Tag Archives: Softball

My iPod Has Issues – Losing Bill Dance and Finding Eddie Feigner

24 Sep

We are having a garage sale, and everyone knows what that means. We are dragging out stuff that we forgot we had. Some of it is coming from the attic. Some of it is coming from our closets. Some of it is coming from the Land of Discarded Items.

In the process, I am giving up the autographed Bill Dance t-shirt that I got when the famed fisherman made an appearance at the Hollywood Casino in Tunica, Mississippi. It is definitely a sacrifice to give up something that cool.

However, some cool things are staying. While digging for artifacts, I came across a booklet celebrating the 25th Anniversary of The King and His Court. If that name does not mean anything to you, then let me explain. Eddie Feigner was a fast pitch softball pitcher who traveled the world with a four-man team. They took on all comers and won over 9,000 games. Along the way, Eddie “The King”  Feigner did tricks with the ball. There are a few people around here who played against them. I need to collect stories and write a post about them.

Anyway, we have dragged a bunch of stuff into the garage and are ready to do business. Hopefully, we will make some money. Every quarter counts.image-2

To commemorate the event, I have decided to look into my iPod and see what it is doing.

“Be Careful Who You Love (Arthur’s Song)” by Hank Williams, Jr.

“For the Good Times” by Isaac Hayes

“Judy” by Frank Howard

“Hardline” by Tom Kimmel

“Memphis Exorcism” by Squirrel Nut Zippers

“Clubbed to Death” by Rob Dougan

“Up On Cripple Creek” by The Band

“Kansas City Shuffle” by J. Ralph

“Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel

“Alone Again” by Dokken

“Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young

“Ruby (Are You Mad at Your Man)” by The Osbourne Brothers

“I Wanna Ummm With You” by Stacy Mitchhart

“Thirteen” by Big Star

“Still and Always Will” by Vintage Trouble

“T for Texas” by Tompall Glaser

“Dazed and Confused” by Led Zeppelin

“The Peacocks” by Howard Alden

“The Wind, The Wind” by Dean Martin

“Tomorrow Never Comes” by Ernest Tubb

Venturing Into Oklahoma

12 Sep

This weekend, I am heading to Oklahoma to see my team, the University of Tennessee Volunteers, play the University of Oklahoma Sooners. It is always fun to go to a new stadium and see the traditions of other schools. I am sure it will be interesting to experience how they do things.Oklahoma

Hopefully, my team will make a good show of things. They are in a rebuilding mode, and Oklahoma is a powerhouse. That is not a formula for success, but you never know what might happen.

While we are there, we may get the chance to do a few other things. It has been years since I visited the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. On top of that, we have to visit the ASA National Softball Hall of Fame. We know a few of the inductees, and, many years ago, we played in a national tournament on their fields. We did not fare well in that athletic event.

Anyway, I will return with stories of adventure and, hopefully, athletic glory for the team in orange.

Sandy Springs Park – My Personal Field of Dreams

27 May

Maryville, Tennessee sits at the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, and, within its bounds, there is a park called Sandy Springs.image-27

It is a typical park with walking trails, playgrounds and ball fields. However, those are not just any ball fields. For me and a lot of other people, they are the softball version of the Field of Dreams.image-28

They know that they have hit the pinnacle of the slow pitch softball world when they step between the lines. (For those in the fast pitch game, a field in Oklahoma City is considered the mecca. I have been on that field, as well. Nothing there compares to the feeling of what happens at Sandy Springs.)

Before I explain why this place is important to me, I should explain something else. When most people think of slow pitch softball, they think of weekends of drinking beer and horsing around. They may also think of a local church league. I am not talking about that kind of slow pitch ball. I am talking about elite athletes who travel around the country playing for teams that are sponsored by businesses and bat companies. I am talking about professionals.

As I have written before, my dad used to sponsor one of these teams, the Le-Al-Co Storms. I grew up traveling with his players and learning the rules of the road. For that reason, Sandy Springs became a special place in my life.image-29

Traditionally, we played the first tournament of the year at Maryville’s Spring Open. For the players, it was a time to knock off the rust. For me, it was the beginning of a summer of adventure. However, the first big moment at Sandy Springs happened before I could remember.

