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A Call from the Hall
Alfred Hitchcock once said, “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” Fans sat forward in their seats when he stepped into the batter’s box. The bang was expected. Good-looking, muscular and baseball smart, he was a tough guy if there ever was one. Jeff Bagwell was one of a kind and could mash with the best of them. He was one strong son-of-a-gun with quick hands and the vision of a hawk.
He just had this aura about him. If he had never played baseball, if you had never heard his name and you passed him on the sidewalk one day, you’d turn around and look. Besides being able to beat a baseball out of shape, he didn’t want to be just an all-star; he wanted to be a winner. He knew a secret that just being good was the enemy of being great. Giving this guy a baseball bat was like handing Ivanhoe a sword, the outlaw Josey Wales a pistol, or Mick Jagger a microphone. Something electrifying was about to happen. He owned what the locals in Houston called “light tower power.” Writers of his day named his home runs “Moon Shots;” I like to refer to them as “The Bagwell Fly.”
Jeffrey Robert “Baggie” Bagwell was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on May 27, 1968. Bagwell was drafted and signed by the Red Sox in 1989. Jeff’s boyhood idol was none other than Red Sox outfielder, Carl Yastrzemski. In 1990, Bagwell was acquired by the Astros as a Minor Leaguer in a trade deadline deal with the Red Sox, for pitcher Larry Anderson. What a deal for Houston. Jeff, wearing #5, debuted at first base for the Astros on April 8, 1991. Bagwell is in good company. I am reminded that Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Bench, George Brett, Hank Greenberg and Brooks Robinson all wore the #5.
By joining teammate, Craig Biggio, the two of them helped change the culture of the Astros’ franchise. Bagwell spent the next 15 years showing patience and power at the plate, exceptional base-running skills, while playing great defense as a first baseman. From 1997 to 2005, these two propelled the team to six playoff appearances in nine seasons and one World Series. The “Killer B’s”: Biggio, Bagwell and Lance Berkman were a force to be reckoned with.
Bagwell’s last at-bat occurred on October 2, 2005. Jeff’s career records are exceptional. He hit .297 over 15 seasons, while recording 2,314 hits, including 449 home runs. Jeff knocked in 1,529 RBI’s; he scored 1,517 runs and posted a .408 on-base percentage. Bagwell is the only player in MLB history to record 30 home runs, 100 RBI’s, 100 runs scored and 100 walks in six consecutive seasons (1994-2001). His resume also includes the 1991 Rookie of the Year Award, the 1994 National League MVP Award, and a spot in the 2005 Texas Sports Hall of Fame.
Bagwell spent seven years waiting for a call from the Hall. Jeff Bagwell will now join Craig Biggio in Cooperstown, New York, on July 30, 2017. “Baggie” will be only the second player in the Baseball Hall of Fame Museum to wear an Astros’ cap. They will be teammates for eternity.
Don’t forget to check out the Astros special 5-game pack which will provide you with tickets to three games against the Toronto Blue Jays on August 4-6, the August 19 game against the Oakland A’s, and a final game on August 30, against the Texas Rangers. Bagwell promotional giveaways will include items like a Bagwell HOF jersey and a bobble head doll.
Sportsradio 1230 AM
Shutting Down the Run
Everyone who was there noticed. He was the talk of the camp. A 19-year-old kid with a slingshot right arm and the grit to let it go showed up at the 1991 Texas Rangers’ baseball camp. No, I’m not talking about a pitcher. This guy was kind of squatty and built more like a fire hydrant. The kid wasn’t even close to 6 feet tall, more like 5’9”, but he weighed close to 200 pounds. Could he hit a baseball? Could the kid catch a Major League pitcher? Could he call a game? Who knows? All anyone knew is that this kid could throw lightening bolts from the catcher’s position like Zeus with a facemask. Oh, he was good! Shutting down the run was his jam. When it came to catchers, he may not have been from this planet. He owned a cannon for a right arm and could throw a baseball through a carwash without getting it wet. Fearless, vocal and intense from behind home plate, most of the photographs you will see show him with his arms flailing and his mouth open. It seemed that he was always cheering on his teammates or celebrating a put-out at second base. His chest protector should have read “Thou Shalt Not Steal.”
Ivan Rodriquez was born on November 27, 1971, in Manati, Puerto Rice. When he got to the States, he spoke very little English, so everybody just called him “Pudge.” He debuted on June 20, 1991, against the Chicago White Sox. Not only did he get his first hit but, more importantly, he threw out Joey Cora and Warren Newson, who were both trying to steal second base. A legend was born.
On July 30, 2017, catcher Ivan “Pudge” Rodriquez entered the Baseball Hall of Fame Museum located in Cooperstown, New York. He was joined by first baseman, Jeff Bagwell, of the Houston Astros and outfielder, Tim “Rock” Raines, of the Montréal Expos. Pudge Rodriquez is only the second Texas Ranger to be inducted. The first was Nolan Ryan. Pudge played for six different teams during his 21-year career. He won his only World Series title with the Florida Marlins in 2003 and played in a second World Series with the Detroit Tigers, in 2006. Pudge was elected with 76% of the vote. At 45 years old, he is the youngest member of the Hall and the fourth native Puerto Rican. He joined Johnny Bench (1989) as one of the only two catchers to reach the Hall of Fame on their first ballot.
A student of the game, Pudge becomes energized when talking baseball. His best season occurred in 1999. Not only did he hit .332 with 35 home runs, but he scored 116 runs and was named the American League MVP. Pudge led the Texas Rangers to their third Division title in four years. Pudge Rodriquez was a 14 time All-Star with gold in his glove. He earned 13 Gold Glove Awards, the most of any Major League catcher to have ever played the game. He also led the league nine times in throwing out base runners.
Pudge set an amazing record of catching in 2,427 games. The grind, the wear and tear of bending down over and over must have been excruciating. He batted .296, while recording 2,844 hits, 572 doubles, 311 home runs and 1,332 RBI’s. He also stole 127 bases. No doubt, Rodriquez developed into one of the game’s greatest all-around catchers. It may be awhile before we see another like him.
If you’re a catcher and your name ends up in a sentence with Pudge Rodriquez, you’re doing something right.
Sportsradio 1230 AM
One True Constant
Have you ever held a ball or a glove to your face?
Smelled the fresh cut grass on a level place?
Looked into a sky so blue that it hurts your eyes?
There’s no way summer can ever be disguised.
Baseball is a game that looks so easy to play.
On a hard ground ball—do you turn away?
You know it’s going to happen—everyone gets hit.
But a few days later, it doesn’t hurt a bit.
It’s the only game where the defense has the ball,
A game that follows seasons--spring until fall.
There is no clock—you never run out of time.
And when you steal a base, it’s not considered a crime.
Have you ever watched the shadows move on a baseball field?
It’s almost scary enough to cause a chill.
First home plate, then the pitcher’s mound;
Next comes second, and now all around.
It’s a game of angles with long straight lines,
A game about thinking and reading signs,
Long slow arcs or crisp line drives,
All while we run, stop, slide or dive.
There are wonderful pauses in a baseball game,
Like when the pitcher rocks back to throw again.
I love the moment just before that pitch;
Curve or slider, can you tell which is which?
The pace of the game is what I like best.
You play hard in the field, and then you sit and rest.
It allows you to talk and argue about the game,
And you can play every day, except when it rains.
The one true constant throughout the years
Is a baseball game; the sport has no peers.
And through the down times and periods of strife,
It reminds us of all that is good in life.
Yes, I wanted to be a player and hear the crowds roar,
To swing for the fences and try to score.
Yes, I had big dreams—some didn’t come true;
But I’m still glad I had them—how about YOU?
KSIX SportsradioCC 1230 AM
A Blessing in Disguise
Mark Twain once wrote, “The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.” Richard didn’t look like a typical high school football coach, no scars, no limp when the weather was bad, and no yelling at the top of his voice when his team was behind. He looked more like a U.S. Senator, a bomber pilot or an astronaut. Even now, at 73 years of age, he is still built like a brick house; even his belly button has muscles.
As with most of us, playing sports taught him about work ethic. It gave him a sense of discipline and taught him about sportsmanship and teamwork, all the traits he would pass on to his players. He also taught his kids that to learn, they must listen to understand, not to reply, and that one of the hardest decisions they would ever have to face in life was whether to walk away or try harder. As a coach, he had the patience of a mother, and he always gave you four quarters of truth every time. For him, success wasn’t about being the best; it was about getting better. “The best part about coaching was watching my kids mature into great citizens,” said Avila.
Richard Avila was born along with 14 other children in a poor, small, rural town located in South Texas, called Donna. He lost his dad at the age of 12, and his football coach, Earl Scott, took him under his wing. As a defensive cornerback, he could move quicker than bad news. Together with his teammates, they led the 1961 Donna Redskins’ football team to a 13-2 record and a win over the Quanah Indians 28-21, for the Texas State Championship. Their story has been placed on film, entitled “The Miracle.” There were only 18 players on the team, and ten of those were Mexican-Americans. This team battled poverty, discrimination and some pretty good football teams.
Avila graduated from Pan American University. He served as defensive coordinator at Edinburg High School, on seven different playoff football teams, and led Donna High School to two more playoff seasons, as their head coach and athletic director. Richard then became the Athletic Director at the Corpus Christi Independent School District for ten more years. When he put his fingerprints on something, you knew the results were going to be good. Richard has been associated with many different sports, including over 30 years as a basketball official. Richard left the CCISD in 2003; but after one year, he became an adjunct professor at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, helping student teachers who want to enter the coaching profession.
Avila is a member of the Texas High School Athletic Directors Association, and the Rio Grande Valley Sports Hall of Fame. In July of 2016, Richard Avila was inducted into the Texas High School Coaches Association Hall of Honors. He joins his old coach, Earl Scott. You should see his ring.
I met Richard at an Islanders’ tip-off luncheon. We became instant friends, as he enjoyed reading one of my books. As kids, we both enjoyed Mickey Mantle as our favorite athlete. Getting next to Richard Avila makes you feel like you are close to a really dynamic person: someone special. The room just feels better with him in it. Richard Avila loves his family of five children and ten grandchildren, and he has enjoyed playing at life as much as he did football. He has been a real blessing in disguise for a lot of folks, including me.
There he stood on the sideline in his Brooks Brothers suit, matching tie, trademark fedora and the game-plan rolled up in his hand. “I’ve always dressed this way,” he later said. He appeared tall and thin like an old pay phone, but standing 6’ 2” tall and weighing 210 pounds he was bigger than he looked. There were whispers that he still lifted weights after practice. Most of his hair had departed, his jaw reminded me up a truck bumper, and he owned the bluest pair of eyes you have ever looked into. Cowboy blue, some said. He chewed gum on game day with intensity, but you’d never know it by looking. His voice was laced with Texas twang, and he spoke with a slight lisp when he was younger. He looked like someone had licked all the red off his candy. Dallas Cowboy fullback, Walt Garrison, was once asked if Tom Landry ever smiled. “I don’t know,” said Walt. “I only played there nine years.” Tom Landry claimed to have patterned his game day demeanor after golf sensation and fellow Texan, Ben Hogan. “Ben had this ability to block everything out and concentrate on the present,” said Landry.
It all started for Thomas Wade “Tom” Landry in the South Texas Rio Grande Valley. He was born in Mission, Texas, a town of less than 5,000 souls. The date was September 11, 1924. His father, Ray, was an auto mechanic and a volunteer fireman. Ray was also athletic and played football at Mission in 1917. Tom’s mother, Ruth, was a homemaker for four kids, Robert, Tommy, Ruthie and Jack. One of Tom’s earliest jobs was delivering newspapers. Shy beyond belief, as a child he was hit by a car and nearly lost his life. Landry grew up in a place where there was not a whole lot to look forward to. Mission High School in the 1930’s had less than 200 students enrolled. Besides football, Tom played basketball and ran on the track team. Tom initially started his football career at offensive center in high school before becoming a tailback, punter and defensive back. Tom was an “A” student, president of his class, and a member of the National Honor Society. He was also voted “Cutest Boy” in his senior class. He was just an ordinary kid, but very competitive on the field. The newspapers wrote that he played as if he were possessed and without fear. “If a guy caught a ball against me, I’d try to hit him so hard he wished he hadn’t. And nothing made me madder than to have someone catch a touchdown pass on me,” said Landry. Coach Bob Martin’s team played a “Notre Dame Box.” “It was a single-wing type offense,” explained Landry.
Tom Landry wore #88, scored more than two touchdowns per game from the tailback position and, as a punter; he averaged over 40 yards per kick, in his senior season. This was a time of no facemask, and no one had ever heard of professional football.
The 1940 Mission Eagles won the district 40A football title. It was a prelude to what was about to happen. In 1941, Mission proceeded to score 323 points on their way to a 12-0 record. Only Donna, Texas, their arch rivals, scored a touchdown in week six on the Mission defense. As luck would have it, the Redskin’s score came on a pass interference call in the Missions’ end zone, against Tom Landry. Instead of the officials placing the ball at the 1-yard line and, awarding a first down, they gave Donna a touchdown.
Mission beat Aransas Pass 19-0 in the Bi-District playoffs, before facing the Hondo Owls for the Class 1A Regional Championship. This game was played on December 13, 1941. Tom Landry rushed for three touchdowns and passed for a fourth, in a 33-0 blowout. Landry’s last rushing touchdown covered 63 yards. Landry was selected unanimously to the Rio Grande Valley Freedom Newspaper All-Millennium Team, as a defensive back. Tom was recruited by Texas, Rice, SMU and Mississippi State. He chose Texas and enrolled as a freshman the following year, but Tom Landry’s world was changing quickly. The Great Depression had ended and WW II lay dead ahead. Six days before the Class 1A Regional Championship game, the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor.
Like millions of other American boys, Tom’s older brother, Robert, enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps, after the attack on Pearl Harbor. While flying his B-17 over to England, Robert’s plane had gone down in the North Atlantic, somewhere near Iceland. In 1942, Tom immediately left the University of Texas and joined the Army Air Corps. He began his basic training at Sheppard Field near Wichita Falls, Texas, and finished his preflight training at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas. Tom received his B-17 co-pilot training in Sioux City, Iowa. He was assigned to the Eighth Air Force, 493rd Bombardment Group of the 860th Bombardment Squadron.
Tom Landry flew 30 missions during the European Theater and survived a crash in France when his plane ran out of gas. “All nine of us walked away,” said Landry. Another near-crash occurred while returning from a bombing run in Czechoslovakia. “The B-17 sounded as if it were running out of fuel over occupied Belgium,” Landry said. “We were weaving our way down, and the pilot decided it was time to jump, time to become a prisoner of war, an MIA. When I got out of my seat, I noticed the fuel mixture was bad, so I just shoved the lever forward and all four engines cut on again.” Mark Twain once wrote, “The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you found out why.”
“I began to think back on it; I knew God had a purpose for me,” said Landry. He was discharged as a first lieutenant in 1945 and returned to Austin to continue his studies and play football. Tom married Alicia Wiggs on January 28, 1949. His friends joked that she may have been the only one who could make him smile. They had three children together. In 1958, Tom Landry accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior.
I met Tom Landry once at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting in Dallas, Texas. When I went to shake his hand, I noticed my hand was shaking. He spoke with conviction about his faith and quoted Bible verses. The one thing he said that has remained with me all these years: “Losing requires you to do absolutely nothing.” He was talking about God, family and football.
Now, Mission High School is making plans to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of their 1941 unbeaten, untied and almost unscored-upon team. Somehow time just gets away from us. But legends never die. Landry lived his life in many chapters, but he was born into football and belonged there. If you were a football fan, he became part of your life because football was a part of your life. The Mission High School Football Stadium is now named Tom Landry Stadium.
Tom Landry left us on February 12, 2000, after battling leukemia. There is no argument; he was one of the best. Landry just had this aura about him. He was not an emotional speaker, but he spoke with sensitivity. He would open up in public and touch your heart. The real story of Tom Landry was that he was an even better person than he was a football coach, and that’s saying something.
Love Each Other
I have always wanted to write this story but be as it may, it always became a bit to emotional for me. You see, sometimes we can be too close to something. So close that it feels wonderful and hurts all at the same time. Oh, I tried and then all the memories rose up, my mind reeling, I would move on to something else, always intending to return. It’s been 33 years. Now that another season of NCAA basketball has started, I will try again to express my feelings. I was born and raised in Raleigh, N.C. and my Mother, Edith Purvis, worked at N.C. State in the bookstore and athletic department for over 25 years. She knew Jim Valvano well and made sure we did too. I can’t count how many games my brother and I attended at William Neal Reynolds Coliseum, the home court of the N.C. State Wolfpack.
When N.C. State coach Jim Valvano was asked how he planned to slow down the Houston Cougars at the 1983 Final Four, he responded, “We’re going to start guarding them when they get off their bus.” Jim Valvano was a one-man parade. He was an over-doer, an overachiever and an over-the-top kind of guy, but he was at his best as a basketball coach. Talking with Valvano gave you ammunition to go out and do whatever you set your mind on doing. “Don’t let anyone steal your dreams,” he once said. Until his bout with cancer, the only thing Jim had ever hurt was his stomach from laughing. Jim always talked about love. Love for the game, for his players, and his family. “Love means you can depend on me,” said Valvano. He just might have been what basketball is all about.
With a record of 25-10 and a coach who refused to give up, the Wolfpack prepared to play against the 31-2, Houston Cougars. It was April 4, 1983, in “The Pit” at the University of New Mexico. At halftime, N. C. State was up 33-25 with 50 million viewers tuned in. The world of college basketball was upside down. Surely Houston would respond. With the score 52-52 with 1:42 minutes left to play, Valvano called a timeout and instructed his team to foul freshman Alvin Franklin of the Cougars. Franklin missed and N. C. State rebounded the basketball. With 4 seconds left and Derek Whittenburg, wearing #25 and 30 feet away from the basket, put up a desperation shot. Whether Whittenburg actually shot the ball or attempted a pass to Lorenzo Charles standing underneath the basket, it will be debated until the end of time. The only guy who moved in the building was Lorenzo Charles who grabbed the ball out of midair and dunked it as time ran out. Madness, upset city, it’s a miracle, Cinderella was for real, team of destiny, it may never happen again, every sports page and magazine in the nation led with the impossible: N.C. State 54-Houston 52. Sometimes we wish that time would stand still. Life unlike a snapshot is a gathering of fleeting moments in time. That was such a happy time for me, my brother Cliff, my family and millions of N.C. State fans.
If you have not watched the ESPN 30-For-30 Special about this amazing run by Jim Valvano and his Wolfpack of N.C. State, please do. Valvano taught his kids to dream. Valvano’s March 4, 1993 ESPY speech, “Don’t Give Up. Don’t Ever Give Up,” will live forever. God truly gave him words that night to give to us. Since 1993, nearly 200 million dollars has been raised to help fight cancer through the Jimmy V. Foundation.
