His name is Gideon Yoder Hershberger and he is the greatest baseball player you’ve never heard of. Hershberger didn’t grow up watching major league baseball, or hearing games on the radio. He did, however, grow up pushing a plow, baling hay, riding horses, and butchering the livestock he raised himself. In 2001, by the time Hershberger was 10 years old, the Amish learned of the sport of baseball. He began playing every day, spending as much time throwing and hitting the baseball as he did praying and working. By his own account, he fell in love with the game immediately, and it seemed the game loved him back.
His legend spread throughout Amish country as he emerged head and shoulders, both literally and figuratively above his peers.
“He could run like a horse, throw like David with a slingshot, and was strong like an ox,” said close friend Eli Mervin. “We all knew he was special. He had god-given talent.”
By the age of 15, Hershberger was already playing in the adult Amish league. He won MVP that year after homering 75 times and leading his team to victory in the Old World Championship against the Mennonites. Despite living without electricity or any obvious connection to the outside world, MLB scouts caught wind of Hershberger’s myth. Scouts came from teams all over the country to see the mysterious prospect. They were allowed to remain but out of respect for the Amish, they were not allowed to record Hershberger or use their radar guns.
“In thirty years in the business, I’ve never seen anything like that kid. He threw like lightning, ran like the wind, and could catch anything. He could do it all,” said one major league scout. “I couldn’t use my radar gun, but I’d estimate he was throwing speeds the likes of which we’ve never witnessed — 110 miles per hour if I had to throw a number out there. I was willing and ready to sign him right there.”
Apparently, every single scout who came to see Hershberger shared the same sentiment. But the prospect’s father told them his son needed to stay behind for two harvest seasons, an obligation Hershberger’s religion forced him to follow. Patiently, the scouts waited and after two harvests passed, every one of them returned anxious to see the blossoming, hidden gem. Now, as he stood before them, barrell-chested, bearded, and fully developed, the scouts grew even more excited to witness his development on the diamond.
So altogether, they went and watched him play among the Amish. But strangely it seemed that like a spring that never came, his legendary talents had withered away and would not return. Most left broken-hearted. All but one scout that is.
“I don’t know why he pretended he’d lost it. We’ll never really know. But I can tell you things I saw that day, things you’d never believe. He grabbed that baseball once the field was emptied out and he thought all of us were gone and he threw it blazing upward into the sky,” said the scout. “I heard a squawk, and then a goose came spiraling dead and thudded into the ground. He had the accuracy and the power to nail it out of the heavens.”
The truth is, no one knows how good Gideon Yoder Hershberger was, or what could have been. But his legend lives on in the old world of the Amish country, his myth as large as John Henry or Paul Bunyan — they say he’s never been struck out, they say he’s stolen home a thousand times — they say legends never die.