In 1974, Le-Al-Co and its ten players from Lebanon, Tennessee defeated the top ranked team in the nation to win its first state championship. It took two diving catches in the last inning to clinch the game, and it created stories that I have heard all of my life. There would be more wins, but everyone involved says it was their greatest win.

A few years later, Le-Al-Co won another state championship by beating its arch-rival, Rochelle’s Market. By this time, my dad had expanded to players throughout the state to make up the roster. Many people considered it a Tennessee All-Star team. That did not make the win any less sweeter. In the last inning, Rochelle’s had the tying run on second with one out. A fly ball out near the fence led the runner to advance to third. We appealed the play and said the runner had left base early. The umpire called him out. Ballgame. State champions. The other team went nuts.

Those were great wins, but nothing compares to being at Sandy Springs in July. That is when it hosts the greatest tournament in the nation, the Smoky Mountain Classic. Some say it is bigger than any national championship, and I tend to agree. There is nothing like playing on Saturday night. Thousands of people sit on the hillsides to watch the best teams in the nation. The sounds of Ray Molphy, the Voice of Softball, would boom through the night air. It is electric.

When I was a kid, I refused to go to the room because I did not want to miss anything. They tell the story that we were playing late into the night, and I was worn out. I was standing next to my dad when he looked over to find me asleep. I fell asleep standing up.

We played a lot of games in the Smoky Mountain Classic. We won a bunch and lost a bunch. However, two stand out more than the others.

In 1991, my dad, along with Louisville Slugger, sponsored a team that consisted of players from throughout the country. It was ranked first or second all season. My brother, who did not make many games, showed up that weekend. My dad, my brother, and I watched as the team battled through the loser’s bracket to finish second. It was the highest finish we ever had in the tournament. Two days later, my dad suffered a massive stroke that took him to death’s door.

The next season, I was coaching another team with Larry, who has spent as many nights in Maryville as anyone. It was called Datom Argus and was one of the top ten teams in the country. We found ourselves playing past midnight in the loser’s bracket against the top ranked team, Ritch’s Superior. Despite the lateness, it was a huge game. The winner would get a spot in the national tournament.

I do not remember all of the details of the game, but a few things stick out. The thousands of spectators were gone. Their sponsors and the tournament officials were sitting on the hill watching. Everyone needed and expected the other team to win. One of their best hitters popped up at a crucial time, and Larry taunted him. We were getting under their skin, and they were pressing. Bucky, who put the team together and was one of our best hitters, hit a home run that barely made it over the fence. Their left fielder threw his glove over the fence in disgust.

It was a close game, but we pulled off the upset. We showed up a few hours later to play the next game. Getting to Sunday in the Smoky Mountain Classic is a huge accomplishment, but we were done. Our big game had already been played.

A few months ago, I went to Sandy Springs to take these pictures. The scene was tranquil. People were walking dogs, and children were playing on the fields. However, I could feel something in the air. I could feel the crowd. I could hear the games. I tried to explain it to my wife, but she did not understand. I do not expect those who read this to understand, but Sandy Springs is a special place.

 

 

The Yard Dog Award – Lodging Fit for a King

29 Mar

A while back, I introduced the concept of the Yard Dog Award. Later, I presented the award to the first “winner.” During the past few days of recharging my blogging batteries, the next winner came to my mind.

In the mid-1990s, I was coaching a professional men’s softball team. That, in and of itself, is another story that I have touched on and will write about in the near future. However, this post is about a place where that experience led me.

We were scheduled to play in an important tournament in Cleveland, Ohio. All of the arrangements were set weeks in advance. Flights. Rental cars. Hotel rooms. We were good to go. All was smooth as we flew into the city and got our cars. Then, the plan went awry.