A lot of laughter left the game when Jim Valvano died. Cancer finally dunked on Jimmy V. with no time remaining, on April, 28, 1993. My dad, Gordon Purvis died of cancer one year after Jimmy in July of 1984. My mother and brother have also left me behind. Valvano’s real message had always been the same as my parents, about love. Love each other.
In the Dugout with Dennis & Andy
Dennis Quinn and I have been talking sports on the air waves of Corpus Christi together for twenty-one years. We named our show Dennis & Andy’s Q & A Session because we not only wanted to bring the public great interviews, but we are storytellers by nature and we enjoy educating our listeners about the history of the game. Therefore, when you listen to us, you’re in the Session. We have also been blessed to have met and spoken to so many of our heroes from the past, so we find it important to honor them when they leave us. You will recognize the opening music of our shows as the “William Tell Overture” or the theme music from the Lone Ranger, one of our favorite television shows growing up. And we always close with the music from the Jackie Gleason Show as one of us will say, “How Sweet It Is!” I would like to thank SportsRadioCC 1230 KSIX for our time this past year. I would also like to thank Henry Hernandez who sat in for either Dennis or me, as we traveled to acquire interviews. We have had a blast while taking our listeners up front and center with some of the finest athletes and greatest coaches and broadcasters in the world of sports. This year alone, we have had a total of 43 one-on-one interviews with 34 different stars, in the span of 52 weeks. The list is long and varied but ties closely to our first love, baseball. Having the Corpus Christi Hooks in town and a long-standing relationship with the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers has made our jobs easier.
The year 2016 started off fast with a former pitcher for the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox, Gary Bell. A fine interview with Calallen High School baseball coach, Steve Chapman, rounded out the month of January. February would bring our yearly interview with former Buffalo Bills’ linebacker, Shane Nelson, about the Super Bowl. The Astros’ Caravan would provide us interviews with Astros’ pitcher, Mike Fiers, and outfielder, Preston Tucker. We also paid tribute to the loss of our friend, Ernie Banks, and aired an older interview from the 2004 All-Star Game. The South Texas Winter Banquet provided us time with Astros’ General Manager Reid Ryan, Texas Rangers’ radio sportscaster, Matt Hicks, and Arizona Diamondbacks’ pitcher from Sinton, TX, Anthony Banda. We finished up the month of March when we caught up with Dave Clark, who is now the third base coach of the Detroit Tigers and Delino DeShields, Jr., outfielder for the Texas Rangers. With three trips to Houston and one to Boston, during the year, my partner Dennis Quinn led the league in Astros information. In April we spoke with Jose Altuve and George Springer, as the Astros looked to be “for real” this year. We were also entertained by TX A&M Corpus Christi baseball coach, Scott Malone, the “Rocket” Roger Clemens, and Astros catcher, Evan Gattis. The month of May got even better as Dennis returned from Boston with an interview with David “Big Popi” Ortiz, in his final season. Texas legend, Nolan Ryan, also joined the show. We spoke with 2015 Rookie of the Year, Carlos Correa; retired College Football Hall of Fame official, Dotson Lewis; Tennis coach, Steve Moore; and Basketball coach, Mark Dannhoff in June.
In July, Dennis traveled to Houston for the second time. You heard interviews with Astros’ pitcher Lance McCullers; outfielder, Colby Rasmus; first baseman, Tyler White; and Astros’ owner, Jim Crane. Dennis and I also paid tribute to Angelo Dundee, as we aired previous interviews with the legendary boxing trainer. In August, Dennis brought back interviews with Astros’ stars, Chris Devinski and Evan Gattis, along with follow-up interviews with Jose Altuve, George Springer, Dallas Keuchel and Carlos Correa. We couldn’t keep George Springer away. I also interviewed Alex Bregman, the Astros future star at third base. In September we dedicated the month to Milo Hamilton by having his son, Mark, back on with us. It was a very emotional show and the callers flooded the phone lines. Gary Bell returned in October as his Indians made the World Series for the first time since 1997. November would find us slowing down as the World Series ended with the Chicago Cubs on top for the first time in 108 years, while football and basketball became front and center on the sports radar. We managed to snag a great interview with Texas high schools’ all-time winningest football coach, Phil Danaher (428 and counting), and Juan Castillo, the offensive line coach for the Baltimore Ravens. We finished strong in December with our NASCAR expert, Bob Doty and former NY Mets manager Bobby Valentine. You can always find our show dates and times in the radio section of the Caller Times sports page. We are usually on Thursday nights from 6-7 PM, but occasionally moved to Tuesdays, same time. The number to call if we hit a nerve is 361-884-1230. If you missed our shows and would like to listen, please visit www.purvisbooks.com and press podcasts in the menu section. There are nearly 200 hours of radio interviews. Thanks for listening.
P.S. Thanks to all of you who voted us a Readers Choice Award in the Caller Times Best of the Best contest.
KSIX SportsradioCC 1230 AM
He's Coming Back
Winston Churchill once said “The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you will see.” After his first step on a football field, he knew he was home. He is a man with a deep sense of right and wrong, and giving up a screen pass for fifteen yards is just wrong. He has built a football family, and family always makes you feel like you’re part of something much bigger than yourself. His teams run the football with heart, and their offensive sets are as confusing as Andy Rooney’s eyebrows. On defense, his kids hit you so hard they knock the sound out of you and put you on mute. He wanted characters with great character on his team and, during practice; he could run the tongue out of your mouth. And they win; win like they had invented the game.
When you played Calallen High School in football, you added prayer to your list of things to do. On November 3, 2016, Calallen stuffed the Flour Bluff Hornets, 31-7, in the District 30-5A Championship Game, giving Danaher his 427th win. With 427 wins in his pocket, he’s now the winningest football coach in Texas High School history. This guy has had more Gatorade baths than anyone in the state. No one wants to talk to him about another coach; they want to talk about Phil Danaher. Coach Danaher understands that sometimes what you know can be the enemy of what you can learn. He knows that success doesn’t come from doing 4,000 different things. It comes from doing five or six things, 4,000 times. They say a legend is a person who connects with those he has never met. Let me introduce you to a legend, Coach Phil Danaher.
Philip C. Danaher was born November 23, 1948, in Saint Joseph, Missouri. Phil moved shortly afterwards with his family to South Texas, where he would play four different sports at Harlingen High School. He had lost his father in a car wreck and turned to his coaches for guidance. Coach Carl Spoonemore guided Phil as a father figure and saw that Phil went to college at Angelo State University, on a football scholarship. Phil was named the MVP of his high school football team two years in a row, at the quarterback position.
After graduation, Danaher married his college sweetheart, Anita, and began to move through the coaching ranks starting at Dilly High School in 1974. Four years later, he left Dilly for Hamshire-Fannett High School. When Danaher arrived at Calallen High school in 1984, they had not reached the playoffs in 29 years. That was all about to change. The Wildcats have now appeared in a record 32 consecutive playoffs. Along the way, Calallen has reached the state finals twice and the semi-finals nine times. Age teaches us that winning isn’t everything, but it sure is fun. The best news is that he’s coming back.
I am proud of you, Coach, and your kids. If I could give your team a pep talk, it would go like this. “One of the most important traits in life is to endure. Things are not going to go your way all the time. That doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong path or not doing the right things. Everything we do depends on others and, with that idea, the potential for distraction and the stubbing of one’s toe is great. You have to believe in yourself and endure.
He was quiet, subdued, looked calm and reserved, but there was something in his demeanor that I just couldn’t put my finger on. I spent the next 14 minutes interviewing a Corpus Christi legend at the 2017 South Texas Winter Baseball Banquet, hosted by our very own Corpus Christi Hooks Baseball Club. This fellow was actually the first recipient of the Banquet’s Lifetime Achievement Award, 12 years ago. This year he was to be the featured speaker. He knows what he’s talking about as he has spent over 60 years in the game he loves, baseball.
“The first batter I faced in the Major Leagues was Lou Brock and I struck him out. A couple of innings later, Joe Torre hit my knuckle curve for a home run and I thought to myself, ‘nobody’s ever done that, these guys must be pretty good,’” laughed Burt Hooton.
Burt Carlton “Happy” Hooton was born on February 7, 1950. Burt was born in Greenville, Texas, but grew up here in Corpus Christi. I had heard that Burt received his nickname, “Happy,” from Tommy Lasorda. “It’s true,” said Burt. “I wasn’t an outgoing kind of guy, but I am happy, I just don’t show it much.” From the mound, Hooton, a right-handed pitcher, led the King High School Mustangs to the 1967 4-A Texas State Championship. Burt won 15 games while losing only once and no-hit Houston Lee, 2-0. It was his third no-hit game of the season. In 1968, Burt was drafted by the New York Mets, but chose to join Cliff Gustafson, at the University of Texas.
Hooten recorded a 35-3 win-loss record as a Longhorn and helped the Horns win three consecutive Southwest Conference Championships from 1969-71. Texas played in two College World Series, and Hooton continues to own the best earned-run average of any Longhorn pitcher, with a 1.14 ERA. Burt also set the Longhorn record for single game strikeouts, with 19, when he no-hit Texas Tech, in 1971. He pitched a second no-hitter within a week of the first. He was chosen a three-time Southwest All-Conference player and the teams MVP, in 1971.
In 1971, Burt was taken by the Chicago Cubs and made his Major League debut on June 17, of that year. On the cold, damp, afternoon of April 17, 1972, Burt Hooton threw a no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field. “I didn’t have a clue in the bullpen while warming up before the game,” said Burt. He would pitch for 15 seasons in the big leagues, appearing in 480 games, while starting 377 times. Hooton spent four years with the Cubs (1971-75), ten years with the Los Angeles Dodgers (1975-84), and his last year with the Texas Rangers (1985). He threw 86 complete games, unheard of in today’s game, and shutout his opponent in 29 games. Burt compiled a Major League record of 151-136, with seven saves and 11.94 strikeouts per game. His career strikeout total stands at 1,491.
One of my questions took Burt back to his childhood. “From the age of 11, I remember a guy by the name of Dooley Wilkins picking me and the neighborhood kids up to play baseball,” said Hooton. “He had bats and balls and gloves in his car. I remember he had white hair, a white mustache, wore horned rimmed glasses, and owned a bakery on Ayers. I was the first one he picked up so I got the best glove. I still remember his laugh. He made it fun. We would go by the bakery after practice. I was the last kid he dropped off, so I always went home with several fingers full of doughnuts. I learned how to throw the knuckle curve when I was 14,” said Hooton.
Burt Hooten has a mantle full of trophies but you would never know it. He was inducted into the Longhorn Hall of Honor in 1981. He entered the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998 and the College Baseball Hall of Fame on March 5, 2008. In 2009, his #20 was retired by the Longhorns. Burt was chosen an All-Star in 1981 and won the MVP Award in the 1981 National League Championship Series against the Montreal Expos. Burt also owns a World Series Ring from the 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers.
By the end of the interview I had figured out Mr. Hooton secret. How refreshing. He never took himself seriously. He never thought he would make a career out of baseball. “You mean someone might pay me to do this?” asked Burt. Yes Burt, you earned it.
KSIX SportsradioCC 1230 AM
He’s all Texan, one hundred percent pure beef, no fillers. His unmistakable canyon-deep, southwestern drawl permeates the room just like his old ball coach, Darrell Royal. His words come with lots of “you knows” included and his favorite colors are burnt orange and white. You get the feeling you’re talking to Will Rogers. I could spend days listening to him talk, telling stories of UT football during a time when being a Longhorn meant being on top of the world of college football. And not to be mistaken, he can talk with the best of them. He was born into a tough, no-nonsense family, a football family. Heck, he even called his own father “Iron Mike.” He was a scraper; the kind of player whose uniform was dirty by the end of the National Anthem. You get the feeling that when he was growing up, he had to scrimmage to get something to eat. I spent an afternoon having lunch with him and several close friends. His eyes widened, his voice got lower and his hands began to move, when asked about playing football at the University of Texas. His stories are gifts, and you could tell he had repeated them many times. When I use the word “legend” to describe him, he laughs.
His name is Tom Campbell and he owns a football heart. Tom and his twin brother, Mike, walked on as freshmen. As a kid he had always been told that he was too light, too short, and not fast enough or mean enough; yet, not only did he make the team, and eventually start, but his name will always be linked to Texas Football, as well as to Cotton Bowl history. Tom just loved the game and was willing to do whatever it took to get better. That’s a football heart. “Initially, I was just happy I made the team,” said Campbell. Standing 5’ 11” tall and never weighing more than 183 pounds, even with rocks in his pockets, Tom was listed as a linebacker-defensive back and was given the #84.
It seemed that Tom Campbell had a knack for stealing footballs out of mid-air. Campbell made a name for himself in both the 1969 and 1970 Cotton Bowls. As a junior, he helped a (9-1-1) Texas team destroy a fine Tennessee team, 36-13, in the 1969 game. Campbell was named the game’s Outstanding Defensive Player after recording two tackles, two interceptions and breaking up four passes. Texas would finish that year ranked third in the nation. In 1969, Tom Campbell was chosen the Southwest Conference (SWC) Defensive Back of the Year.
Tom outdid himself in the 1970 Cotton Bowl by intercepting the last pass of the game, thrown by Joe Theismann, the quarterback of Notre Dame. Campbell’s interception with 38 seconds to play helped preserve the Longhorns’ victory, 21-17; and although bowl games, at that time, had little to no impact on the crowning of a national champion, the win helped seal the National Championship for an undefeated (11-0) Texas team. Tom also posted six tackles during that game.
Interestingly, the 1970 Cotton Bowl came on the heels of the #1 Texas Longhorns versus #2 Arkansas Razorbacks game which was played in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on December 6, 1969. The world of college football celebrated its 100 year, in 1969. This game would become known as the “Game of the Century.” Again, Tom Campbell made a game-saving interception to secure a 15-14, come-from-behind win, for the Longhorns. This victory gave Texas the SWC title and the National Championship.
Tom Campbell finished his career with 13 interceptions. The 1969, Texas versus Arkansas football game became the first televised college-football championship game. It was also the last championship game to be played with only white players. U.S. President Richard Nixon became the first sitting President to attend a college football championship game.
Tom was inducted into the Longhorn Hall of Honor, in 2006. On April, 19, 2012, at Cowboy Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Tom Campbell was also inducted into the Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame.
Campbell now lives in Austin and is in business for himself. He has recently been a consultant on a new movie entitled My All American. This is the story of a teammate, Freddie Steinmark, who played with bone cancer and then had his leg amputated six days after the Arkansas game. Steinmark died two years later, on June 6, 1971. “This is really a story about football and life,” said Campbell. “Forty-seven years later, the game is still alive. It just doesn’t go away.” Check it out.
He’s a Christmas Eve kind of guy; there are people like that…every day is Christmas Eve. This man was born into coaching and belongs there. Listening to him speak I could hear the tennis shoes squeak and feel the ball bounce on the hardwood, in his words. He’s a smart guy, well educated and owns intelligence. He understands that the hardest part of college sports is what happens between the ears. You have to bring your body and your mind, every day to the classroom and gym. In life, there is nothing but possibilities. To be a great student, you have to appreciate and find happiness in the sacrifice and embrace the grind of studying. His job requires him to keep these kids active in class, keep them eligible on the floor, and help them attain the grand prize, a degree. He understands that you can never forget the value of time. This guy may have the toughest coaching job in the business of sports. Why? Because the kids love their chosen sport but not always the academics. Education is not about what you’ve done; it’s about what you’re going to do.
One of the very first high-profile head coaches to create a job to help keep his players eligible worked right up the road in Austin, Texas. His name was Darrell Royal and he called this coach his “Brain Coach.” I call him Coach Will Chapman. Stereotyping people and having even the slightest degree of prejudice will result in your missing out on so many great people during your journey. “The most important thing I can do to be successful is to value the relationships with the players and the staff members,” said Chapman.
Will Chapman was born August 23, 1989, in San Antonio, Texas, into a fine Christian family. Will is the oldest of three boys and remembers spending quality time reading his Bible and going with his family to San Antonio Spurs games. “How can you not like the Spurs?” asked Will. Chapman played point guard and shooting guard at San Antonio Clark High School. Tim Duncan was his favorite player. His hobbies include working out, reading and collecting sports books on coaching basketball. Will’s grandpa was a coach. Chapman’s goal is to become an NBA coach.
Chapman joined the Eagles of Oklahoma Christian University and played basketball two years before joining the coaching staff. Will served as the program assistant before being promoted to graduate assistant. He received his degree in Interdisciplinary Studies in May of 2012, and then completed his master’s degree in Sports Administration at East Central University in July of 2013. Before joining Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Will served as an assistant coach at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford, Oklahoma. During the 2013-14 season, Chapman helped lead the Bulldogs to a second-place finish in the Great American Conference. Chapman met Islanders’ assistant basketball coach, Mark Dannhoff, on a recruiting trip to St. Louis. The Islanders had an opening. It was meant to be. Will Chapman joined the Islanders Athletics department in the fall of 2014. He serves as the department’s Scholastic Coordinator for Men’s Basketball. He oversees all academic aspects and reports to the university’s Athletic Academic Services. Chapman also helps as a video coordinator. In his first full season, every player Chapman inherited (4) has gotten their degree.
In the summer of 2015, Will joined a group of “Athletes In Action” as an assistant coach. This group of ten guys from Division I programs toured Germany, Poland and Belarus. For more than two weeks, they played basketball and spread the word of God. The head coach was Roger Powell and some of the players included Ishmael Wainwright of Baylor, David Bell of Ohio State, and Eric McClellan and Ryan Edwards of Gonzaga. They finished their tour with five wins and zero losses. “It was the best decision I ever made,” said Chapman.
Simon Sinek once wrote, “Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.” I can’t think of a better guy than Will Chapman to look after our kids at Texas A&M Corpus Christi.
Heart of the Order
George Bronner once wrote, “Be strong. You never know who you are inspiring.” It’s no secret that I wanted to be a baseball broadcaster when I was younger. I loved listening to baseball on the radio. Oh, I could catch and throw, but I found out early on that I couldn’t hit the curveball. Besides, I don’t think I could learn all those different handshakes. Nevertheless, I fell asleep many summer nights to the voices of Mel Allen, Red Barber and Chuck Thompson on my transistor radio. Now I listen to our local guy, Michael Coffin, on KKTX 1360 AM. I imagine him stretched out in a field of grass, one arm under his head, thinking about the game. To refer to baseball as just another game is like saying the Grand Canyon is just another ditch. Baseball fills a need for belonging. It’s like being young again. How can you not like baseball?
