Retired Spring Garden Township Fire Chief John Morthland is frequently one of the first people in Sovereign Bank Stadium when the York Revolution is in town.

He arrives at the stadium hours ahead of time. He gets in early. There is a method to his madness.

Yes, he loves the Revs. He gets a kick out of watching them play the 50 home games or so he attends (out of 70 each season).

It's more than that, however. He loves to see people, especially little people, with smiles on their faces.

But let's start at the beginning. Morthland, 62, was fire chief at the Victory Fire Co. for 45 years. And for the last 10 years or so, he played Santa Claus at the fire company Christmas parties.

He also was the Santa for the kids at the Jack and Jill Nursery.

Retired Spring Garden Township Fire Chief John Morthland makes a surprise visit to the Potter family of Manchester Township during a recent Revs  game.
Retired Spring Garden Township Fire Chief John Morthland makes a surprise visit to the Potter family of Manchester Township during a recent Revs game. Chase Potter, 3, and his sister Olivia, 1, received Downtown dolls from Morthland as their mother, Karen, looks on. Click on to see more. (Randy Flaum Photo)

And though we're in mid-summer as opposed to late-December, the Santa feelings die hard for Morthland.

So he goes to Revs' games, and he sits. And he watches. Watch long enough, he said, and he'll always come up with a youngster that just doesn't seem to be having as good a time as he or she should be.

"Maybe they're a little fussy. Maybe a little restless. Maybe they're just very young and aren't into baseball yet," Morthland said.

On this night, the object of his connection was the Potter family of Manchester Township. David and Karen Potter, plus Chase, 3, and Olivia, 1.

"My kids are a little young, I guess, for baseball," David Potter said. "They don't get to watch too much baseball, maybe three or four Revs games a year. So they get a little fussy."

Morthland noticed.

So he got out of his seat and walked over to the Revs' gift store, where he purchased two Downtown (the team mascot) dolls. About $7 each. Total cost -- $14, plus tax.

Then he went back inside and gave the dolls to the parents of Chase and Olivia Potter.

"It was a big surprise," David Potter said. "It was great. Cool. The kids enjoyed it. There are not too many things free in life these days. It made it extra special for the kids."

Chase latched onto the doll and seemed particularly interested. Olivia didn't show much interest -- but she's only 1, and dolls don't register as high for her attention as bright lights and lots of noise.

Anyway, Morthland does this at least once during every home game. If there are brothers and sisters involved, they all get a doll.

"I don't want them to have to fight over one doll," he said.

And he pays for all this out of his own pocket. Do the math. Let's say 50 Downtown dolls a season times $7. That's about $350 a year on dolls alone.

No big deal. He can't help himself. It's the Santa bug in him.

Rev'vd up in the middle of baseball season.

"You just never know," David Potter said, "what might keep young children quiet."

But Morthland knows.

Sports columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch colum nist, run Thursdays. E- mail: lhicks@yorkdis