We drove to the softball complex to meet the tournament director who had handled our lodging. He booked rooms for us in a nice hotel, but we needed to meet with him before settling in. We pulled up to his office. Larry, the other coach who you have read about, and I went in to get everything taken care of. That is when the weekend went off the rails.

At the last minute, the nation’s top ranked team decided to play in the tournament. The director gave our rooms to them and booked us into another hotel. I was to ride with him to the new hotel while everyone else waited. We got into his car and drove and drove and drove. I noticed that the buildings we passed were getting dingier by the block. A bad feeling was emerging from the back of my brain.

Then, we arrived at the Camelot Inn, and it was a disaster. In the parking lot sat a couple of cars on blocks. The lobby was locked tight, and we could only talk to the desk clerk through bullet-proof glass. The top ranked team was staying in our rooms at a nice hotel while we stayed in a dump. Heck, we were ranked in the Top 10. It was not like we were some church league team.

I knew we did not have a choice, and I took the rooms. We drove back to the fields where everyone else waited on us. We had been gone a long time, and they were beginning to think that something bad had happened to me. They did not know the half of it. Something bad was going to happen to all of us. We were going to stay at the Camelot Inn.Camelot Inn

I tried to soften the blow, but the sight of the hotel shocked them. The neighborhood. The cars on blocks. Everything was bad. We climbed the stairs to the second floor and realized that the balcony was leaning. It was basically pulling away from its moorings and could collapse at any moment. It would have been nice if we could have moved to rooms on the bottom floor, but they were filled with people living in them.

I have stayed in some bad hotels, but this was the worst. As usual, Larry and I roomed together, but this was an unusual weekend. He refused to walk on the carpet barefooted and put his shoes on each time he got out of bed.

I like to think that I have a decent sized vocabulary, but I do not have the words to describe how bad the Camelot Inn truly was. However, that was not the only bad part of the weekend.

We easily won the first game, which put us on schedule to play the top ranked team. That would be the same team that was staying in our rooms. It was one of the worst beatings we had ever taken. They hit home run after home run. We could hear limbs breaking off trees as balls flew over the fence and threw them. One ball hit the scoreboard and scared birds that were nesting in it.

As they plated run after run, the score was getting embarrassing. Larry goes into some kind of trance and starts staring into the distance. To no one in particular, he says, “Boys, this is about to get ugly.” The high school girl who was operating the scoreboard replied, “Sir, I hate to tell you this, but it’s already ugly.”

After that beating, the rain started, and it did not let up. That meant we were stuck at the Camelot Inn with no games to play. That is when Bucky and Richie, our two best players had to take one of the young guys to buy some toothpaste. He had forgotten to pack some and needed a certain brand.

A while later, there was a knock at our door. We opened it, and Bucky was standing in the doorway. He was drenched and had a shocked look on his face.

“Bucky, what’s wrong?”

“We just got hit in the ass.”

“We know this is a bad neighborhood, but how did you let somebody do that to you?”

“I mean we got rear ended at a red light.”

They were sitting at a red light when a car barreled into them from behind. The front seats broke, and they were flat on their backs while rolling through the intersection. The one stuck in the back seat kept saying, “Damn boys!” Over and over, he kept saying it.

At some point, this horrible weekend came to an end. For starting this weekend in a disastrous fashion and putting us in the Camelot Inn, the Yard Dog Award goes to the tournament director whose name I have forgotten. However, I have not forgotten what he did to us.

What Happens When a Settler Says, “Look At All Those Cedar Trees.”

24 Aug

A few days ago, our school, the School of Humanities, Education and the Arts, held a retreat at Cedars of Lebanon State Park, located a few miles south of town. As we sat in the assembly hall and talked about the upcoming academic year, my mind kept wandering toward our surroundings and the times I have spent in the park.

On one side of the hall, there is a playground and some picnic tables. That’s where we had a picnic for my grandfather a few weeks before he passed away. He had a brain tumor, and everyone knew his time was short. Picnics were one of his favorite things, so we had one while he was still able.