Coffin is so cheerful, he could call play-by-play on a kamikaze flight. You get the feeling he could call baseball games in his sleep. Umpire Doug Harvey once said, “When I’m right, no one remembers. When I’m wrong, no one forgets.” The same could be said for baseball broadcasters. Calling play-by-play requires that you have the eyesight of a bald eagle. Michael may be undefeated in a staring contest. Coffin’s glass is always half full. He is so positive that when talking to him, you get the feeling he still believes in the tooth fairy. Listening to Michael Coffin call a Corpus Christi Hooks’ game provides excitement in your chest. Confucius once said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Michael and I agree. Coffin didn’t just drink the Kool-Aid, he went back for seconds. While listening to Coffin, you can hear the anticipation and feel the possibilities of the game. It’s as if he is speaking to you personality. Even though Coffin doesn’t take his turn at bat, he’s never turned a double play or dropped a curve off the table; but as far as I’m concerned, Michael Coffin is the heart of the order when it comes to Hooks’ baseball.
Michael Coffin was born in Orange, Texas. At 32, he’s married to the love of his life, Miranda, who is expecting their first child in November. “My first love was high school football,” said Michael, “That’s how my parents got me to do homework. I couldn’t go to the game until I did my homework.” Michael became the public address announcer for his high school baseball and basketball teams. “I just learned on the job,” said Michael. In May of 2006, Michael graduated from Sam Houston State University with a degree in Radio and Television. He wrote stories for the Huntsville Item and was invited to do an internship during the summer of 2006, with Milo Hamilton and the Houston Astros. “I skipped my graduation ceremony to work an Astros - Rockies game,” laughed Michael. “My mother could have killed me.”
Coffin joined the Hooks in 2007 and by 2010, found himself on air with Matt Hicks. Coffin took over for Hicks in 2012, when Matt left for the Rangers. Michael now works alongside Kevin Piel and Gene Kasprzyk. Besides handling play-by-play for the Hooks, Michael works on the team website and produces the Game Notes for the Hooks. He also handles the public address job of the Texas A&M Corpus Christi Islanders’ men’s and women’s basketball teams, and works the CCISD Game of the Week in high school football for KCCT 1150 AM. Michael Coffin is a fine broadcaster; his nickname should be “Mr. Automatic.” As a baseball broadcaster, Michael is not in love with instant replay and not much of a fan of the designated hitter (DH).
When I asked Michael where he wanted all this to go, he answered. “I wanted a craft that I could spend my life in, being the best I can be. Ryan-Sanders Baseball has been terrific to me. My life has gotten better each year. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere but right where I am.”
Recently, Coffin was asked by the Astros to sit in for Alan Ashby on Astros’ radio because Ashby had laryngitis. Coffin joined Steve Sparks in St. Louis for two games against the Cardinals. “I have been fortunate in how many doors have opened for me,” said Coffin.
If you find yourself unable to attend a Hooks’ game, no worries, just set the dial on 1360 AM and break the knob off. Enjoy my pal, Michael Coffin.
Stepping Up To the Plate
There is an old story about a doctor who asked a young fellow what he dreamed about at night. The young boy answered, “Playing baseball.” The doctor then asked, “Don’t you ever dream about anything else?” “Of course not,” said the young boy; “if I did, I would miss my turn at bat.” A young boy like the one described above is retired now, living on the Island here with us, but his fire still burns for the game of baseball. Very few of us play at the Major League level, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still love it. There is nothing about the game of baseball that he doesn’t like. Everybody is just a kid from somewhere and, growing up in Elizabeth, New Jersey, he spent as much time as possible at Ebbets Field, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers. As a member of the Knothole Gang, once his hero, Duke Snider, got into his heart, he never got out.
He is the kind of guy who looks you in the eyes and connects. The word “grit” always fit him better than his uniform, and he is so funny, he can make your pets laugh. Handing this guy a baseball bat was like giving George Patton a tank; something unbelievable was going to happen. Some said he could spot talent from a moving car and that his jump shot was illegal in three states. For many kids, Pat Dwyer became the Irish Robin Hood with a trunk full of baseball equipment. Somebody had to step up to the plate.
Bernard Patrick Dwyer was born January 7, 1942. “When I was a kid, I didn’t play baseball. A police officer by the name of Eddie Gray asked if I wanted to play baseball. When I told him I didn’t have a glove, he left, and then later returned with an old, used Wilson glove. That’s when I fell in love with the game.” Little did Pat know at that time the influence Officer Gray’s gift would have on his future. Baseball in the summer and basketball in the winter took up most of his time. Pat told me, “I was a better basketball player than baseball player in high school, but baseball was my first love. ‘Hubie’ Brown was my first basketball coach. I was always the first one to arrive at the playground.” While in high school, Pat played with and against future NBA Hall-of-Famer, Rick Barry. They played against each other during the season and with each other on local, all-star tournament teams. “I always held him to 40 or 50 points,” laughed Pat. Many years later, when Rick Barry joined the Houston Rockets, Pat took his son, Bernie, to meet Barry and get his autograph. “When we met, I told Bernie in jest, that this is the guy I used to outscore in high school,” said Pat. After a pause, Rick responded, “That may be true, but ask your father how much money he makes now and then I will tell you how much I make.”
Pat received several offers to play ball in college but, tired of school, he joined the Army. He enlisted in 1962 for two years and ended up in Germany. Before being shipped out to Germany he was sent to Fort Polk, Louisiana. It was there that Pat met Lois, his future wife. In 1964, when he returned to the States, he married Lois and went to work for Anheuser-Busch in Newark, New Jersey. In 1970, he was transferred to Houston, Texas. There he played softball and basketball for the Budweiser teams, while continuing his education at San Jacinto Junior College. He didn’t like crunching numbers as much he did crunching fastballs.
Pat met Houston Astros’ scouting director, Dan O’Brien, in 1990. “He hired me to scout the four counties in and around Houston,” said Dwyer. Pat would spend the next 20 years sitting on wooden seats behind chicken wire, in out-of-the-way towns, for gas money and a pat on the back, looking for the next Nolan Ryan or Reggie Jackson.
Pastor, John Maxwell once wrote, “Greatness is by what we give, not what we receive.” Maxwell may have been talking about guys like Pat Dwyer. In 1994, Pat Dwyer became the brainchild of the RBI Program in Houston, Texas. RBI stands for Recycled Baseball Items. The idea was to collect old or used baseball equipment for underprivileged kids who could not afford their own equipment to play the game. “I started recycling old baseball gloves and used equipment in my barn, on a ranch located in Alvin, Texas,” said Pat. It was reported in 2015 that 35,000 kids around the Houston area and Central America have received equipment from this program, along with personal instruction from current and former professional ballplayers like Larry Dierker, Enos Cabell, Mike Hampton and Bob Aspromonte. In fact, it was Enos Cabell who asked Pat to bring his program to Houston. Pat, Bernie, and John Nash once delivered enough uniforms and equipment for 26 teams, to Guatemala, after hurricane Mitch destroyed their ball fields.
The recently departed Milo Hamilton always MC’d his fundraisers and asked Pat to sit with him in the booth during game night, on several occasions. “For a guy who talks a lot, I was in awe and speechless,” said Pat. For the kids, the RBI program has been the greatest thing since the invention of penicillin. The RBI program still continues today in the hands of Pat’s most trusted friend, John Nash.
Pat has been an avid memorabilia collector in the past, but sold off most of his collection to raise funds for the RBI program. He still has a signed photo of Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider-- his most prized possession. The person he would most like to meet would be “Babe” Ruth and the most famous person Pat has ever met was President John F. Kennedy. Pat and Lois have reared three children: Bernie, Colleen and Michele.
Pat Dwyer, a fine Christian man, has strolled through life like he was holding the winning lottery ticket. I am reminded of what writer Joseph Campbell once said, “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” The RBI program has been Pat’s way of giving back, his way of saying thanks to Officer Gray. I’m proud to call him a friend.
A Shooting Star
Former Hall-of-Fame broadcaster, “Red” Barber, used to say, “He’s tearing up the pea patch,” when speaking about shortstop “Pee Wee” Reese of the Brooklyn Dodgers. I could say the same thing about this guy. He has a smell for the baseball that very few players have. This fellow was in high school when he discovered his arm was a weapon. Strong and accurate, he could throw screamers across the diamond. The guy is so active he wears out the dirt between second and third. At the plate he owns the timing of a Swiss watch and the power of a lumberjack. This kid hits baseballs like Mike Tyson hits chins. Pitchers in the Texas League are learning that if you throw it in the wrong place, you’re going to need another baseball.
There was a time when shortstops were actually short. Players with the names like Luke Appling, Phil Rizzuto and “Nellie” Fox were some of the best at shortstop and flashing the leather. Then along came Luis Aparicio, Ozzie Smith and Omar Vizquel, taller but still under six feet. But players at the shortstop position continued to grow and I mean grow. Cal Ripken Jr., Alex Rodriquez and Derek Jeter all topped out at 6’ 3” or taller. With the additional height came power and the ball began to leave the ball yards regularly. Now shortstops Carlos Correa, Didi Gregorius and Corey Seager all stand 6’ 4” tall.
Regardless of his height, you can add the name Alex Bregman to the “Coming Soon” list to a Major League team near you. Alex currently stands a bit over 6’ 1” but is still growing. He’s faster than electricity, quicker than Ali, and what he lacks in height he makes up for with raw power. Alex puts up head shaking good numbers. He could end up leading the league in home runs and pitchers’ nightmares.
The question becomes, with Correa at shortstop, will the Astros move Bregman to third? Correa has already implied that he would rather stay at shortstop, but my thoughts are that as Carlos matures and his body fills out, he will lose some of his quickness and would make a better third baseman. Bregman’s bat is so valuable, the Astros will find a way to fit him in the lineup or, I dare I say, trade him. Stay tuned.
Alexander David Bregman was born on March 30, 1994, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Alex graduated from Albuquerque Academy. He was originally drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 29th round of the 2012 MLB June Amateur Draft. He decided to sign with LSU. As a junior, he hit .323 with 29 doubles, nine home runs and recorded 49 RBI’s, while starting all 66 games at shortstop for the Tigers. His 38 stolen bases led the SEC and were second-most in school history. During his senior year, Alex was named First-Team All American, Golden Spikes Award Finalist, First-Team All-SEC, First-Team SEC All-Defensive Team, and Louisiana Player of the Year. Bregman finished his collegiate career by hitting .538 in the College World Series.
In June of 2015, at the young age of 22, Alex Bregman was drafted as the second over-all pick out of LSU, by the Houston Astros. Alex hit .294 with 13 doubles, four triples, four home runs, 34 RBI’s and 13 stolen bases in 66 games between Quad Cities and Lancaster, before being sent to the Corpus Christi Hooks, the Class AA team of the Astros.
The Hooks opened their 12th season at home, at Whataburger Field on Thursday, April 7, 2016, against the Tulsa Drillers, the Class AA affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Alex simply did what he has always done on the diamond; he made a difference. Greatness is personal; it comes from within.
Corpus Christi already loves the kid.
On April 19, 2016, Alex Bregman was voted Texas League Player of the Week. Alex led the entire league in five categories. He has recorded a hit in all eleven games played so far. He entered Tuesday, April 19, batting .395, while having scored ten runs, on one double, five home runs and recorded 14 RBI’s. Alex has walked six times with three strikeouts in 43 at-bats. He hit a walk-off homer against Springfield on April 11, and a grand slam on Friday, April 15, in Tulsa. The Hooks have won eight of their first eleven games. Alex Bregman is #2 on your scorecard and #1 in your heart. A shooting star, his future looks so bright it hurts my eyes. Enjoy him while you can. He could be called up by June.
A Family Affair
On April 7-10, The Master’s will take center stage in the world of sports. This year will be the 80 edition of golf’s greatest tournament. The Master’s Golf Course located in Augusta, Georgia, is the first of professional golf’s four major championships and has the smallest field of the four tournaments.
It’s true that great golf has been played by golfers of all shapes and sizes. However, very tall golfers are a rarity. Theoretically, height should give a golfer the advantage of a bigger swing arc, but timing and control become more difficult. The two most successful golfers in the world are Jack Nicklaus (5’10”) and Tiger Woods (6’1”). Historically, equipment for very tall golfers was hard to come by and their clubs had to be adapted for their height. The following is a short list of some great tall golfers: George Archer and George Bayer were both 6’5” inches tall; Bob Tway, Nick Faldo, Tom Weiskopt and Davie Love, III, all stood around 6’3” inches tall.
Our very own, Phil Blackmar, is a nice guy, funny to a fault, tanned, and also a very tall drink of water. Standing 6’ 7” inches tall, he can see a little further down the fairway than most. He was the tallest professional golfer in history until 2005, when a fellow by the name of Craig Smith, who is 6’8” inches tall, showed up on the Asian Tour. Although Smith is nicknamed “The Giant” it remains to be seen if he can join the ranks of successful, extremely tall pros. Phil played on the PGA Tour from 1985 until 2000, winning three tournaments: the 1985 Canon Sammy Davis Jr.-Greater Hartford Open, the 1988 Provident Classis, and the 1997 Shell Houston Open. In 2000, Phil left the tour to become an analyst and commentator for both USA and ESPN.
In 2007, as Phil turned 50 years of age, he joined the Champions Tour, where he again won at the 2009 AT&T Championship in San Antonio, Texas. Now you can see him on the Golf Channel instructional shows with Jim Flick. Phil has also been hired as the assistant coach of the Texas A&M Islanders Women’s Golf team, coached by none other than his wife, Carol Blackmar. Phil and Carol have four adult children and one grandchild, which include their son, Mark Blackmar, who pitches in the Minor League system for the Chicago White Sox.
Philip Arnold “Phil” Blackmar was born on September 22, 1957, in San Diego, California, but, as the old saying goes, he got here “as” fast as he could. Phil played terrific golf for the University of Texas and was a three-time All-Southwest Conference selection. Blackmar graduated in 1979 with a degree in finance and turned pro in 1980. For the next several years, Phil played on several mini-tours until he earned his PGA Tour card in 1985. Phil did win the 1983 Missouri Open. As for The Master’s, Phil’s best finish came in 1998 as he tied for 33 place. His best finish in a Major event was a tie for 6 place in the 1997 PGA Championship. Phil has posted seven top-ten finishes in his Champions Tour career.
How many of us get to actually grow up in a family of athletes? I would say, not many. You have now been introduced to the Blackmars of Corpus Christi. It’s quite a family.
Courtside with Coach D
There we sat courtside at an Islanders’ men’s basketball game. My new friend’s name was Richard. He had driven from Wisconsin with his wife Mary to watch their oldest son Mark. No, Mark wasn’t playing; he was one of the assistant coaches of the Islanders’ men’s basketball team. They had been making trips south for many years. On this night, Mark Dannhoff, “Coach D,” would help lead the Islanders to another victory, one of twenty that they would win that season. Mark, the first of three boys, was born on September, 7, 1967. His two younger brothers are named Darren and Steve. While in high school, Mark also played shortstop, catcher and second base on the baseball team. “I wanted to play professional baseball until I got hit in the face,” said Mark. His childhood heroes included Walter Payton, Cal Ripken, Jr., and Michael Jordan. “Back then, the game was still all about team,” said Dannhoff. Mark started and starred for La-Crosse Central High School basketball team at the guard position. He was one of the major contributors to leading the team to the state championships, only to lose in the semi-finals. He continued playing basketball at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and lettered as a freshman until an ankle injury ended his career, prior to his sophomore season.
Mark was never a big fan of professional basketball and preferred college from the beginning. He is a mild-mannered, smart guy with a Master’s degree, yet he finds himself using phrases like “pick and roll,” “ball screens,” “posting up” and “baseline defense.” Very few of us find the job that we fit in the best. “Coaching basketball for life is all I ever want to do,” said Dannhoff. Mark wants to be a head coach again, and he should be. He became an assistant at his alma mater (Wisconsin-La Crosse) at age 20; and two years later, he was hired as the head coach of Northland Community College. “I took the job as head coach,” said Mark, “because my college coach said to me, ‘One day you’re going to want to be a head coach and they’re going to say, but you’ve never called a timeout.’” His task, rebuild the program. “There were no scholarships available, so I had to give everyone a tryout,” said Mark. “I was learning on the job. I wish I knew then what I know now.” Not only did he turn the program into a winner, but they won their conference championship in his fourth year.
The long story, short is that Mark Dannhoff has coached 26 years for many different Division I programs all across the South: from Georgia State, Mercer, Tulane, University of New Orleans, and Pan American, Mark has coached more than 46 future professional basketball players along with two NBA players. You may remember Linton Johnson who played with the San Antonio Spurs and the New Jersey Nets. I’m sure Mark will be given the opportunity to be a Division I head coach one day. There have been many fine things said about Mark by some of the best coaches in the country: Roy Williams, “Wimp” Sanderson, Tony Bennett and Bo Ryan, to name a few.
Two years ago, Mark Dannhoff, under the leadership of Head Coach Willis Wilson, helped guide the Islanders to their first-ever post-season win against Northern Colorado in the Collegeinsider.com Tournament (CIT). Last year, the team participated in their second consecutive CIT where they beat Florida Gulf Coast, but then lost at home to Kent State. “We should compete for a Southland Conference Championship this year,” said Coach Dannhoff. “I think you will see more balanced scoring and a better example of sharing the basketball.” I asked coach what was his favorite coaching philosophy? “You’re only good if someone else says you’re good,” he said. Coach D is not a collector and has only one autographed item: a picture of Michael Jordan hitting the winning shot against Georgetown in the NCAA Finals. The person Mark would most like to meet, if it were possible, is the departed John Wooden.
We spoke a lot about recruiting. “The hardest part is the time spent in doing the job right and how to convince a kid to go to a school where he fits in the best. Everybody can’t play at Duke, Kentucky or Wisconsin,” said Coach Dannhoff.
During his down time, you can find Mark hanging out near the ocean. He loves the water, fishing, jogging and playing golf. When he has something heavy on his mind he returns to a safe place, where he feels the most comfortable, shooting baskets in the gym. Mark Dannhoff has been a good friend. Not only do we share our enjoyment for the game of college basketball, but he has always taken his time to honor me with his presence at weekly lunches and during my book-signing events. He recently spoke at a potluck dinner held at my church, Island Presbyterian, here on the Island.
To find out more about Coach Mark Dannhoff’s basketball teachings and philosophies, check out his website at coachdallaccess.com. Go Islanders!
