.

"When I was young, I thought I could move mountains and slay dragons," Dittrich says. "Now, I try to move to the mountains instead of trying to move the mountain."

Dittrich says his many mistakes (including two failed ownerships) bring him to the Flyers with a better business perspective of the game.

"I was allowed to learn, that was the most important thing," Dittrich says of his early years.

The passion in Dittrich burns brighter than ever with the Flyers. He returns to near his roots with a wealth of baseball experiences. He is banking on the many successes and using the valuable lessons of his failures to build another new franchise. …