On the other side of the hall, there is a softball field in need of much repair. In the past, our university’s intramurals have been played there, but it was built for a different purpose. Years ago my dad sponsored a professional softball team, and he had the field built as a home park. Everything was donated, but some government agency refused to put up the lights. I noticed that there are now lights.

The Dixon Merritt Nature Center is located just past the field.Nature Center

Named for a local historian, the center presents the wildlife that can be found in the park. When I was a kid, we would take field trips to the nature center. I always wondered why a center dedicated to nature would have stuffed animals on display.

There is a short trail behind the nature center that I always thought was cool. It leads into a gully that contains a cave. I never got up the courage to go into the cave, but legend says that it ends underneath the town square. That’s probably not true, but it was the home of a whiskey making operation.

At the other end of the trail, there is a New Deal era recreation building that used to have a ping-pong table. On the other side of that is a playground with a great slide and a great swing set. When I was a kid, I would see how high the swings would go. Some kids jumped out of them. I always dragged my feet on the ground until it stopped.

In the same area, there are a bunch of picnic tables. These fill up the fastest because they are the first ones that people drive past. Unfortunately, my memories of this area aren’t positive. Sitting on one of the tables, a girlfriend and I had one of those discussions that always ends in a breakup.

If people drive past these tables, then they will find other things in the park. Like any good state park, there is a camping area. There are also some pretty cool trails. A swimming pool is located at the far end of the park. I think that I went there once as a kid. It’s a nice pool, but we had one at home.

There is also a frisbee golf course that a few of us played. That’s when I discovered that I am no better at frisbee golf than I am real golf.

Cedars of Lebanon is named for the grove of trees that it encompasses, and our town, Lebanon, is named for the same reason. When settlers first moved into the area, they saw all of the cedars and got all Biblical. You know, the Bible talks about the cedars of Lebanon, so that seemed like a good thing to name the town.Lebanon Flag

These days, Lebanon is known as the “Cedar City.” Although the park is officially named Cedars of Lebanon, most long-time Lebanese call it Cedar Forest. There are “cedar” things all over the place. There is even a Cedarstone Bank that combines the two things we have most of – cedars and rocks.

The rock part is accurate. You can’t dig anywhere around here without hitting them. However, the cedar part presents a problem. One day, I was talking to one of our biology professors who is an expert in plants, and he said something along the lines of:

You know all of the cedars around here. They aren’t cedars. They are junipers.

So, the settlers were wrong. There are no cedars to inspire the name of Lebanon. Now, the city with the wrong name uses a slogan that is just as wrong. The park that has been part of my life and the lives of many people in this area has the wrong name. We thought we were playing amongst the cedars when we were really should have been calling it Juniper Forest.

All I can say is welcome to “Juniper City.”

If You Can’t Beat Them Then Merge With Them

14 Mar

Part VI

Charles Bell actually created two Le-Al-Co’s, and those who knew about one did not always know about the other. The Le-Al-Co that has been described was Bell’s business, but the other Le-Al-Co, a softball team, was his hobby. Bell ran his team with the same drive for success and enthusiasm that he ran his business.

Bell’s involvement in softball began in the 1960s when he sponsored a fast pitch team made up of men from Lebanon and the surrounding area. Most of their games were played locally, but Bell wanted to treat the players to a vacation and an experience they would not forget. He scheduled a double-header with the Clearwater Bombers of Florida, a team that had a two-year winning streak and was considered by most to be the best in the world. Shockingly, Le-Al-Co defeated the Bombers 1-0, in what could be the greatest upset in the Bomber’s history.

Obviously, Bell had a successful fast pitch team, but the players decided to try slow pitch, a new version of the sport. Le-Al-Co won its first slow pitch tournament and began a new course. Bell partnered with Allen Skeen to build a team designed to compete in the new sport. Soon, the Le-Al-Co Storms, named after storm doors and windows, were dominating the local competition with players such as Ray “Pop” Nixon and Alex Buhler.