Diamond In The Rough
As a kid he would rather spend his time on a ball field instead of at the mall. You can’t read a book and learn how to play a sport. He believed you needed to play the game and watch the game being played. You should be able to walk into any park with the scoreboard covered up and know which team is winning by watching how they are playing. I can’t imagine how many games this fellow has seen. As he grew older, he became a symbol of what’s good about the game of baseball, and he would rather play catch than sleep. As a former American League All-Star pitcher, this guy could bury his pitches in the bottom of the box. He had four right-handed pitches that could embarrass you. With a fastball, curve, slider and changeup, he had many ways to sit you back down. At times he pitched like home plate had eight corners. He just lived at their knees. Now he spends his time here with us. You could say he’s our “diamond in the rough.”
Corpus Christi Hooks’ President, Ken Schrom, is one of a kind. If he had never played ball, if you had never heard his name and you passed him on the sidewalk one day, you would turn around and look. I’ve known Ken Schrom for over 20 years and I’ve never heard a bad word spoken about him. Ken loves hearing the vendors hawking peanuts, beer and popcorn at Whataburger Field. He loves the sound of the ball popping the catcher’s mitt. He loves the fairness of the game, the colors, the smells, and the feel of the ball in his hand. He loves that he never grows old at the ballpark. He also loves how the ballpark gets quiet when the game is on the line. You will find Ken at game time standing on the concourse greeting folks, shaking hands and watching baseball.
Kenneth Marvin “Ken” Schrom was born on November 23, 1954, in Grangeville, Idaho. Ken Schrom was a heck of a high school athlete. He was selected All-State in baseball and basketball and All-American in football at quarterback. All total, Ken earned 11 athletic letters. In 1973, after high school, Ken was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in tenth round, but decided to attend the University of Idaho on a football and baseball scholarship. Schrom dreamed of becoming an NFL quarterback. In fact his favorite player of all time is Bart Starr. “I got in trouble more times than you can imagine because I wrote the #15 on everything I had, including new school clothes,” laughed Schrom. Injuries steered him toward baseball. Ken was later chosen and signed by the California Angels as a pitcher, in the 1976 amateur draft.
Ken was traded in 1980 to the Toronto Blue Jays and debuted against the Kansas City Royals as a reliever, on August 8, 1980. Ken would again be traded and become a starter and spend 1983-1985 with the Twins. In 1983, Ken recorded a 15-8 win-loss record and was selected the Twins’ Pitcher of the Year. On June 26, 1985, Ken threw a one-hit game for the Twins against the Royals. It was the first one-hitter ever thrown in the Metrodome in Minnesota. Schrom and his Twins got the win, 2-1.
In 1986, Ken would find himself in Cleveland with the Indians. He started off his season with a 10-2 record and was selected to the American League All-Star team which beat the National League 3-2, at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas. His 1986 All-Star jersey is one of his most prized possessions. Ken would finish the year 14-7. In 1987, Ken tore his shoulder labrum which required surgery. His last game occurred on October 3, 1987. Ken pitched over 900 innings in seven years in the Major Leagues, for three teams (Twins, Indians, and Blue Jays), and won 51 games while losing the same number. He struck-out 372 batters and hit 25 while earning a 4.81 ERA.
Schrom spent the next 16 years in the front office of the El Paso Diablos of the Milwaukee Brewers’ organization. El Paso is where I initially met the Diablos’ owner, Jim Paul, and Ken Schrom. Ken, his wife Cindy and the kids left El Paso and joined the Hooks in 2003. Ken was selected the Texas League Executive of the Year in 2005. He became the President of the club in 2009. He was inducted into the University of Idaho Sports Athletic Hall of Fame in 2007. Ken is a fine man, a good friend and a heck of a baseball guy. He was also kind enough to write part of the foreword of my newest book. In his spare time, you can find him winning money from his friends on the golf course, or fishing somewhere quiet.
Did you know that in the past ten years, 56 of our very own Hooks’ players have joined the Houston Astros? Ken Schrom just announced that on April 2, 2015, the Astros will make their third trip to our fair city to take on their Double-A club known as the Corpus Christi Hooks. This is to be a homecoming for some, as there are 17 former Hooks’ players on the current Astros 40-man roster. The game will be played at Whataburger Field with a 6:05 PM start. Ken Schrom and I hope to see you there.
Did I Tell You About The Time?
This guy’s got more stories than Uncle Remus. He’s traveled all over the world, met most of your sports heroes and mine, and is still going strong at 87 years old. He has also become a dear friend. I once accused him of being the spitting image of Red Sox Hall-of-Fame infielder Bobby Doerr and he said, “How did you know I used his model bat?” Known as a teacher, an excellent writer, and a fine speaker, he does not know the meaning of the word “shy.” This fellow owns a quick wit, a mind as sharp as a tack, and he’s such a pleasure to spend time with. He has served his country and has been decorated; a true honorable patriot. Dotson G. Lewis, Jr. was born in Gunner, Texas, but grew up in Northwest Arkansas. His hero was his father. He now lives here with us in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Dotson Lewis and I share a sports page in the Island Moon each week. It was his idea. He also writes a weekly column called “Senior Moments.” Dotson has earned two college degrees from the University of Texas at El Paso, in Education and Kinesiology, but it doesn’t take long to know his heart belongs to sports and officiating. Dotson was the supervisor of the Southwest Officials Association from 1977-1995.
From 2002-present, Dotson has taught many different classes at Del Mar College and continues to do so. His most prized publications include the annual CCA Football Mechanics Manuals and the NCAA Football Rules Illustrated Manuals, both written from 1987-1995. His achievements are many. I will list a few to highlight his incredible journey. In 1950-51, Dotson received the Korean Service Medal with 5 Battle Stars. He was also chosen as the European Sportsman of the Year in 1967 and received the U.S. Army Legion of Merit in 1968. Dotson is a member of several Halls of Fame including the College Football Officiating Hall of Fame in 1995, the El Paso Texas Athletic Hall of Fame in 1999, and the Japanese-American Football Hall of Fame. He also received the Corpus Christi, Texas, Greatest Generation Award in 2008.
Along the way, I made it a point to meet with him on Fridays for lunch. Little did he know I was taking notes, so this article is supposed to be a surprise? Dotson also spends three hours each Thursday afternoon (4-7 PM) on the radio air waves with the sports talk radio show known as “The Benchwarmers” on ESPN 1440 KEYS. One of his favorite things to say is “Did I tell you about the time?” Dotson knows I’m a baseball fan, especially concerning the history of the game, including the Negro Leagues. I have quite a few stories of my own, but here are a few of the stories Dotson has shared with me.
“I met Satchel Paige on three or four different occasions,” said Dotson Lewis. “Around 1942, I was playing in the old Ban Johnson League and we were barnstorming. During one game against a Negro League Team of All Stars, after watching Paige warm up, I said to my teammates, ‘I can hit this guy; I’ll just wait for his curveball.’ Well, when it came my turn to bat, old Satch threw that curveball and it was unbelievable how much it broke. I bailed out of the batter’s box and catcher Josh Gibson said, ‘You better stand in there, son.’ I was also learning to chew tobacco at the time and had just placed a wad of “Brown Mule” between my cheek and gum. As I leaned over the plate closer, the next pitch was not a curve and it didn’t break. Being a right-handed hitter, the ball hit me behind my left ear above my jaw. I swallowed that chaw of tobacco and it made me sick for two or three days afterward. Not only was I lucky I didn’t get hurt badly, but I never chewed tobacco again,” laughed Dotson.
“I was signed by Freddy Haun of the St. Louis Cardinals,” said Dotson. “I attended Spring Training with the Columbus Redbirds. Shortstop Marty Marion kept me out of Sportsman’s Park,” said Dotson. “I could hit as well as him, but he could really go in the hole and catch those ground balls.” Dotson ended up playing Minor League ball against a team from Joplin, Missouri, who had a kid named Mickey Mantle. “During practice, Mantle threw the best knuckleball I’ve ever seen,” said Dotson.
“One time in Memphis, during a Texas League game, a low-flying Cessna plane was circling the field when a pop fly lodged in the airplane’s landing gear. The umpire ruled it a home run, because when the ball was last seen, it was in fair territory,” laughed Dotson.
“It was 1955 and I had just returned from overseas. I was stationed at Fort Devens, Massachusetts,” said Dotson. Fort Devens is located about 32 miles west of Boston. Curt Gowdy was the radio voice of the Red Sox at that time, and this was also where Dotson met Red Auerbach, the coach of the Boston Celtics. “A fellow by the name of Karl Benson called and said he needed a referee for a football game. I think a good friend of mine named Dallas Shirley suggested me to Benson,” said Dotson. Shirley had officiated over 2,000 basketball games during his 33-year career, including the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy. “Dallas was one of the first NBA officials and was inducted into the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame in 1980. He was buried with a whistle in his hand,” said Dotson. “The game turned out to be Syracuse at Holy Cross. I noticed that Syracuse had a kid that could really run the football, but he didn’t block all that well. I think he scored two or three times on long runs. I do remember it was not a very tough game to officiate. I thought to myself, if this kid ever learns to block, he is going to be a great football player. That fellow turned out to be Jim Brown,” exclaimed Dotson. Syracuse won 49-9 over #13-ranked Holy Cross.
I asked Dotson who was the greatest high school player he had ever officiated. “One night, I refereed a high school game in Tyler, Texas. They had a kid named Earl Campbell,” said Dotson. “I thought he was the best linebacker in the State of Texas.”
“I’ll tell you a little known story,” said Dotson. “Basketball Coach Hank Iba had his wallet stolen after the USA team lost to Russia in the 1972 Olympics. He figured there was nothing he could do about it.”
“Oh, I’ve run Bobby Knight five or six times over the years,” said Dotson smiling.
“I fired NFL official Red Cashion and trained current NFL official Ed Hochuli, otherwise known as ‘Papa Touchdown,’” said Dotson.
Dotson once officiated a Globetrotters game in Japan. “There were 103,000 people in the stands and no one clapped,” said Dotson. “Curly Neal asked me, ‘What’s wrong with these people?’”
I’ve tried to imagine what a poker game would look like at Dotson’s house, if he could invite his dearest friends. They are as follows: General Douglas MacArthur, who presented Dotson with an award (gold watch) in 1948; Audie Murphy--“He and I were in the same outfit in the Army, but not at the same time,” said Dotson. They met when Murphy was shooting a movie in France and Germany. “Joe Paterno was a good friend and a great guy; what a sad ending,” exclaimed Dotson. Darrell Royal and Bill Clinton would round out the group. “Darrell Royal was a great teacher and coach; there was nothing phony about him,” said Dotson. Bill Clinton--Dotson was on a committee with him when he was the Governor of Arkansas. “He was a pain in the neck,” laughed Dotson. You can add names like Don Haskins, Charlie O. Finley, and Gil Brandt. “I once helped Tex Schramm with the overtime rules of the NFL,” stated Dotson.
I believe we all take a little bit of everyone with us, with whom we come in contact, and in return, they take a piece of us with them. If we surround ourselves with good people, we can’t help but become a good person. So, next time you read the sports page in the Island Moon or find your radio dial on 1440 KEYS, check out my friend Dotson Lewis. They don’t make guys like this anymore. I have been blessed to be able to move in his circles.
Down For the Count
Manny Pacquiao is scheduled to fight Floyd Mayweather on May 2, 2015, at the Las Vegas MGM Grand Garden Arena. This fight reminded me of a time not to long ago, when professional boxing reigned supreme in Corpus Christi, Texas.
The event drew 5,000 people, standing room only. NBC decided to televise the spectacle. When their television producers walked into the building, they gasped and said, “Oh my, if we could just put this building on wheels.” That building was of course Memorial Coliseum, the Madison Square Garden of the Coastal Bend. “It was the perfect fight venue because every seat in the house was a great seat,” said promoter Lester Bedford. The ceiling was low and rounded and smoking was permitted at that time. The haze of the smoke hung over the ring as the boxers battled it out in front of a packed house. It was loud and the fans colorful, a perfect setting for showing a fight on television. From 1954 until 2004, boxing was the biggest professional sport in Corpus Christi, Texas. That’s where I first saw Hector Luis “Macho” Camacho in person. Macho Man was a young, brash kid from Bayamon, Puerto Rico. Some guys have a chip on their shoulder; he had a whole cord of wood. He came into the fight with eleven wins and no defeats. They should have hung a sign over Camacho’s dressing room door that said “Speed Kills;” he just had such energy. With lightning-quick hands he could hit you so many times you thought you were surrounded. His challenger, Rafael Williams, sported an equally impressive record of 19-1. On May 20, 1984, Macho Man danced while Williams kept catching Camacho’s right-hand jabs with his face. The fight was stopped in the 7 round and ruled a TKO (technical knockout) in favor of Camacho. At 5’ 6” tall and weighing 133 pounds, Hector was a middleweight, a star waiting his turn to shine. Hector wore his hair cut close with a spit curl that hung down in the middle of his forehead. His body was bronzed and his shoulders were broad enough to serve breakfast on. He was a southpaw. He owned guts, wanted glory, and was fifty miles away from being smart.
Hector Luis Camacho Matias was born on May 24, 1962. He was the youngest of five children. At the age of three, Hector moved to New York City’s Spanish Harlem with his mom, Maria, and took up boxing by the age of fifteen. He had been kicked out of six different schools, but managed to win the New York City Golden Gloves Titles, three different times. He was an admitted car thief, a drug user and had been arrested for shoplifting. He eventually served time in prison at Rikers Island. Pat Flannery, a language teacher who taught him to read, became a father figure to Hector. It was Flannery who is credited with giving Camacho his nickname. Sometimes even the harshest of sports acts as a rescue for some.
It has been said that in ancient times strangers shook hands to show they were unarmed. That did not apply to the sweet science of boxing. A precise counter-puncher, Camacho became a flamboyant fighter during a time when the sport was in its heyday. Hector looked like an extra in a gladiator movie. He would dress in unforgettable style and was always a favorite on the Las Vegas strip. He wore dazzling outfits and dressed as a Roman gladiator, in an American Indian headdress, Army camouflage trunks with helmet, a Puerto Rican flag outfit, and cheetah-skin trunks. He won four World Championships in three different weight divisions. Those divisions were listed as super flyweight, lightweight, and junior welterweight. Camacho would win one war after another. He had the temper of a gangster and was so mean he would kick puppies. Along the way he won a unanimous decision over Freddie Roach and Vinny Pazienza and a split decision over Edwin Rosario and Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini. On September 12, 1992, in Las Vegas, Camacho lost a unanimous decision to Julio Cesar Chavez. Camacho’s record now stood at 27-2. On January 29, 1994, he lost a third time, to Felix Trinidad.
On April 22, 1996, Macho Man returned to Corpus Christi to fight Wilbur Garst. This was a tune-up fight for Roberto Duran. The fight was stopped in the seventh round by TKO; Camacho was again a winner. I was at ringside with my pal Scott Robinson; what a fight. Angelo Dundee was Hector Camacho’s trainer.
A total of 17 World Champions have fought in the old building: From Frankie Warren to Buddy McGirt, Jesse Benavides to Ronnie Shields, Lupe Suarez to Evander Holyfield, “Sweet Pea” Whitaker to Meldrick Taylor, and Jorge Paez to “Jesse” James Leija. I even remember Jerry Quarry singing the National Anthem before a fight at the coliseum. Yeah, the old gal had seen a lot. The coliseum was finally torn down in 2010.
Camacho would retire in 2010. His thirty-year career record stands at 79-6-3 with 45 knockouts. It seems kind of odd these days to write about boxing, a sport in which a concussion is usually the preferred outcome, while the game of football goes on trial every day in regards to eliminating concussions.
On Tuesday, November 20, 2012, Hector Camacho was shot in the left side of his face while sitting with a friend in a black Ford Mustang. His friend, Adrian Moreno, was also killed by the drive-by shooter. After surgery, he was declared brain dead on Thursday and removed from life support. Camacho threw his last jab at life on Saturday, November 24, 2012. He was 50 years old and died of a heart attack. Cocaine was found at the scene, and there was no arrest at that time. There is no doubt that he lived in the fast lane, as dangerously as he fought. Camacho had five children from different relationships. Camacho’s son, Hector Camacho Jr., is also a boxer like his dad, who is also survived by his parents.
In life as in death, time moves forward. Macho Man and fight night at Memorial Coliseum are no more.
Dreams Do Come True
He’s a local kid who would rather shoot the three. “I loved playing basketball, but being less than six feet tall, I knew my chances were better in baseball,” he said. A fine looking kid with a built in fire to get the job done; he was just one of the many hardball jewels that had been dug up and polished in the Sparkling City by the Sea. Players like him are part of the reason the Coastal Bend is listed as one of the richest areas for baseball talent in America. Major League players like Nolan Ryan, Bart Shirley, Doug Drabek, Ron Gant, Burt Hooten, Rocky Bridges, Bobby Cuellar, fellow Carroll graduate Brooks Kieschnick, and Jessie Garcia are just a few of the many that came before him. Current players like Mark Williamson, Mike Gonzales, Mark Blackmar, David Freese, and Mike Adams, now take their turn in the professional baseball ranks.
This fellow is an infielder with a slingshot right arm and the grit to turn it loose. Only two things scared him, losing and not winning. Carroll Head Coach Lee Yeager dreamed of athletes like Cliff. “He was the kind of player that made you want to coach,” said Yeager. Cliff Pennington Jr. graduated from Mary Carroll High School while a scholarship to Texas A&M awaited his signature. His junior year as an Aggie would find him batting .363 while scouts began to take notice. Cliff Pennington was a grinder and the only thing faster than his bat speed was his feet. His middle name should have been “triples” instead of Randolph; the kid could outrun raindrops. The scouting reports listed him as patient at the plate, fast, athletic, good glove, and an everyday shortstop with upside. Pennington was drafted in the 1st round of the 2005 MLB draft by the Oakland A’s. By 2008, at the age of 24, he made his big league debut. Dreams really do come true.
Cliff Pennington joined me and my longtime partner, Dennis Quinn on “Dennis & Andy’s Q & A Session,” broadcast weekly on ESPN 1440 KEYS. Pennington, now in his seventh year, was the starting shortstop for the 2012 American League Western Division champion Oakland Athletes. “No one saw us coming.” said Cliff. “I know people say it all the time, but we really just focused on ourselves and tried to get better every day.” Oakland finished September and the first week of October with a 20-11 win-loss record, by sweeping the vaunted Texas Rangers out of first place and into a wild-card spot. “When it became clear that we could win the division with a sweep of the Rangers, things got fun. Our pitching staff, especially the bullpen, was incredible,” said Cliff. “Bob Melvin, the 2012 American League Manager of the Year, made all the right decisions by placing everyone on that pitching staff in a position to be successful.” The Oakland A’s, along with the Baltimore Orioles, would produce the best stories of the year in baseball. When we asked Cliff about the movie “Moneyball” and what kind of liberties Hollywood may have taken with the story, his response was interesting. “Well that 20-game win streak in Oakland happened before I got there, but some of the core beliefs are still in place. We place a lot of emphasis on on-base percentage, and getting outs instead of batting average and stolen bases. A walk and a double will yield the same result as three singles, a run scored,” exclaimed Pennington. “As for General Manager Billy Beane, I understand that he still does not watch the games. He works out or finds something else to do and gets the results by phone. He’s a pretty intense guy.”
