Diehl still making bats at age 101

Commentary

ROARING SPRING — As you approach the apartment door of Karl Diehl on the first floor of the Graystone Court, the first thing that comes into focus is the “Diehl Slugging” sign that seems out of place in a retirement community.

Once inside, you’ll find something even more special.

Diehl, who is celebrating his 101st birthday today, still spends time in Graystone’s wood shop making baseball bats.

Just a couple weeks ago, I had the chance to meet Diehl after his friend, Dennis Ayers, asked him to make a bat for me.

When I walked into his room, he was watching a Pirates game surrounded by baseball memorabilia. Yet he didn’t mute the game, turn it down or just try and balance his attention between my visit and the television.

He turned it off and stood up to greet me and shake my hand.

We talked about how he’s crafted bats for everyone from Pirates manager Clint Hurdle to Chase Smith, a member of Central’s PIAA champion baseball team in 2017.

His love for baseball started when he attended Morrison’s Cove High School and then played in Newry in a Sunday doubleheader league.

As his dresser molded from baseball bats autographed by several years of Altoona Curve players shows, his passion for the game never went away.

But when his mother asked him to stop playing the game he loved so he could spend more time with his family on Sundays, he gave it up. Nothing was more important to Diehl than his family.

Diehl worked for 34 years at New Enterprise Stone & Lime Company, but when he retired in 1980, he certainly didn’t stop living a high quality of life.

He’s made thousands of bats for both professionals like Hurdle (though he may want that one back since he’s been unhappy with the direction of the Pirates), but he also has provided bats for birthday presents that make kids smile from ear to ear.

At 101, he’s still sharp. Though he’s seen decades of Pirates players including Bill Mazeroski and Ralph Kiner, his favorite player was Jay Bell, and he expressed some excitement that Bell had just been in town managing the Trenton Thunder against the Curve.

Diehl is beloved in his building. Bats he’s crafted hang in the lobby, autographed by current residents and those who have passed.

His biggest smile of our visit came when I asked to have my picture taken with him and the bat he carved my name into. He picked up the bat and held it in his hand as though he could still lace one into the outfield gap.

Sometimes we search for our idols in professional leagues plastered all over our television, but other times you can find them inside your own community.

Happy birthday, Mr. Diehl. I hope the Bucs sweep the Cardinals for you this weekend. I know you’ll be watching, newly crafted bats nearby.

Michael Boytim can be reached at mboytim@altoonamirror.com or 946-7521

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