Bob "Reggie" Bunnell was honored at this year's Homer Dome Classic
At first glance, Bob Bunnell seems to be just your ordinary Wayne County guy.
He was born and raised on a farm just outside town, attended Honesdale schools, developed an honest, blue-collar work ethic and never wandered very far from home.
However, if you sit down and talk to him for more than a few minutes, it quickly becomes obvious that “Reggie” is far from ordinary. In fact, some of the things he's done to this point in his life are … well, they're extra-ordinary.
Late last week, Reggie dropped by the newsroom to talk about one of those things. What started as just a casual chat morphed into a conversation that lasted an hour and ranged across nearly seven decades.
The reason for his visit was a prestigious honor he'd received at this year's Homer Dome Classic in Waymart … a commemorative plaque marking 50 years of Wayne County softball.
“It was a huge honor and I'm very grateful,” he said. “I had no idea it was coming. It was definitely a humbling experience.”
And, while this is a milestone that very few players anywhere attain, the story of how Reggie got there is equally interesting and impressive.
Bob is the son of Frank & Shirley Bunnell. He spent his childhood working on the family farm located on Tryon Street.
Baseball became Reggie's passion early on, a passion that was nurtured by his parents and by his beloved grandfather, William Bunnell.
As anyone who grew up on a farm will attest, day-to-day life can be arduous due to the countless chores that need to be done all year round.
Reggie never shied away from hard work, though, and that was something William noticed. Every once in awhile, he'd let his grandson sneak off early to play ball.
“People sometimes ask how I became a left-handed hitter,” said Reggie, who throws righty. “Well, that goes back to my grandpa.
“One of my jobs on the farm was to help him spread manure on the fields. We used to to that manually. He had me walk on the left side of the spreader while he walked on the right. I had to shovel everything left-handed. So, that's where it all started.”
Reggie began his formal diamond career as the age of eight in the Honesdale Little Baseball Association. He played several positions for the Murray Company Giants, but eventually found his niche behind the plate.
“I was a pretty good catcher coming out of Little League,” he recalls. “In fact, when I turned 13 I was all set to try out for Teeners with the Eagles...”
Sadly, that's when tragedy struck. Reggie was severely injured in a tractor accident at the farm. Among other things, he suffered a broken pelvis that left him immobile for more than three months.
It was an event that changed the trajectory of his life, setting him on an entirely different path.
“It was a long time before I could play baseball again,” he said. “And I definitely couldn't catch anymore. So, I had to make the best of it and figure out something else.”
Reggie didn't play baseball in junior high or high school.
However, by graduation he'd regained his strength and stamina … so much so that he began looking around for opportunities to get back on the diamond.
The first softball team Reggie made was sponsored by the Keystone Inn in Lakeville. He played short field, first and second base for the squad from 1970 to 1974. It was during this time that he also started honing his pitching skills.
Reggie was then recruited to play for White Mills, which he did for the next four years until one of the Wayne County League's true powerhouses came calling in 1978.
“I won my first championship playing for Tri-County in 1980,” he said. “That was a very good team. We had guys like the Siepielas, the Sandercocks and Lou Malinoski.”
Reggie's next stop was another very good team, the Wagon Wheel, with whom he played until 1991, followed by Osborne's and of course, Hessling's.
In addition to all those years in the Wayne County League, Reggie also carved out quite a legacy for himself in the Lake Ariel Modified League.
The highlight of his time in that circuit came as a member of the legendary Hideout Hawks. That team powered its way to eight league titles in a 10-year span. He also captured a pair of crowns as a member of The Saddlebrook.
“Those were great times,” he said. “We had some very good rivalries in that league. I remember that the Newfoundland Hotel was right there with us every single season.”
All told, Reggie won league championships with five different teams: Hessling's, Tri-County, Herzog's, The Hideout and Saddlebrook.
While Reggie is rightly recognized as a stellar softball player, he also enjoyed success during the twilight of sandlot baseball.
His career with the Honesdale Ramblers spanned more that a decade and carried him from the old Mountain League right into the final years of the Scranton Association.
In fact, Reggie played alongside local legends lile Tommy Carroll and Ray Lintner from 1973 to 1985.
“Not many people these days remember, but that was really competitive baseball,” Reggie said. “Playing in the Association was a big deal and I'm proud to say that we more than held our own with those guys over there.”
Reggie is a lifelong New York Yankees fan … as one might guess from his nickname and the fact that for years his license plate read: Reggie 44.
His favorite Major Leaguers of all time are Stan Musial, Willie Mays and Derek Jeter.
One of the best moments of his life was a behind-the-scenes tour of Yankee Stadium during which he sat at Jeter's locker. He was also given the opportunity to stand on the mound.
“That's something I'll never forget,” he said. “I mean, I'm up there on the rubber imagining what it would be like to hear 50,000 people cheering. Pretty amazing.”
Reggie is still playing softball today. In fact, he's never really stopped at all over the course of the past 50 years.
He pitched for Van Gorder's right up until the Wayne County League finally folded two summers ago. Now, he takes the hill a couple of times a week for Wargo Flooring in the Blue Collar Rec League.
Last week, he strode to the circle once again as a starting pitcher in this year's “Legends Game” at the Homer Dome Classic.
True to form, Reggie put together a complete game gem, eventually earning a hard-fought 9-5 win.
“That was a lot of fun,” he said. “And I got to play with some great guys, like Mickey Abbott, Joe Pinto, Jay Farnelli and my stepson, Chris.”
Reggie has no plans of slowing down anytime soon. At 68, he's as healthy and active as ever. He gets in a 45-minute workout each morning, then heads off to work at the Honesdale Golf Club.
“I don't need coffee to get me going in the morning,” he said with a chuckle.
Looking back, there are many people who've helped him along the journey. First and foremost, of course, are his parents and grandpa, followed closely by Jane, his biggest fan.
“I couldn't have done any of this without them,” he said, a tear welling in his eye and a catch in his throat. “They were always there to support me and I'll never forget it.”
Reggie is also thankful for all the great ballplayers her met along the way.
“Guys like Tommy Carroll, Ray Lintner, Lou Malinoski, Mike Bartleson, Tommy Schilling, Billy Tegeler … those guys had a passion for the game and it just rubbed off on ya.”
As for Reggie … well, there's simply no end in sight for his softball career.
“I'm going to keep playing as long as I can,” he said. “As long as I'm physically able. I still feel pretty good and I still enjoy the competition.”
Here's hoping that Reggie never loses his love for the game and that he keeps pitching well into this next half-century.