The Oakland Athletics, with the 29 lowest payroll in the Majors and the co-owner of the second best record in the American League at 94-68, earned the right to meet Jim Leyland and his Detroit Tigers. Although Oakland pitched and played well, they fell to the Tigers three games to two in the playoffs and their season was over.
“How did you find out you were traded and how did you react?” I asked. “I was at a Texas A&M football game and I could not hear my cell phone ring. My agent had called several times and finally texted me to call him right away, I had been traded. For the next several minutes, as I tried to make my way out of the stands to a place where my cell would work, my mind was racing. I had been traded and did not know where. When he told me Arizona, I immediately thought about the results we had when we played them in interleague that season. We went into Phoenix with an eight game win streak, and they swept us. We left and started another eight-game win streak. You are always concerned when you’re traded, but I knew this was a good team,” said Pennington. “Then I thought about how much better it would be to hit at Chase Field, it’s a bigger park, and I love National League pitching.” We enjoyed our twenty minutes with Cliff and wished him well. I think Cliff has this figured out, and we hope his dream continues.
Everything He Had
Someone once said, “If success turns your head, then you were facing the wrong direction.” Not this guy; he always knew where he was going. He was listed at 6 feet 1 inch tall and weighed around 233 pounds, but those stats didn’t measure his heart. His ticker weighed a ton. He was a good-looking guy, a big dreamer from a small Texas town and pure as the driven snow. He was smart, tough and some said so fast he could catch a shooting star. His mom Nancy was a saint and his dad Austin was a fan of westerns and sports movies. The story goes that Shane’s dad named him after the famous western movie entitled “Shane” starring Alan Ladd as the good guy and Jack Palance as the ultimate bad guy. His older brother was called “Gipper” and I will let you figure that out all by yourself, but here’s a hint: Knute Rockne.
Every spring, thousands of wide-eyed kids tried out for their local high school football team. In case you haven’t heard, football is king in Texas. It was no different in Mathis, Texas, a place where everybody in town had the same thing, nothing. Shane Nelson not only lettered all three years as a fullback and defensive end for the Pirates, but he also excelled as a catcher on the baseball team and was a basketball forward as well. A 12-1 record his senior year, where he once scored six touchdowns in a single game against Woodsboro, propelled him to be chosen All-South Texas Fullback. He was also named to the All-Defensive and All-Offensive Teams and was presented the 1973 Mathis High School Athlete-of-the-Year Award.
The next stop for Shane was Brenham, Texas, home of Blinn Junior College. Sure, some of the bigger schools had called. He was told he would sign a scholarship with Texas Tech, but that never materialized. Maybe his size had steered them away. Still he played and the longer he played, the more folks noticed. Shane earned a spot on the Southwest Junior College All-Conference Team at the linebacker position. By 1975, Baylor Head Coach Grant Teaff had successfully recruited Nelson for the Bears. Nelson hit the weight room, got stronger, and fell asleep each night in front of a projector watching film as his dreams got bigger in Waco, Texas.
It’s hard to measure desire. Great athletes have the ability to put their bodies and minds in a place where most people refuse to go. “It’s like your eyes come together as one,” said Nelson. Your focus on success exceeds your desire for safety. You must be willing to give up your body to play this game. You don’t end up being a linebacker by mistake. It was only a matter of time before Shane became Captain of the Bears and later a member of Baylor’s All-70’s Decade Team. Shane was given one other job. “Coach Teaff wanted me to recruit Mike Singleterry to come to Baylor,” said Nelson. “He knew one of his team captains and dominant players could help influence Mike to sign with the Baylor Bears.” The rest is history.
Two years later, Shane was invited to an open tryout camp for the Dallas Cowboys. Eighteen hundred athletes showed up but only one was offered a contract by Gil Brandt of the Cowboys, Shane Nelson. Nelson had run a 4.52 in the 40-yard dash, but incredibly, he said “No thanks.” Baylor assistant coach and former Raider’s quarterback, Cotton Davidson, convinced Shane to tell the Cowboys he would think about it overnight. Davidson knew that Dallas had drafted a kid named Randy White that they wanted to convert to linebacker, and Cotton felt Shane would not get a fair shake. In 1977, Nelson signed with the Buffalo Bills, as a rookie free agent.
In his first season, #59 led the Bills in tackles by setting a team record with 168 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery, in a 14-game season. The Bills’ players and coaches voted Nelson defensive MVP as a rookie. “That was an award I won three times in my six years at Buffalo (77, 79, 81),” said Nelson. He was also voted to the 1977 NFL’s All-Rookie Team. By 1979, the NFL draft would bring nose tackle Fred Smerlas and linebacker Jim Haslet to the Bills. These two along with Nelson would form the famed “Bermuda Triangle,” a place where running backs entered but never left. With the unique qualities of each of the three individuals, they were able to dominate the inside of the Bills’ 3-4 defense. In 1980, the Buffalo defense was ranked No. 1 in the NFL.
He was always very competitive and set high standards for himself. Nelson could hit you like Mike Tyson hits a chin. Just ask Franco Harris, Larry Csonka, Walter Payton, or Earl Campbell. His goal was to bruise your spleen, ruin your knee, and then stop the run. Giving this guy a helmet was like giving Billy the Kid a handgun, Tiger Woods a putter, or Calvin Borel a whip; something incredible was about to happen.
After six full seasons in the NFL, Shane Nelson retired when injuries began to catch up. At a time when the medicine was not as good, a ruptured Achilles tendon coupled with major knee surgery ended his career. “I gave everything I had,” said Nelson. “My heart still wanted to play, but my body couldn’t write the check to play at the standards I expected for myself. The pride in playing the game and excelling on the field was my love and passion for the game. I didn’t play for a paycheck, so when I couldn’t perform at my standards, it was time to walk away.”
Nelson moved back to South Texas after football and created Huddle for Success, a company that specializes in helping large companies set up strategic plans on how to accomplish their goals, both personal and business.
There is no doubt that God moves people in and out of our lives. I met Shane through a friend named Mondo Camina. The only thing we had in common was our love for football, but that was enough. Two guys from different places became instant friends. Shane had a weekly sports talk radio show at the time and had guest hosts like local sportscaster Dan McReynolds and Camina. Eventually he asked me to join him and excited, I said “Yes.” This was my chance to live my childhood dreams through his experiences. “Shane & Andy’s Insider Sports” debuted in January of 1993. Along the way we took our show out into the public with the help of local businesses like Andrews Distributing, Pizza Hut, Special Olympics, and United Way. We were also able to bring some of the best of the best from the sports world to the Corpus Christi air waves.
One October, I followed Shane and his family back to Blinn. He was being inducted into the Junior College Football Hall of Fame. I was proud to sit with his parents and his wife Shannon and kids.
My dad used to tell me that the most important number in our life is not how many years you have lived but how many true friends you have acquired. Shane Nelson is my friend. He gave me my start in radio and expanded my horizons in regards to writing. He was there at my request at business meetings to inspire my employees and never asked for a penny. He signed autographs at both of my book-signing events. We have laughed until we cried and shared our sorrow for friends and family we have lost.
The award-winning NFL Films became part of Americana under the leadership of the late Steve Sabol. Through Sabol’s vision, and his love for music, film, and football, he created the lasting images of this great game. He also used “The Voice” of NFL Films, John Facenda to narrate these specials. That’s how Shane got the nickname “Dr. No.” Facenda stated with Nelson at linebacker there was “No hole, no gain.” He may be the NFL’s Dr. No but to me and every other person, he has always said “Yes.”
Research reveals that the original word used in print, by sportswriters to describe spectators attending a sporting event from 1882 to 1910, was the word crank or krank, in some cases. Female spectators were called crankess.
In a book written in 1903 entitled Humorous Stories of the Baseball Field by Ted Sullivan, baseball owner Charles Comiskey claimed he once called an enthusiast, who broke into his clubhouse a “fanatic.” Sullivan clipped the word fanatic to “fan” in his writings.
William Henry Nugent wrote a column in March of 1929 called The Sports Section for a newspaper entitled “The American Mercury” and showed how many common sports terms used in North America are not Americanisms, but rather much older transplants from the British Isles. He claimed the word “fan” can be traced from several sources. The word “fancy” was long used as a class name in England and America for followers of boxing, dog fighting and pigeon racing. One story is that baseball borrowed it and shortened it to fan. Hall-of-Fame Manager Connie Mack claimed the word “fan” was first created to describe spectators who fanned themselves to stay cool during the games. Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “fan” as an enthusiastic follower of the game, a devotee.
Throughout the years, despite all this evidence, either the word fancy or fanatic has been appropriately shortened to the word fan. It was easier to pronounce, easier to remember and didn’t sound quite as harsh. That seems to be the American Way.
It’s safe to say that the fans are the lifeblood of sports; always have been. Without fans, there are no paid athletes or sporting events. Fans from all walks of life have always footed the bill. From ticket prices, seat licenses, parking, stadium costs, ballpark food, and drinks, to merchandise and memorabilia, fans have played their part in making sports franchises great and their owners rich beyond words. The team on the field determines the score, but the number of fans in the seats and their purchasing power creates the value of the franchise itself.
Over the years, the fans’ knowledge and enthusiasm for their teams and their infatuation with greatness on the field of play has not changed as dramatically as the athletes themselves. Fans still live and die with every touchdown, four-foot putt, turnover, or home-run hit. One thing that has changed the most is the fans’ ability to receive instant information and their desire to add their two cents’ worth on the results. With the invention of fantasy leagues and social media, fans are much more in touch and therefore more opinionated. There is no lag time in real information. Most fans my age received our sports scores from the radio and the surrounding stories from the daily newspaper. Television was well into the late 1960’s before games were shown in real time, and even then we were rewarded with only one or two local games a week, depending on the sport.
Another change has been the appetite for (more) sports have increased, especially among the female population with the invention of Title IX.
Even as the price of attending in person continues to soar, they still come. But will they continue? Cable television, sports television packages, Twitter, NFL Red Zone, FaceBook, My Space, satellite radio, iPads, and smart phones now allow fans to visually connect instantly. A fan with tickets in Section D, Row 21, Seats 4 and 5, may now find a much cheaper and more comfortable couch at the house. Another cloud of concern for the fan lies in the integrity of the games themselves. Many athletes continue to cheat by using performance-enhancing drugs. Most fans seem not to care until it is revealed that a cheater from another team affected the outcome of a game which included that fan’s favorite team.
For the most part, fans will continue to find hope in their favorite athletes or teams. They attach themselves to something they consider greater than they are themselves. Most people believe we all need to feel a part of something good every day. If their team wins they feel excitement, and when they lose they feel betrayed. The emotions are real. Hats off to the fans and to the owners; we say, “Be careful what you ask for.” We the fans are footing this bill.
It’s A Family Racquet
Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is the beginning, keeping together is progress, and working together is success.” The game itself has been played in France since the 12 century. It was initially played indoors against a wall. Eventually moved outside, the game was played by royalty on a manicured lawn. By the 16 century, the game began to resemble the one we see played today. Hitting a tennis ball correctly requires location, movement, and deception. Tennis is a game where a bounce can define your match, good or bad. In 1981, John McEnroe yelled, “You can’t be serious.” Yes, you can, and Director of Tennis, Steve Moore is the example. Of course McEnroe was contesting a call during a match, but don’t mistake that for Moore’s overwhelming passion for teaching winning tennis.
Steve Moore knows tennis. He pours his heart and soul into everything he does concerning the game. They say he can spot a good backhand from a moving car, even through the sunglasses. He must be one heck of a recruiter. His athletes come from all over the world. “We try to recruit high character athletes who buy into the team being a family, for life,” said Moore. “We have been blessed to have so many good people surround this program.” The old saying goes that he doesn’t find substitutions, he recruits reinforcements. Moore is a teacher and he seems to notice everything. It’s like he has eyes in the back of “your” head. He’s the kind of fellow who can look you in the eye and connect. When listening to him, he speaks about family, faith and the culture of playing to win in tennis and in life. He’s an educator first and a coach second. I guess you could say he’s created a family racquet.
Moore understands that pressure and preparation are what make you great. He believes that with the absence of pressure, it’s hard to do great things. Being the favorite is not pressure. He loves it. He teaches his kids that there are real life issues that are far more important.
They say there is no “I” in team, but there is one in win. And his teams win wherever he goes. “Winning a random year or two is about talent and flash,” said Moore. “But sustained winning is about creating a culture of substance and character.” The Corpus Christi Islanders Men’s Tennis team has now won eight straight Southland Conference Tennis titles. The Islanders reached #40 this year in Division 1. This is the ninth straight year they will appear in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) National Poll and the second time they have cracked the top 40 (#35 in 2009). “We really take pride in seeing our university ranked up there among the BCS teams,” exclaimed Moore. They are currently ranked #57 in the nation. The only thing that could stop these guys is perhaps food poisoning. Talented, well-coached and in shape, these guys can make it rain first serves. His kids put away their opponents like a fine drop-shot. Volleys come at their opponents from so many different angles they sometimes think they are surrounded. Moore understands that a quiet mind and a quiet body produce the best strokes.
Steve is a home-grown product who attended high school at Incarnate Word Academy and graduated in 1989. He played tennis on scholarship in 1990 at North Texas State and transferred in 1991 to Abilene Christian University. Steve graduated in 1993 with a BA in Kinesiology. While at Abilene Christian, Moore was ranked nationally in singles. In 1994, Moore joined the college coaching ranks at SMU University.
Steve Moore left SMU after one season to coach at Texas Tech. In 1998, he returned home to start the Islanders Division 1 program. One of his dreams had come true. His results were immediate and remarkable. His success was such that SMU called and offered him the head women’s coaching job. Steve left for Dallas in 2001. That same year, Moore also assisted the SMU men’s team to a NCAA Final Four appearance and a #5 national ranking. In 2004, Steve was on the move again to Texas A&M.
In 2006, Steve Moore chose to leave Texas A&M and return to the Sparkling City by the Sea to coach men’s tennis at our university. Moore would also take over the women’s program in 2008. His success in both programs has been outstanding, and the support of his programs through attendance and funding has opened the eyes of many. Moore has just been named Southland Conference Coach of the Year for the ninth consecutive season, a record among all SLC coaches since its inception. In 2012, Moore was named to the National Division 1 Men’s and Women’s Tennis Committees. This honor came with a bag full of respect. Steve is also the ITA’s National Chairman over all the colleges in Texas. You could say he has the attention of the world of tennis.
It has been said that an athlete will never forget his coach. He may forget his teachers but not his coach and how and what kind of person they were. “I learned about sports from my grandfather, Paul Laudadio,” said Moore. “He always taught me that sports were about principals: character, respect, working your tail off, never quitting and team before self. No amount of winning mattered unless these values were present.” I’ll bet the farm none of these kids will ever forget Steve Moore. Let’s just call that another win.
For all the up-to-date news about Islanders’ tennis, check them out on Facebook (IslandersTennis) and follow them on Twitter and Instagram (@IslandersTennis).
Major League baseball players are the absolute worst. Scientists called it a kinetic trigger, yet the players referred to their weird science as “routines.” We all know the truth; they’re superstitious. They confuse routine for superstition. In the old days you would hear the words, hex, jinxed, quirks, rituals, and idiosyncrasies. Some players even carried a rabbit’s foot in their pockets for good luck. These triggers were designed to bring the individual luck or ward off the baseball demons. You need not look any further than last year, as the playoff beards of the World Champion Boston Red Sox topped the “Curse of the Bambino.” (The player’s refused to shave during the playoffs.)
There is no doubt that baseball is the hardest game of them all to excel in both mentally and physically. The pressure to succeed allows us to doubt our own abilities. Sometimes, the hardest thing in life to overcome is ourselves; our own superstitions. In creating routines, we convince ourselves that we have given ourselves an edge that allows us to play better. Is it true? Some swear by it and others just laugh, but with success we form habits, some good, and some bad. Superstitions come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and include everything from food to equipment and clothes.
Some examples are as follows. Players sat in the same spot on the bench during every game. They swung two bats in the on-deck circle before their turn at the plate. Lots of players, especially pitchers, did not shave on purpose, before taking the mound. It made them feel more aggressive. Players wore the same underwear or sox when things went their way and their routine never included washing the articles of clothing if they continued to win.
Now that you’re warmed up, let’s see how close you have been watching our National Pastime. Let’s recall some of the more popular superstitions. Did you know that “Babe” Ruth used to knock the dirt out of his spikes with his bat after every called strike? Yankee pitcher Vic Rashi refused to allow his picture to be taken before a game he was pitching. Ted Williams would place his bat under his arm and pull down hard on his cap after the second strike had been called by the umpire. Jackie Robinson always walked to home plate to hit, by passing in front of the opposing catcher. Even if the catcher was out at the mound talking with his pitcher, Jackie would wait until the catcher had retuned to his position and then pass in front of him, to step into the batter’s box. Let’s call that intimidation at its best. Phil Rizzuto would place his chewing gum on top of his hat for safe keeping, while batting. When he got two strikes on him, he would place the gum back in his mouth. Willie Mays never went to centerfield without first touching second base. Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, twirled his right thumb while holding his bat, before hitting. Pittsburgh Pirate, Ralph Kiner, never stepped on a white line on the field of play. “It didn’t help or hurt me,” said Ralph. “I just didn’t want to take any chances.”
Remember Mark “The Bird” Fidrych talking to himself and constantly cleaning the mound while pitching for the Detroit Tigers. After every 0-4 game, Chicago White Sox’s “Minnie” Minoso would shower in his entire uniform including spikes to wash away the bad karma. Cincinnati Reds second baseman Joe Morgan would cock and re-cock his right elbow continuously, while waiting in the batter’s box for the next pitch. Everyone knew about Wade Boggs’ superstition; he always ate chicken before every game. Red Sox teammate Nomar Garciaparra’s toe tap between every pitch became the conversation piece when he played. Larry Walker was crazy about the #3. Not only did he wear #33 but he was married at 3:33 PM on November 3rd. Walker always took three practice swings before an at-bat and purchased thirty-three tickets for underprivileged kids in section 333 for every home game. Now I can’t explain why he hit 383 home runs for his career. It seems to me he recorded fifty more than needed.