In 1974, Bell and Skeen realized that to reach the ultimate goal, a state championship, new players needed to be added to the roster. Skeen recruited Mac Stalcup, a Knoxville player, to move to Lebanon and join the team. With Stalcup inserted into a strong lineup, Le-Al-Co defeated the nation’s top ranked team to win the state championship. This began a string of state championship that would eventually total ten, the most of any sponsor in Tennessee history.

Through the 1970s Bell and Skeen continued to pick up players from around the state to replace the local ones. Simply, when they saw a player that they liked they would ask his team’s sponsor if they wanted to merge. When an agreement was reached, they would cut the sponsor and keep the player they wanted. Bell and Skeen often said, “If you can’t beat them then merge with them.” Through this method Le-Al-Co won more games than any team in Tennessee history.

Le-Al-Co’s renown reached past the borders of Tennessee, as the team was consistently ranked in the nation’s top ten and was one of the original teams to be classified in the Super level. This distinguished Le-Al-Co as one of the top five teams in the nation. With its victories and the SuperStorm emblem on the uniforms, Le-Al-Co became one of the most popular teams in the nation.Ring Pictures 002

Softball was also a family affair as the hobby was shared with Charles and Elaine’s youngest son, Rick Bell. He spent the summer weekends of his childhood traveling to tournaments with his father and looking up to the players. As Rick got older, he took on more responsibility and eventually became the bookkeeper and assistant coach. When his father stopped sponsoring a team, Rick continued to coach nationally ranked teams. Despite these accomplishments, a memorable story took place during Rick’s childhood. As Le-Al-Co played on a Saturday night and into early Sunday morning, Rick, refusing to go to bed, leaned on his knees and fell asleep standing up.

After a brief hiatus, Bell sponsored the Le-Al-Co SuperStorms for the last time in 1991. The team finished second in the nation, and the roster included Bruce Meade, possibly the most famous player in slow pitch history. He joined Stalcup, who had played for all but one Le-Al-Co squad since 1974. Le-Al-Co’s success on the field led to Bell’s induction into the Tennessee ASA Softball Hall of Fame in 2010.

Tangled Up in the Schneid

23 Feb

When people think of men playing slow pitch softball, a few images might pop into their heads. A bunch of non-athletic guys hobbling around and drinking beer. A church league where there are a lot of swings and misses. An intramural league in college where the athletics team up to dominate everyone else.

That may be what people think about, but I grew up in a different kind of game. My dad sponsored a professional men’s slow pitch softball team, and we played at the highest levels of the sport. We flew throughout the country to play in the biggest tournaments and had players at the peak of their athletic form. When I try to describe how good these guys were, people can’t believe that most of the players could hit softballs out of baseball stadiums.

(Time for a little bragging. In recent years, my dad, his manager and four of his players have been inducted into the Tennessee Softball Hall of Fame.)

We played in a lot of big games, but a game was truly important when Ray Molphy, the Voice of Softball, was announcing the game.Ray Molphy

I can vividly remember playing under the lights on a Saturday night with thousands of people around the field. Ray’s voice would be booming through the air as he announced the game. While he didn’t take sides, Ray told me privately that he was also pulling for us. Our budget wasn’t as large as the teams we were playing, so we were a perpetual underdog that made sure our opponent was in for a fight.

Like all good announcers, Ray had catchphrases that everyone recognized.

If a player had hit for a single and a home run, then he had hit for “the minimum and the maximum”.

When a team was coming up to bat in an inning, the first batter was in the box; the second batter was on deck; and, the third batter was “lurking in the shadows”.

If a player had not yet gotten a hit, then he was “tangled up in the schneid”.

I have been thinking about Ray’s lines because I feel that I am tangled up in the blogging schneid. I am having a hard time coming up with anything that is interesting or original. My posts are lacking something that I can’t put my finger on. It just feels that there is something missing.

When a player stepped to the plate and heard Ray talking about the schneid, they would react a couple of ways. One, they would get mad and make it worse. Two, they would use it for motivation to get a hit. I don’t know which way I am going to react, but, right now, I feel like the schneid is all over me.