Sommer took unique path to pro baseball — and Norwalk Hall of Fame

Mark Hazelwood • Jan 27, 2018 at 12:00 PM

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the seventh installment in a seven-part series featuring this year’s Norwalk Hall of Fame inductees.


Tim Sommer took a unique path to star baseball status.

Growing up in Norwalk, the 1960 graduate attended Norwalk High School when it didn’t yet have a baseball program.

Furthermore, the Maple City didn’t even yet have a Little League program.

Eventually over time, Sommer honed his baseball craft. After playing for two years at Ohio University in 1961 and 1962 — he landed a minor league contract with the Baltimore Orioles.

Sommer is one of seven being inducted today into the Norwalk High School Hall of Fame.

A dinner and banquet to honor this year’s class will be held at the Ernsthausen Performing Arts Center at 5 p.m. today prior to the boys’ basketball home game vs. Huron.

This year’s other inductees are Bill Albright (athletic), Dave Ballard (distinguished), Chris Bleile (athletic), Dr. Virginia Showers Ingram (academic), Carrie Monnes Sheehan (athletic) and Jess Gerken Miron (athletic).

After Sommer spent two years pitching at Ohio University, working his way up from freshman walk-on to the No. 1 pitcher and a scholarship, he was offered a contract with the Baltimore Orioles.

For eight seasons, Sommer pitched in the minor leagues for the Orioles organization, spending four seasons in Single-A, four seasons in Double-A and two stints in Triple-A.

“I had convinced myself I was a big fish in a small pond around Norwalk,” Sommer said. “To sign with the Orioles and go play professional baseball, that was the dream of every young boy.

“But there were so many good players there, I’d realized my pond had gotten a lot bigger,” he added. “I called my grandmother and told her I was coming home. When she asked why, I told her about how good everyone there was. But she convinced me to at least attempt to pitch first.”

Sommer certainly did that for the next eight years of his life.

Pitching for Fox Cities (Wis.) in 1964, Sommer went 14-2 with a 2.20 ERA in 19 starts. He struck out 151 batters to just 33 walks in 139 innings of work.

In 1966, Sommer made 30 starts for Single-A Stockton (Calif.), and had a 2.87 ERA with 179 strikeouts and 67 walks in 226 innings pitched. His record was 11-17, as he was the tough-luck loser of a staggering 13 games lost by one run.

Sommer’s first year in Double-A was for Elmira (N.Y.), an Eastern League affiliate of the Orioles. He was 11-5 there with a 2.15 ERA with 101 strikeouts in 117 innings.

Sommer again put together back-to-back strong seasons in 1968 and 1969 between Double and Triple-A Rochester (N.Y.). He was 8-9 with a 2.69 ERA between the two levels in 1968, and 6-4 with a 3.26 ERA over the same two levels in 1969.

However, timing wasn’t on Sommer’s side. He made it to the final cut in spring training in 1969, but Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver decided to stick with all his veteran pitchers. The Orioles won 109 games that season, two shy of the AL record held by the 1954 Cleveland Indians, before falling in the World Series to the New York Mets.

Baltimore had three Hall of Fame players during that time period, including pitcher Jim Palmer.

After leaving baseball in 1970, Sommer worked two years as a scout for the Milwaukee Brewers — and also was a youth pitching instructor in Elmira.

In 2010, Sommer released a 264-page book, “Beating about the Bushes” on his career as a player and scout in professional baseball.

The book’s focus is minor league baseball, but topics are also wide-ranging. Several stories involve a number of well-known names, such as Cal Ripkin Sr. and future American League MVP Don Baylor, who was Sommer’s roommate for a season in Rochester.

Sommer spent a year doing research, and about three years writing the book, along with a year of editing and typing.

In April 2016, he saw his work pay off when the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. put the book on display for viewing.

“I’m very proud of the book and it being in the Hall of Fame library,” Sommer said. “But being in the Norwalk Hall of Fame means more than anything to me. It’s the justification in my own mind that I deserved to be there, even though I was rejected in high school for being a big dreamer.

“That’s the term I would use — I was dreaming according to many about playing pro baseball, and I was able to do it,” he added. “Being chosen for the Norwalk Hall of Fame — this is the justification for that.”

Sommers discussed his book and other topics in the September/October 2016 issue of Discover Norwalk Magazine.

The book can be purchased for $15.95 through Infinity Publishing.

Sommer, who was also in the U.S. Army Reserves from 1964-69, resided in Elmira, N.Y., from 1967-99.

Today, he lives in Prescott, Ariz. with his wife, Mary. The couple has two children, daughter, Chris, and son, Jeffrey.

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