But the guy who takes the cake is Roger Clemens. While with the Yankees, for good luck, Roger would rub Babe Ruth’s plaque that hangs in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium, before every game in which he pitched. You could even see him whispering underneath his breath, but I don’t think he has ever shared with us what he was saying. It is also well-known that the strikeout in baseball is referenced as a “K” on your scorecard. Roger Clemens recorded 4.672 “K’s” during his 24-year career. You would think that was enough. But Clemens took this a step farther by starting all four of his sons’ names with a K. They are in order Koby, Kory, Kacy and Kody.
Kinetic trigger, I doubt it. Can anyone say Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder? (OCD)
Looking Back With Bart
Marcel Proust once said, “Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” That line describes this fellow to a “T.” One of the perks of having a sports talk radio show and being able to attend many of my favorite sporting events has been to allow me to meet and converse with many of the best athletes in all of sports. Occasionally, these interviews would lead me to meeting another of my favorite players. Believe me, it’s the best part of this gig. Being a writer and writing well is hard work. As a sports enthusiast, we all have pockets full of stories to share. Writing requires constant thinking and there’s an added difficulty with writing about sports or athletes. You see, the writer ages but the players do not. They remain young and are constantly replaced with younger versions of themselves. In my case, I followed Mickey Mantle until Derek Jeter came along. But every once in a while, I meet an athlete who becomes a true friend, a guy I can trust and one I feel comfortable with. That’s when the stories really start to flow. Bart Shirley is one of those guys. My favorite sports writer, Jim Murray, once wrote in jest, “When you think everything is hopeless, just remember Yogi Berra.” That’s how I feel around Bart, ten years old with a bat in my hands. He has a way of serving as the rainbow in everybody’s cloud. I believe that man makes his destiny through his choices and values, and so does Bart. In my opinion, Bart Shirley was born with a heart three sizes too large. There is nothing this man would not do for you, and that’s a good thing. Bart is humble, God-fearing and snail quiet. I proudly refer to him in public as a “Corpus Christi Treasure.”
Barton Arvin “Bart” Shirley was born on January 4, 1940, in “The Sparkling City by the Sea,” Corpus Christi, Texas. As an athlete, this guy was electric, pure energy. Bart was fast; some said he could catch a cold in the desert. Bart played and starred as a shortstop in baseball for Head Coach A.J. Luquette and left halfback in football for Head Coach Bill Stages, for Ray High School in Corpus. Bart Shirley was what we call a two-play guy. You turn on the projector and watch him field two ground balls and then turn it off. His play was such that Bart was inducted into the Ray Texans’
Athletic Hall of Fame in 1995, as part of their inaugural class. After graduating from Ray in 1958, Bart, along with his close friend and teammate, Bobby Oliver, signed athletic scholarships and headed to Austin, Texas, to play for the Longhorns. After his freshman year, Bart would line up as a halfback for legendary football coach, Darrell Royal, in the 1959 Longhorn backfield. Bart would complete four of ten passes for two touchdowns, while executing the halfback-run option. One of those touchdown passes came against the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, for a Texas win. Bart also rushed for 90 yards on 25 carries and caught two passes for sixteen yards. In 1959, the star quarterback, Bobby Lackey, and the 9-2 Longhorns, would finish 4 in the final Associated Press Poll and would take on Ernie Davis from Syracuse, in the Cotton Bowl. The Orangemen from Syracuse won that day, 23-14.
Bart’s star shined even brighter on the baseball diamond for the 1960 Longhorns, as Bart started at shortstop for Head Coach “Bibb” Falk and was voted to the All-Southwest Conference team. Later that same year, Bart was signed as an amateur free agent by celebrated scout, Hugh Alexander, of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Alexander, who was referred to as “Uncle Hughie” by the players, had pitched and played outfield briefly for the Cleveland Indians before an oil field accident in Oklahoma took his left hand. Uncle Hughie became a scout and signed many great players like Allie Reynolds, Steve Garvey, Dale Mitchell, Don Sutton, Frank Howard, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and our very own Bart Shirley. “Once I signed the contract I lost my amateur status at Texas,” said Bart. “I went to Spring Training in 1960 and sent my signing bonus home to my mother.”
In 1961, Bart Shirley reported to the Atlanta Crackers, the Dodgers’ Double-A team, of the Southern Association. Bart later joined the U.S. Army Reserves and attended basic training, in 1961. He would fulfill a six-year obligation to his country. By 1962, you could find Bart playing shortstop for the Triple-A Omaha Dodgers of the American Association.
In 1963, he would hone his skills for the Triple-A Spokane Indians of the Pacific Coast League, before being called up to the Los Angeles Dodgers on September 14, 1964. On Tuesday September 15, while wearing #11, Bart collected 3 hits in 4 at-bats including a double, with one RBI and a run scored against pitchers, Bob Friend and Joe Gibbon, of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Dodgers beat the Pirates 5-3 that day. Bart also turned two double plays, from the shortstop position, that day, with Nate Oliver and Ron Fairly. Interestingly, Bart’s teammate, Willie Davis, and opponent, Roberto Clemente, also had three hits each in that game.
“My greatest memory in professional baseball was when I got the game winning hit against pitcher, Jack Baldschum, of the Philadelphia Phillies, while playing with the Dodgers in 1964,” said Bart. “We won 4-3 and I was extremely excited.” That hit came three days later on September 18; Bart had collected two more hits with his last hit driving in the winning run against the Phillies.
By the end of 1964, Bart had played in 18 games while hitting a respectable .274. He scored six runs with one double, one triple, and recorded seven RBI’s. Bart struck out eight times and walked six times. He remained on the big club until the end of that season.
In 1965, Bart suffered a terribly sprained ankle in Spring Training. It also didn’t help that Maury Wills was playing shortstop for the Dodgers. “I was sent home for a week to recover,” said Bart. “I had a real shot at making the club before my injury.” After healing, Bart found himself back in Spokane for the season. At the beginning of the 1966 season, Bart was called up again to the big club on April 19th. Shirley would stay with the Los Angeles Dodgers until June 25, and was then drafted on November 28, 1966, by the New York Mets in the Rule 5 baseball draft. Walter Alston and the Dodgers continued to play well and won the 1966 National League pennant with a 95-67 win-loss record. With stars like Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Willie Davis, John Roseboro and Don Sutton, winning was made easy, but it was not enough. Bart was proud to be a part of that team. The Dodgers were swept by the Baltimore Orioles for the 1966 World Series title. Bart received his share of the 1966 World Series money.
Bart Shirley opened the 1967 season with the Mets, while wearing the # 6, before being sent back to the Minors on April 29 of that same year. Bart was traded back to the Dodgers on May 18, 1967, by the Mets. At the beginning of 1968, Bart finally joined the Dodgers for the last time on July 31st. Bart wore the #2 in 1968. His final game occurred on September 29, 1968. He was 28 years old. Bart headed back to Spokane for the 1969 and 1970 seasons, but the writing was on the wall. In his four years in the Major Leagues, Bart had played in 75 games, while hitting .204. He scored 15 runs on 33 hits with 11 RBI’s and recorded no home runs.
In 1971, Bart decided he was not yet through playing baseball and did what many American players have done before him. He headed to Japan. There he signed with the Chunich Dragons of the Japan Central League. Bart would play there for two years. I asked Bart if he could change anything about his baseball career, what it would be. He thought for a minute and said, “I was blessed with a great arm and could cover a lot of ground with the best, but I wish I had applied myself more to the art of hitting sooner than I did. It wasn’t until I got to Japan that I really started to understand hitting. The Dodgers wanted me to hit more to right field, but when I got to Japan they pitched me inside so I became more aggressive and began to pull the ball to left field. I began to look more at location instead of the spin of the ball. When I learned to bend my knees, while swinging, which in turn kept my bat level and in the hitting zone longer, I became a better hitter with more power.” That explains why Bart made better contact in the “Land of the Rising Sun.” During his two years in Japan, Bart played in 246 games, hit 15 home runs and drove in 79 RBI’s, in a short period of time. I asked Bart what the major difference was in Japanese baseball versus the Major Leagues. “The pitching is not consistently as good,” responded Bart. Other American Major League players that played in Japan while Bart was there include Clete Boyer, Davey Johnson, John Miller and his close friend Jim Lefebvre.
Bart Shirley returned to the States in 1973 to manage in the Dodgers’ Minor League system. He would get his start in Daytona Beach, Florida. In 1974, you could find him managing in Orangeburg, South Carolina, and in Danville, Illinois, during the 1975 season. Bart would manage a total of 401 games in three years, while winning 199 for a .496 winning percentage.
Pastor Mark Salmon introduced me to Bart Shirley. Mark had met Bart in August of 2001 when Mark became the Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church. Mark Salmon, being a diehard baseball fan of the Yankees, and his friend Bart spent hours talking baseball. “We had many great conversations about the Yankees and his career with the Dodgers and Mets. We even talked about his college career at the University of Texas,” exclaimed Mark. “I also heard many stories of his days at Ray High School.” Bart is an Elder and very active member at Grace and I was surprised to find out he sang in the choir. “I felt especially close to Bart when his wife, Bette, got sick and passed away. His Ray High School friends embraced him with such love and I heard over and over again how much Bart had meant to them over the years.” Mark continued, “Bart also subbed for me several times at Whataburger Field and led Baseball Chapel with the visiting and hometown Hooks teams. His greatest days were not when he was a professional baseball player, but as a true and devoted friend.”
One of those devoted friends was a fellow by the name of Garron Dean. Garron has been a Bart Shirley fan for sixty-plus years. “We went to junior high and high school together and participated in sports together all those years,” exclaimed Garron. “Upon graduation, he went to Texas and I went to LSU and we lost each other until he returned to Corpus Christi. Bart had been in Japan playing baseball.” Dean continues, “Bart was a born sportsman and to this very day he is an avid and accomplished golfer.” I myself have never played golf with Bart. I do admit that the only compliment I’ve ever received on the golf course was, “Hey I think we can find that one.” Bart would always smile when I mentioned that. “Bart is one of the most honest individuals I have ever known and a devout Christian who spends a lot of hours devoting his life to Christ,” said Dean.
“When Bart returned to Corpus, he joined Tommy Wright at Citizens Bank, where he learned the ropes on how to become a banker,” said Garron Dean. “Then he had the opportunity to go to work in the Real Estate business and began working with my firm for about five years before he chose the insurance business, where he has been ever since.”
Interestingly, Bart’s high school relationships with teammates stand as strong today as ever. They continue to move in and out of each others’ lives to this very day and gather occasionally to remember and celebrate their past. Bart and his current wife, Victoria, make their home here in Corpus Christi. Bart Shirley is not so much a religious man as he is a spiritual man. Calm but intense, Bart makes difficult look easy. He understands that real toughness is finding strength in something other than yourself. Faith is about living in the unknown, and suffering occurs when we lose part of our identity. The loss of a job, a child, spouse or home can be painful.
George Orwell once said, “At a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” What I would want to leave with Bart and others is the realization that whoever you are, there is some younger person who thinks you are perfect. I would count myself as one of those who feel that way about Bart Shirley. Both Mark Salmon and Bart Shirley wrote some very kind words about my earlier books, In the Company of Greatness and Remembered Greatness which I decided to use at the beginning of my newest book, Greatness Continued. Bart also joined me during one of my book-signing events this year and quickly became the star. The fact is we need our heroes more than they need us.
Lucky No. 7
He’s a “good old boy,” with a wide smile and football stamped in his DNA. Back then he owned a gravelly voice, a tanned face, and he couldn’t say a word without using his hands. Content and now retired, he whispers more when he speaks. Back in the day, the smell of fresh-cut grass and a sweaty locker room made him feel alive, and he’d rather watch game film than sleep. He had spent almost 41 years drawing up plays and dusting the chalk off his hands, and he answered to the name of “coach.” Some said he could spot talent from a moving car and his playbook may have had only two words on the cover, “Option Football.” He felt naked without headphones, a whistle around his neck and a stop watch in his pocket. As head man he could be calm inside of a hurricane, never raised his voice, and as positive as Phil Mickleson with a three-foot putt, uphill. No one knew “veer” football like he did and he could turn an offense around faster than a Popsicle melts in August. He was a teacher first and a master communicator second; you just trusted what he told you. The old saying goes “There is no ‘I’ in team,” but there is one in WIN; and winning was what his teams did best. So in July, he became lucky number seven, the seventh former Texas A&M Javelina to be inducted into the 2012 College Football Hall of Fame, and I can promise you there was no luck involved. If someone gave you the ingredients to make a football coach, you would create Ron Harms.
Someone once said, “If you’re going to learn to cross-country ski, start with a small country.” Head Coach Ron Harms was born on September 10, 1936. If anyone was born a football coach, it was he. After he had graduated from Valparaiso University in Indiana, Ron Harms began his teaching and coaching career at Lutheran East High School in Detroit, Michigan, as an assistant football coach. He also coached the track and cross-country teams. In 1962, after three years, he left to become the head football coach at Concordia College, located in Seward, Nebraska. At 27 years of age, it was his first head-coaching job. After six years, Harms left Concordia and headed to Alamosa, Colorado, to coach the Adams State Grizzlies. In the spring of 1974, after four seasons there, Harms resigned as Adams State head football coach and went to Kingsville, Texas, to hopefully land a job on Gil Steinke’s staff. Ron became the offensive coordinator during the 1974-75 seasons. Then he was offered and accepted an assistant coach’s job with Head Coach Grant Teaff of the Baylor Bears. Harms would spend the next three years in Waco, Texas, before heading back to Kingsville in 1979, to become their head football coach.
Harms’ induction into the 2012 College Football Hall of Fame allowed him to join legendary coach Gil Steinke, for whom Harms had worked in 1974-75, and five of his former players. They are as follows: Darrell Green, John Randle, Johnny Bailey, Dwayne Nix, and Richard Ritchie. Both Randle and Green are also in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “It’s an honor to be part of that group,” said Harms. The enshrinement ceremony occurred on July 20-21, 2012, in South Bend, Indiana.
Coach Ron Harms spent 23 seasons at Texas A&I Kingsville (later to be called Texas A&M Kingsville), two as an offensive coordinator and 21 as the head coach and athletic director. During his two seasons as offensive coordinator, A&I won 25 straight games and two NAIA Division I National Titles. Beginning in 1979, as a head coach of the Javelinas, Ron Harms’ teams won 14 conference trophies including 11 Lone Star Conference titles. Six of those championships came in a bunch from 1992-1997. His overall record at Kingsville was 172-72. Harms received five different “Coach of the Year” Awards during his tenure, including the NAIA National Coach of the Year. He has also been inducted into the Lone Star Conference Hall of Honor and the Javelina Hall of Fame. You have to respect excellence.
I am proud to call Coach Harms a friend and I have made the 35-mile trip to Kingsville from Corpus Christi many Saturdays to watch his teams win. It was like being in a pro locker room because many of his players would wind up in the NFL. Some guys collect cars; this man collected football players. Jorge Diaz, Kevin Dogins, Earl Dotson, Roberto Garza, Jermane Mayberry, Heath Sherman, Anthony Phillips, Johnny Bailey, Al Harris, John Randle, and Darrell Green are among the players I saw. But there are more. Names like Gene Upshaw, Randy Johnson, James Hill, Eldridge Smalls, Dwight Harrison, Ernest Price, and Don Hardeman made their way into the NFL ranks.
What is it about the game of football that’s so consuming? A game where the end results often lead to quarterbacks who can no longer raise their arm, linebackers who can’t bend over to tie their own shoes, and tackles who can’t get out of bed in the morning without the help of their wife. Maybe it’s a reflection of America; man on man, brute strength against force, confidence against fear. The game is played out on the biggest stages, televised nationally, in front of millions each week. Maybe part of the attraction is that we have to wait a week in most cases, to experience the excitement of the game again. “I enjoyed the sport itself, it was very intriguing to me,” said Harms. It appeared that they grew NFL players down in Kingsville, Texas, as 46 athletes from this Division II School have played on Sundays.
Harms, at 77 years old, now spends his time with his wife, Marlene, three daughters, one son, and chasing around a slew of grandchildren. He enjoys a swim now and again between rounds of golf and finds strength in his faith. They live in Aransas Pass, Texas, a quiet community located on the Gulf of Mexico.
Harms served a year on the NCAA Football Rules Committee with my friend, Dotson Lewis. “Harms always appeared logical and rarely spoke without thinking things through,” said Dotson. “He did a great job.”
Ron Harms and Davis Flores co-wrote a book entitled The Whole Enchilada, a history lesson of forty-one years of walking the sidelines. “I wrote it particularly for the fans of football, the Texas A&I Javelina fans,” said Harms.
Gil Steinke always claimed that Ron Harms was a “breath of fresh air.” I’ll say. You can’t find another Ron Harms; you just have to be happy with the time he gave us. Thanks Coach.
Mad About Baseball
There I stood with Corpus Christi baseball coaches, Hector Salinas, Lee Yeager and Steve Castillo, at the 2011 South Texas Winter Baseball Banquet. I was standing in high cotton. I felt like the guy who played third base with Tinker and Evers and Chance. That night the Corpus Christi Hooks were honoring the success of Head Baseball Coach, Steve Castillo with a Lifetime Achievement Award, after John Paul II High School had won their second state title. Castillo is slim built, business-like and wears tinted glasses. He looked like he should be teaching calculus in a baseball cap. He also has a heart as big as a watermelon, and you always get nine innings of truth from him in an interview. Castillo understood that baseball is the game of long seasons, where small differences decide who wins and who loses that game, that series, that season. There are so many sports slogans like “One game at a time,” but when you live it that’s when people notice. People noticed Steve Castillo. He was always two innings ahead of everybody else. He believed that good baseball cures bad baseball and preached to his kids that the best player on the team is the team.
So now we fast forward to the present, January 15, 2016. You know, the word “first” carries a lot of weight in the world of sports. Steve Castillo is now the first Corpus Christi Independent School District (CCISD) coach to be inducted into the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, located in Waco, Texas. The 65-year-old Castillo was caught completely by surprise for two reasons. It was his first year on the ballot, and the names of other coaches being nominated were impressive. Along with Castillo, the 2016 class included Julian Pressly of Odessa, Rudy Alvarez of Austin Bowie, and Jim Long of Brenham. Castillo has joined his dear friend, Steve Castro from Robstown, who recently passed away. These two are the only area coaches to enter the Hall of Fame. In 30 years, Castillo has won 717 games, while losing only 222 and tying 13. That’s quite a record. Castillo led Moody High School to three state championship games in 1983, 1994 and 2000, all of which they lost. Castillo left for John Paul II in August of 2006, and won two state 4A TAPPS Championships (2010-2011) in three trips. Steve has earned the Caller-Times All-Metro Coach of the Year Award four times and the All-South-Texas Coach of the Year Award three times. In 2013, his contract with the John Paul II Centurions was not renewed. The baseball community was shocked. Castillo, never one to look back, said, “They did me a favor. I’m really enjoying my three granddaughters.” So, hats off to Steve Castillo.
You see, Coach Castillo has never been unhappy at a ballpark. He has always been mad about baseball. He still gets lost in the game. There are very few things besides family that you can go through your entire life caring about. Baseball is one of those. Corpus Christi is proud of you, coach. This story was first published by Metro-Leader Magazine on February 1, 2016.
The Magic of the Trotters
Bill Cosby once said, “In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.” “No Fear” should be this guy’s middle name. He is the kind of guy who would play basketball with you in your backyard if you asked him. A good-looking guy; when you see him, you like him immediately. He is a born entertainer. At 6’ 4” tall, with a 45-inch vertical leap, he can jump out of your area code and light up a scoreboard like an old-fashioned pinball machine. He can stuff a basketball faster then you can say “Sweet Georgia Brown” and is worth the price of admission all by him self. Some around here say he is the medical definition of “goose bumps,” and you can’t fake goose bumps. He loves nothing more than posterizing the competition. He plays the game for keeps, as if behind enemy lines, and is more versatile than a Swiss Army knife. “I love it,” he said to me.
He’s #33 in your program, Harlem Globetrotter Will “Bull” Bullard from Detroit, Michigan. One of nine siblings, Bull’s first experience with basketball was when he witnessed a pick-up game in the Motor City. “I was amazed at how tall and athletic these guys were,” said Bull. “I only played basketball in high school and then signed a scholarship to play at Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi, for former Coach Ronnie Arrow.” Bull was part of Arrow’s team that won the 2007 Southland Conference Championship and a spot in the NCAA Tournament. In 2008, Bull was selected to participate in the NCAA Slam Dunk Contest held in San Antonio, Texas. Bullard finished second but was the only competitor to receive a perfect score on an amazing slam dunk. Bullard jumped over two of his 6’ 8” teammates and then dunked the basketball with both hands. When he completed that dunk, the look on people’s faces in the crowd reminded me of the folks who witnessed the attempted docking of the Hindenburg. The closest I will ever get to a dunk is a donut. In the stands sat representatives of the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters. “I was just being myself,” said Bullard. “The Globetrotters called the next day, and I’ve been a Globetrotter ever since.” Bull Bullard was poised for greatness. With the Globetrotters, Bullard is now connected to thousands of yesterdays. Greatness, no matter how brief, stays with a man.
The Harlem Globetrotters were created in 1926 by Abe Saperstein in the city of Chicago, Illinois, not New York City as most people think. Their first game was played on January 7, 1927, 48 miles west of Chicago in Hinckley, Illinois. Of course they won. The Globetrotters over the years have played and won more than 22,000 exhibition games in over 120 different countries and before 120 million fans. They continue to spread hope and smiles to all those they come in contact with. Their coach is former Globetrotter, Jimmy Blacklock. “Globie” has been their mascot since 1993, and they continue to perform to Brother Bones’ version of “Sweet Georgia Brown.” In 2002, the Harlem Globetrotters were inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as a team.
“I’ve played in 47 different countries,” said Bullard. “We practice every day, sometimes play nine games a week, and have entertained millions of fans. From December to May, we have our USA Tour followed by a European Tour and then a Military Tour. We won 200 games last year and they were all on the road.” When I asked what his favorite moment had been so far in his Globetrotter career, he answered, “My first trip oversees to Germany; on that plane, I realized this was all for real.” Who in their right mind would want to be a Washington General? I asked while laughing. “I don’t know, man,” laughed Bull. “They are all professional athletes and they work hard.” The most dangerous city he has ever played in with the Globetrotters was Mexico City and the country he liked best was the United Kingdom. “The city was beautiful,” said Bull. I asked him to share with me the stats of his best game as a Globetrotter. His answer was, “Millions of smiles and lots of autographs.” Globetrotter you wished you could have played with? Fred “Curly” Neal, Marques Haynes, Reece “Goose” Tatum, Meadowlark Lemon, Herbert “Geese” Ausbie,” then he stopped himself and said, “All of them.” Bull’s favorite food is salmon and sautéed spinach. His restaurant of choice is Famous Dave’s. Best advice anyone has ever given to you: “Always stay humble and never give up,” he answered. That reminded me of the Jimmy Valvano speech on ESPN. “Magic” Johnson is the athlete he would most like to meet. I tried to get him to change his nickname to “Windmill” Will Bullard because I’ve seen Bull throw down. He reminds me of Dr. J., but no deal.
Bull Bullard’s favorite charity is the (MTMF) Marvin Thomas Memorial Fund in Seattle, Washington. This fund helps needy children of all walks of life have the opportunity to play their favorite sport. “Every time I’m at home, I hang out there and help the kids,” exclaimed Bullard.
I fell in love with the game of basketball because my father introduced me to the Harlem Globetrotters. As a young kid, we were there watching the Globetrotters and my father started laughing out loud. He worked all the time, as most fathers did, and I had never seen him laugh so hard and now we were laughing together. That is the “Magic” of the Harlem Globetrotters and you didn’t even have to like basketball. When I told Bull that story he responded, “Man that’s a great story. That’s what the Globetrotters are about, giving back to the community. That’s why I’m a part of this team. I love playing basketball and making people laugh.” Bull is a part of that magic. I am reminded of a quotation from writer Joseph Campbell that went like this: “There is nothing more important than being fulfilled.” I think Bull has this all figured out.
The Corpus Christi Islanders men’s basketball season starts in a few days (November 7), but this year will be different in many ways. “Mr. Everything,” a fellow who answers to the name of John Jordan, will not be taking the floor. John, a kid from a wonderful family in Houston, Texas, graduated last year. His journey from Hightower High School to Texas A&M Corpus Christi has been one of success. John Jordan stands 5’10” tall and weighs 180 pounds, he says. He was labeled by many college recruiters out of high school as the “King of the Too’s:” too short, too slow, too small and too polite. He reminded me of “Underdog” in tennis shoes. They could measure his vertical jump (45 inches), but the one thing they couldn’t measure was his heart. It weighed a ton. This kid could jump out of the building. Check it out. It doesn’t seem possible. There are several You-Tube videos where he flies through the air and dunks over the top of guys twice his height. So John started his four year college trek at Texas A&M Corpus Christi in 2011. He finished his career as the all-time leading scorer of the program. All he did was shatter pretty much every Islander record and lead last year’s team to a 20-win season, the first time since 2007. In fact, Jordan was the only active player in Division I Basketball with at least 1,500 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists in his career. Jordan also joined Kevin Palmer as the only other Islander player to earn First Team All-Southland Conference honors, twice. John Jordan not only set the school record for points scored, but also in steals, assists, minutes played, games started and free throws made. I’d say he had an impact. And that’s not even the best part.
John Jordan is a tremendous young man. He will be missed for many reasons that don’t even include basketball. With so much negative stuff about our athletes being written in today’s papers, he’s almost too good to believe. He always made it a point to come by my seats before the game to say hello to me and my friends. Although I introduced myself to him as Andy, he insisted on calling me Mr. Purvis. I called him incredible. How many college athletes do you know that send you a Christmas card? He was a coach’s dream, a leader, a motivator, and a fine Christian young man. Coaching guys like John Jordan are why men like Willis Wilson get into the coaching profession.
But there was another John that became a part of this story. In 2013, former San Antonio Spurs guard, Johnny Moore, showed up at an Islanders’ home game being played at the American Bank Center. I had known Johnny from his days with the Spurs, and we began to catch up. Moore had been a fine college guard that played at the University of Texas and later with the Spurs as their staring point guard. When I asked him what brought him to Corpus Christ, he informed me that he had been selected as the head coach of the Corpus Christi Clutch, a newly formed professional basketball team of the (ABL) American Basketball League. This league consisted of twelve teams. Now I understood. Although he didn’t say it, he was there to see John Jordan play. When Jordan came over to say “hello” before the game, Moore was standing there with me, so I introduced them to one another. I took a picture of them laughing. Needless to say, Moore was impressed with what he saw that night. The sad news is that the ABL did not make it as ten of the twelve teams folded the following year.
John Jordan has since had several tryouts with current NBA teams. Is he good enough to play professionally? After watching guys from the past like “Spud” Webb, Nate “Tiny” Archibald, and Calvin Murphy, I would say “yes.” He could always go overseas, but being such a family guy, I somehow think he will stay here in the States. I wish him the best of luck.
As for the 2015-16 Islanders, they return a veteran team of eight seniors who have been in the program for multiple years. Their schedule holds many trials as they will play Texas A&M, University of Texas and Wisconsin, along with their Southland Conference foes. Look for the names of Rashawn Thomas, Bryce Douvier, Hameed Ali, Jake Kocher, Emmanuel Toney, Cole Martinez and Ehab Amin in the Caller Times. No doubt, Jordan will be missed, but it should be another great season for the Islanders.
He moves with long deliberate strides that tell you he knows where he is headed. A great smile and eyes that sparkle; he puts you at ease quickly. This guy loves basketball. His first words may have been the “Big O” and “Wilt.” In a crowd, he appears more comfortable than an old baseball cap. He is intelligent, gives credit to everyone but himself, and is a fine speaker. Some say he could draw a crowd at the North Pole. He’s a guy that doesn’t mind showing you the way to success; it remains up to us to follow. He knows we only get a short amount of time to be great at what we want to do, so he does not waste time. He understands that sometimes greatness is about struggle not victory. It’s about finding out what’s inside, the reason for being who you are. He also knows that regardless of the score, there is always time to coach. Shooting free throws with this guy for ten minutes will teach you more about him than 15 years of sitting at a desk across from him. He’s a fine man, good husband, great father, trusted friend and a basketball coach. A teacher in tennis shoes, Willis Wilson is the perfect fit for Islander basketball.
The first time I met Willis Wilson was at the 2011 NCAA Final Four. Where else would you meet one of the most respected basketball coaches in the land? Interestingly, Willis, the newly-named Head Coach of the Texas A&M--Corpus Christi Islanders, was introduced to me by the Islanders’ original coach, Ronnie Arrow. We shook hands, spoke for a minute, and made plans to connect later back in Corpus Christi. I grew up in ACC country and, like Willis, I also love college basketball. I can’t wait for basketball season. I attend the Islanders’ pre-season practices on occasion and Coach Wilson has always made me feel a part of his program. In this crazy world of social consciousness, you will see, hear and smell three things at an Islander round-ball practice: Character, Toughness and Talent. He calls it the bedrock of his program when; in fact, I believe it is a reflection of him and all that he stands for. I think the thing I like most about Coach Wilson is that he coaches the old-fashioned way, with respect, patience, honesty and understanding.
Willis Thomas Wilson, Jr., was born on March 22, 1960, in Indianapolis, Indiana, the land of college basketball. His family later moved to Silver Springs, Maryland, where Willis won All-Metro Washington and All-County honors for Montgomery Blair High School. As a junior, Willis led his basketball team to the 1977 Maryland State Championship. The following year, Wilson was selected the MVP in Montgomery County and captained the McDonald’s Coaches Scholarship All-Star Team in the Capital Centre Classic.
Willis later played basketball and graduated from Rice University in 1982. He would begin his coaching career at his alma mater in 1985, as an assistant. With stops at Strake Jesuit Prep, Stanford, Rice and then Memphis, Willis is the winingest coach in Rice history and has so far placed 25 of his kids in the professional ranks. He has been selected Coach of the Year several times and has won way too many awards to mention here. Willis Wilson accepted the Islanders Men’s Head Coaching position on March 25, 2011. He inherited a very young team in disarray. In his third season, the Islanders showed tremendous improvement. In the 2013-2014 season, the Islanders earned a 14-4 win-loss regular season record in the Southland Conference and received a spot in the College Insider Tournament. There they recorded the Islanders programs’ very first postseason win since the team’s inception in 1999. Last year, Willis also earned the prestigious Ben Jobe Award, as the top Minority Coach of the Year, in Division I basketball. And this year he has already celebrated the 250 win of his coaching career.
Willis Wilson has always been there when I have asked for his help. He has spoken to his fans at my business and he and his wife, Vicki, have attended my book-signing events. He has asked me to speak to his team on occasion, and I treasure his friendship. Wilson has spent nearly 30 years breathing through a whistle while teaching young boys how to become men, how to be productive in society and accountable to others and “oh yes,” how to play the great game of basketball. So, if you want to see the results of a great coach and be proud of the kids representing our city, grab a ticket and Go Islanders.
Push Down, Turn Left
On a good day, he could get four brand new tires and a tank full of gas in less than 14 seconds. He would make his living going around in circles and getting in and out of car windows. All that was needed was about 3,500 pounds of equipment, four tires, an occasional quick fist, and nerves of steel. Add cat-like reflexes, 360-degree vision, and a bucket of chips on your shoulders and you have a professional race car driver. One mistake could cost you the race, your life, or both. This fellow spent a lot of time pushing down and turning left on race tracks all across the country. Why, because he was a professional race car driver, and a darn good one.
Terrance Lee “Terry” Labonte was built on November 16, 1956, in Corpus Christi, Texas. All that it required was a bit of racing fuel for blood, some sheet metal for hide, a little oil pressure for a pulse and a heart the size of an 8-cylinder motor. This guy loved the sport and talked about automobile racing like your grandmother talks about recipes. Growing up, his weekends were spent on paved and unpaved tracks all over South Texas, especially around San Antonio and Corpus Christi. In 1978, Terry eventually found his way to Darlington, South Carolina, where he finished fourth in the longest race he had run up to that point. He finished seventh at Richmond, Virginia, the following week and was on his way to a fine career, where he competed in 890 races spread out over 36 years. Terry Labonte would take the checkered flag 22 times and was crowned a two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion in 1984 and 1996. Terry and his younger brother, Bobby, learned about cars while watching their father work on and build cars as a hobby, for their friends. Terry is also the father of former Nationwide Series driver, Justin Labonte.
“Texas Terry’s” most favorite moment occurred on March 28, 1999, at the Texas Motor Speedway, near Fort Worth, Texas. I was there! Labonte had a great car that day (Kellogg’s #5 Chevrolet Monte Carlo) and displayed 500 miles of great courage. Terry had run upfront most of the race, but after a poor pit stop, Terry found himself running second behind Dale Jarrett. Labonte proceeded to run Jarrett down and caught and passed him with less than ten laps to go, for the win. An estimated 200,000 fans, including myself and friends, began to get up out of our seats. “It was then I noticed the crowd,” said Terry Labonte. “Everybody was standing up. I knew I couldn’t let them down.” I had been a guest of Miller Brewing Company and remembered that there were so many people we had to park several miles from the track to catch a bus into the facility. I had never been to any sporting event attended by this many people, including Super Bowl XXVII, played in 1993, at the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles, California. We had seats in a suite, but I wanted to go down next to the track to experience the race from trackside. I stood right at the fence for a few laps. For those of you who have never been to a NASCAR event, the roar of the engines was unbelievable, but it was not the kind of noise that hurts your ears. I had a soft drink in my hand and noticed that when the cars roared down the straightaway in front of me that the displacement of the air created a vacuum that sucked the beverage up and out above my cup and then the liquid fell back into the cup as they passed. After the race, I also noticed what felt like saran wrap on my bare arms. Sure enough, it was a light coat of high-octane racing fuel that permeated the air. It was interesting that at trackside, you can only see the cars as they make their way to your right around the first turn and then you can follow them down the back stretch into the next turn. Then all you can see is a blended glimpse of colors from the cars as they pass by at 200 plus mph. It gave me goose bumps, and you can’t fake goose bumps. It was powerful and the kind of rush you would feel if several F-4 Fighter Jets were to fly overhead.
Terry Labonte drove ten seasons for Billy Hagan, three years for Junior Johnson, and eleven years for the Rick Hendricks teams. Labonte also spent some time with Richard Petty, the Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman team, along with the Joe Gibbs team and Michael Waltrip team. On October 17, 2014, at the age of 57, Terry Labonte announced his retirement. He will be missed.
Terry Labonte also won the 1989 IROC Championship and holds the all-time record for longest drought between Sprint Cup Championships (12). His brother Bobby was the 2000 Winston Cup Champion. He was elected one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers in 1998 and has been inducted into the National Quarter Midget Hall of Fame. Terry sat on the pole for 27 of his races and also finished in the Top Ten, 361 times. The Labonte brothers have a park named after them in their home town of Corpus Christi, Texas, and were both chosen for entry into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, in 2002. They continue to support the Ronald McDonald House here in Corpus. There is no doubt that the NASCAR Hall of Fame awaits his presence.
Remembering With Bobby
Professional football in the 1960’s meant putting your hand in the dirt and seeing who was better. Very few of us, if any, grow up to be who we wanted to be when young. This fellow did. He played with and against players with names that will ring out as gridiron gods and will stand the test of time. They called it the “Golden Era” of professional football. These early days of pro football were not filled with 70-yard pass plays. The game was like an atomic ground war. There were no winners, only survivors. It was 22 guys with clinched fists separated by less than ten yards of blood-stained dirt. There were no injury timeouts unless you had already used up all your timeouts. It was a time all about moving the chains.
Oscar Wilde once wrote, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” You be the judge. Robert Lee “Bobby” Smith was born on May 18, 1942, in Corpus Christi, Texas. His was a family full of love and compassion, along with a healthy dose of church. Bobby is married with four kids who all have their college degrees.
You’ll never forget the first time you meet him. His presence can fill up the room. At 73 years of age, his voice is soft and educated; he spoke to me like a father talks to his son. I’ll remind you that it was guys like Bobby Smith that sold this game of pro football to the American public. In the beginning, everybody is just a kid from somewhere, but this guy ran with the football like little boys do in their wildest dreams. Some folks say he was so fast he could outrun raindrops. Bobby had all the physical riches: speed, power, vision, energy and size. The only thing that could stop him was perhaps being kidnapped. Retired now, he seems content until you start talking football. You can feel his pulse quicken as the memories come flooding back.
Bobby attended Roy Miller High School from 1957-1959. Besides starring for the football team and running the 100 and 220-yard dash, he was voted class favorite his senior year. The Bucs football team was pretty good and made it all the way to the state semi-finals where Miller played Pasadena. That made Smith the first African-American to play in Rice Stadium. “When I ran with the track team, there were some towns like Laredo that would not let blacks stay in the hotel with the team. They spread out blankets on the floor in a local gym for us to sleep on,” said Bobby. In 1991, he was inducted into the Miller Athletic Hall of Fame.
During his senior year, he received 81 offers to play college football. Unfortunately, segregation only allowed three colleges in Texas to accept black players. They were: Texas A&I Kingsville, West Texas State and North Texas State. “I received a letter from Darrell Royal from the University of Texas,” said Bobby. “Royal told me he would love to have me, but the school was not ready to integrate at that time.” Bobby came very close to signing with the University of Michigan, but wanted badly to stay in Texas. He chose North Texas State. “I never regretted my choice,” said Bobby. From 1961-1963, Smith was responsible for over 1,500 yards of offense and scored 17 touchdowns for the North Texas State Eagles.
Bobby Smith was picked 6 in the 11 round of the 1964 AFL draft, by the Buffalo Bills. He received jersey #20 and promptly averaged 4.9 yards per carry in his rookie season, while scoring four touchdowns (once each against the Jets and Chiefs and twice against the Oilers). Smith rushed 62 times and gained 306 yards. He caught six passes for 72 yards, while helping the Bills achieve a 12-2 win-loss record in 14 games. Along with stars like Jack Kemp, Daryle Lamonica, and “Cookie” Gilchrist, the Bills beat the San Diego Chargers 20-7 on December 26, 1964, for the AFL Championship.
In 1965, the Bills finished first again in the AFL East with a 10-3-1 record. Again, Buffalo beat the Chargers 23-0 on December 26, 1965, to win their second consecutive AFL Championship. “We wanted to play the Green Bay Packers so bad,” said Bobby. Smith was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers before the 1966 season. He played a limited role in eight games for Coach Bill Austin. Their record was 5-8-1. Bobby wore #37 and rushed for 93 yards but did not score. The NFL expansion draft in 1967 allowed the newly-formed New Orleans Saints to draft players from other teams. Bobby Smith was chosen from the Steelers. Smith was injured in a pre-season game against the San Diego Chargers. A shoulder injury that involved his clavicle being separated from his sternum ended his career. Smith’s career totals are as follows. He rushed 129 times and gained 536 yards, while scoring five touchdowns. He averaged 4.2 yards per carry. He also caught 21 passes for 214 yards and won two AFL Championship rings.
In 1992, Bobby Smith joined his friend, “Mean Joe” Greene, in the North Texas Athletic Hall of Fame. They are still very close. Their wives were college roommates. In 1961, Eagles’ running back, Bobby Smith, led the team in point’s scored and total offense.
For Bobby Smith, scoring a touchdown wasn’t about winning a game. It was much more than that. It was about hope. What he and others like him went through helped shape our times. At the end of my interview, behind those big bright eyes and a smile that lights up the room, my new friend said to me, “I have something they can never take away. I was the first black man selected to the Texas High School All-State Football Team, in Division 4A.” We are what we remember.
Run for Fun and Fitness
I would like to thank Dale Rankin and all the folks at the Moon for their support and help. This column represents my third year of writing sports articles. I have received many kind words and hope you have enjoyed. I believe that if we know something about our past and have a good idea of where we are right now, then we can see the future. I dare you to become great. Happy Thanksgiving!
Remember when you used to run and play outside until it got too dark to see, or until Mom yelled, “Supper’s ready.” Running, jumping, skipping and playing outdoors was what you lived for. Being inside meant chores, homework, and looking after your younger brother or sister. Heck, back in the day, kids could take a stick, a ball of any kind, and a rock or the corner of a broken cinder block, and make up more games than you can download on your IPhone. They exercised their bodies while expanding their minds and using their imaginations. Now, unless they are playing an organized sport, the only moving body parts appear to be their thumbs. “This cannot be good for our youth,” said local fitness guru, Victor Betancourt. “So, we decided to put the fun back in fitness for the kids.” And they’re doing it for FREE. “What about social media,” I asked. “Is too much television, texting, games, Facebook and Twitter creating unhealthy kids?” “Moderation is the key,” answered Betancourt. The message, get them involved in physical activity even if it’s just swimming. Have you ever met a kid who didn’t like the water? So, if you want your child to be well-rounded (that doesn’t mean just physically but mentally as well), get them moving.
V-Fit Productions started in 2010, but Victor Betancourt has been a personal trainer for well over eighteen years. Visit their studio at 2001 S. Staples and you will find 6,000 square feet of specialized equipment designed to put you back on the right track for healthy living. No frills here, just hard work and results. “Exercise doesn’t do it alone,” says Betancourt. “Sleeping right, eating the right foods in the right amounts will help make a difference.” V-Fit has organized well over 60 races of all lengths since their inception, but now Betancourt, a father himself of a 15-year-old son, feels the time is right to capture the kids of Corpus Christi. “Kids Get Fit,” a nonprofit event, is just one of four each year that directly benefits the kids. And now Kayla Butts, a well known local registered dietitian and nutritionist, has joined the V-Fit team. This program will make a difference you’ll see, and I hope someday you can say your child is healthier because of companies like V-Fit Productions.
Now for the best part, here’s the skinny. On Saturday, December 20, at Cole Park on Shoreline Drive, you and your kids are going to show up at 8 AM with your running gear on and with jingle bells tied into your shoes laces. For $25 each, there will be a 5K run for anyone who wants to participate and a 1K fun run including a laser tag, FREE for the kiddoes. The name of this event is “Jingle All The Way,” and it benefits The Boys and Girls Club of Corpus Christi, located at 3902 Greenwood Drive. You can also sign your kids up for FREE classes right now by visiting www.bgccorpuschristi.org/. There will be a costume contest and lots of great door prizes to be given away. All V-Fit asks is that you register @vfitproductions.com before you get there, or go by The Boys and Girls Club and sign up. V-Fit is giving the gift of health this Christmas. Now, that’s what I call a great present. V-Fit, making it fun to be fit.
P.S. Don’t be surprised if Santa is waiting for you and your kids at the finish line. I wonder what you will ask Santa for this Christmas.
Six Hundred and Counting
For 32 years, he’s walked the sidelines and watched as his girls have played incredible basketball. He has answered to “Coach” far more than his given name. All those practices, chalkboard sessions, recruiting trips, and sweat and tears, rolled into now. Yet, he’ll be the first one at practice tomorrow. He’s funny, owns a great sense of humor, is a bit sneaky and enjoys a good prank. There are some of us who are born to be coaches. These are men and women who have a passion for the game and hate losing more than they love winning. More importantly, they realize that through competitive athletics you can teach young people the value of teamwork, discipline, right and wrong, loyalty, and how to succeed as one in a group of individuals. Coaches are special people; they usually light up the room when they enter. They take our kids, warts and all, and help mold them into fine people, as well as terrific athletes. Coaches live the game on a daily basis and just when they feel comfortable with their relationship with a player, that player usually graduates or moves on to the next level. Ask any athlete to tell you the name of their chemistry teacher; then ask them about their coach. More than likely they will not remember their chemistry teacher. On the other hand, ask a coach who his best players were and he will rattle them off like a spelling bee contest. I promise Coach Chadwick’s girls will remember his mantra: “What you do here matters…it matters to God, your family…and you.” Well said Coach, well said. So, welcome to the 600 Win club, Royce Chadwick, you deserve to be here.
Coach Royce Chadwick was born in Altus, Oklahoma, on November 24, 1957, but was raised in Floydada, Texas. His family developed deep roots in basketball and Texas. The Longhorn state has always been his home, yet his career has taken him near and far. He knows the back roads of the State of Texas better than the National Anthem. It all began for Royce as he laced them up for the Mighty Whirlwinds of Floydada High School. After college, Royce began to walk in his father’s footsteps, as his dad had coached both the men’s and women’s teams at the same time. Royce began as an assistant coach for both the men’s and women’s teams at Amarillo Junior College. He first head coach’s job occurred at Olton High School in 1983. In 1985, you could find Royce at the helm of Oklahoma Panhandle State University. He would spend two very successful years there before moving on to a three-year stint with Sam Houston State University. His Kats teams would win 47 games in those three years. Howard Junior College would be his next stop, for five seasons. Chadwick would lead his Howard teams to 148 wins and receive the 1992 Converse National Coach-of-the-Year Award along with the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches’ Coach-of-the-Year honors in 1993. Stephen F. Austin was up next, as his team dominated the Southland Conference for the next seven years. His SFA teams won five Southland Conference regular-season championships and went to seven straight NCAA Tournaments, reaching the Sweet Sixteen in 1996. Marshall University took notice and lured him to Huntington, West Virginia, for the next eleven years. Chadwick’s teams turned in seven winning seasons in those eleven years and brought him 39 wins closer to the magic 600. On April 11, 2012, Royce Chadwick came home to Texas and joined the Texas A&M Corpus Christi Islanders as their Women’s Head Basketball Coach. His 2013-2014 Lady Islanders’ teams won 18 games, and then recorded 16 more victories the following season. Royce has received the Southland Coach-of-the-Year Award twice, in 1997 and 2014. His teams have 11 postseason appearances, including seven NCAA Tournaments.
As for his best player he’s ever coached, he would prefer to say all of them, but a young lady by the name of Katrina Price from Stephen F. Austin would fit the bill. “She was pretty special,” said Coach. “She played in the old ABL Pro League.” Chadwick has two daughters, Kasi and Kelsi. He received his bachelor’s degree in accounting (1980) and his master’s degree in business education (1982), both from Southwest Oklahoma State University.
Royce Chadwick, one of the best in the business, became the 55 women’s coach in history to reach the 600 career-win milestone. His Division I winning percentage is well above 600. As of this writing, his career win-loss record stands at 602-364. I don’t know about you, but I’m a Royce Chadwick fan. Go Islanders!
Stand In, Swing Away
The game of baseball has always lent itself to stories, so storytelling becomes important. This guy can tell stories with the best. He’s loud, funny, relaxed and confident, traits he received from his dad. He’s a born hitter, an on-base machine; some say his favorite pitch is the first one he sees. As a youngster, he could roll out of bed and hit line drives and rip your heart out with a double. Giving this guy a bat was like handing Jack Nicklaus a 7-iron, Wayne Gretzky a curved stick or giving Doc Holliday a hand gun, something incredible was about to happen. At 6’ 3” tall and weighing 220 pounds, he could hit home runs like Mike Tyson hits a chin. Now he’s a coach. What this fellow does with his words is what Koufax did on the mound, what Mantle did with a bat and what Mays did in centerfield. He allows all his kids to dream. He understands that the easiest things to do in baseball are hustle and be prepared. Everything else is hard. Still, he was born to wear the green and blue. Now Texas A&M Corpus Christi Head Baseball Coach Scott Malone hits home runs with his words and deeds, and he “kills it.” The only way to stop Malone’s team is to lock the dressing room door before they come out.
Andrew Scott Malone was born in Longview, Texas, on April 16, 1971. Scott played baseball for his father at Abilene-Cooper High School (ACHS) and won two 5A Texas State Championships in back-to-back seasons (1987-88). Scott was selected second team All-State his senior year and Student-Athlete of the Year. When his dad, Andy Malone, retired, he owned the most wins (861-345) of any high school baseball coach in the State of Texas. “He taught me to play the game the right way, play aggressive, play to win, and that nothing is more important than your impact on kids,” said Scott.
As a pitcher, Scott signed a scholarship with Texas Christian University (TCU) in 1990. In his first pinch-hit at-bat with the Horned Frogs, Scott hit a home run. By the end of the year, Scott would be voted Southwest Conference Freshman of the Year. For the next two seasons, Scott won the individual batting title and was named SWC Player of the Year and an All-American. In the fall of 1992, Malone was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the ninth round. He would play four full seasons, reaching Class AA. Scott was also invited to the USA Olympic Team Trials. In 1996, after baseball, Scott finished his bachelor’s degree in exercise and sports studies at McMurry University, while participating as a student assistant baseball coach. His coaching stops included TCU, Kentucky and UNLV. Scott headed back to Texas as a hitting coach and spent four seasons in the Southland Conference at University of Texas-Arlington, where one of his guys was Hunter Pence, and University of Texas-San Antonio. His kids led the league in hitting, three of the four years.
You can see the passion in Scott’s eyes when he speaks about the game. Scott’s favorite position to play was outfielder, and the most famous player he ever played with is Rich Aurilia. He’s still in contact with Hunter Pence, just not as often. Scott’s favorite players growing up were Nolan Ryan and Michael Young. The greatest first baseman he’s ever seen is Will Clark; “He’d rather fight with you than let you strike him out,” laughs Malone. His favorite piece of memorabilia is anything signed by Nolan Ryan, and the one guy he would love to meet in person is Derek Jeter. We agree that Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame, and the pitcher Scott owned at the plate was Jose Lima. During a time where the length of the game is questioned, Scott loves slowing down the college game and maximizing his team’s time on offense. “The secret to baseball for me is the kids,” said Scott.
You’ll never forget the first time you meet Scott. He’s one of those guys that always makes you feel better after speaking with him. You can feel your heart rate increase just sitting in the dugout next to him. Some guys collect coins, this guy collects baseball players. Malone could sell newspapers to a blind man and everywhere Malone goes, his kids hit the baseball. Scott Malone was inducted into the TCU Sports Athletic Hall of Fame, together with LaDainian Tomlinson in October of 2011.
It has been said that a good leader rarely talks about being a leader. Malone’s job now as coach is to perfect his kids’ game and their character. He understands that you need to relax to play well, but not get comfortable. Comfortable gets you beat. He knows the only disability in life is a bad attitude. Malone has learned that managing means a lot more than pulling pitchers and using pinch hitters at the right time. A manager must know his players better than they know themselves. You must be their teacher, their leader and, at times, their best friend. A manager who fails to understand his players is more than likely doomed to lose.
Scott’s “sweet spot” in life resides at home instead of on a baseball. Her name is Lee and his best squeeze play always includes his daughters, Parker and Presley. When kindness meets class, you have Scott Malone. And he kills it.
Winton Churchill once said, “There is no doubt that it is around the family and the home that all the greatest virtues, the most dominating virtues of human, are created, strengthened and maintained.” Let me introduce you to the Frerich family of west Sinton, Texas. Staci and Toby Frerich have attended many tournaments all across the United States, while watching their two children Megan (12) and Tristan (15) compete in a sport that transcends time, a competition where butterflies are common and not the exception, and where “will” doesn’t beat greatness very often. “We have cheered on our kids in extreme heat, cold and rain,” exclaimed Staci. “It is difficult to sit back and watch. We have stressed to both of our kids it is not about the score, it’s about how you execute your shot and your sportsmanship. The score and ranking will fall where it may. There is not anything you can do to change the score, but you can do everything to change your attitude.” I would say this family has its priorities straight. How refreshing at a time where parents sometimes become the problem rather than the solution during sporting events.
From the dawn of time, the armies of Alexander the Great, the Japanese Samurai warriors, and the English longbows on the battlefields of Agincourt settled their differences with a bow and arrow. From Robin Hood to the plains Indians and William Tell, the skill of archery has been used to communicate, to fill tables and stomachs with food, and to defend its owner. Not anymore. The World Archery Field Championships is one of the fastest growing individual and team sports in the world. And guess what. Not only did Megan and Tristan Frerich win spots on Team USA, but they just recently returned from the World Championships held in Zagreb, Croatia, from August 16-26. Unbelievable! Who knew? Not I and I’ve lived in the Coastal Bend for thirty years. What an incredible accomplishment. Megan and Tristan, who both started at about the age of six, were two of the thirty-five members of the U.S. Team that was coordinated by the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California, to represent our country. Both kids have been training and shooting with the South Texas Junior Olympic Archery Development Club (SoTX JOAD) which is based in Victoria, Texas.
Here’s the best part. Over 400 archers, representing 46 different countries, advanced to the final round; and Megan placed seventh in the Junior Women’s Bare Bow competition, while her brother, Tristan, finished seventeenth in the Junior Men’s Compound Bow, in the world rankings. Congratulations guys, I’m proud of you. In case you’re wondering about the difference in bows used, the bare bow has no sites. Both kids competed in Field Archery which is much tougher than Target Archery. Field Archery requires shots to be made over all types of terrain, where calculating slopes, wind, and light become critical. Target Archery is performed at ground level. Competition archery requires intense concentration, refined repetition through endless hours of practice, timing, and the ability to block everything else out. I find it interesting that in a world where some kids cannot concentrate more than a few minutes unless the information is loud and coming at them at eighty mph, in multiple colors, that the skilled ingredients listed above that are required to compete in world class archery will serve the Frerich kids well in the future.
When asked, “Why archery?” Tristan has always felt most comfortable in the outdoors. He became a bow hunter at an early age and started competition archery to sharpen his skills. As for Megan, she’s the little sister everyone should have. She decided if her big brother could do it, so could she. So where do they go from here? I’d say the sky is the limit. Don’t be surprised when you read about these two in the future. Perhaps the Olympic Team a waits. As for mom and dad, I say, “Keep up the good work.”
“As a parent, it is very exciting to see your kids compete on a world stage,” said Staci Frerich. “Both our kids were extremely proud when they put on their Team USA uniforms.” That, my friends, is as it should be.
The Magic of the Minors
Most of us arrived for our weekly therapy session about an hour early. It was July Fourth, Independence Day, and all the doctors’ offices were closed. Not mine. You could smell the caramel corn, roasted peanuts, mustard and Nolan Ryan sausage dogs being prepared. Sure it was hot, but the afternoon breeze off the Corpus Christi Bay made it tolerable. Baseball was meant to be played outdoors. You see, I’ve never been unhappy at a ballpark, even if my team was losing. Minor League baseball is my therapy. It keeps me sane and the price is right. For eight bucks you can rent a seat that seems closer than the on-deck circle. At my age, winning and losing doesn’t seem as important as peace of mind. I watched cleats catching sunlight as the young kids tossed the ball around before game time. Young men from all corners, playing a little boy’s game with stars in their eyes.
Baseball looks so easy to play from your seat. The game moves at a pace that allows a grandfather to talk about what is happening on the field with his grandson. They see and experience virtually the same game. Baseball is tradition, longevity, it’s American. The bat represents aggression, determination, drive, and persistence. The glove represents morals, boundaries, ethics, and character. The ball represents opportunity, challenge, and risk. As “Babe” Ruth once said, “Baseball is the only real game.”
In the Minor Leagues, traffic is not much of a problem and the singing of the National Anthem could use some work. There’s a good chance you know the fellow throwing out the first pitch. It’s where we pass a folded dollar bill through the fence to a kid from West Texas who just hit a home run. Minor League baseball has its own lingo, smells, and sounds. It’s where tradition meets the future. It’s where we learned to score a baseball game and the meaning of a “Texas leaguer,” “Uncle Charlie,” and “shake-him-off.” Baseball jargon like “can of corn,” “frozen ropes,” “chin music,” “painting corners,” and “hook slides” began to make sense. I’m never bothered by the rumbling of the crowd; it makes me feel alive.
Minor League baseball is about “Cracker Jacks,” “Dippin’ Dots,” “Funnel Cakes,” and cold beer in a cup. Its fun, food, and family all rolled into one. The game may have been invented for the kids. Depending on their age, the game itself may not be the most important part of a night at the ballpark.
At Whataburger Field we have Rusty and Sammy as mascots. There’s the French-fry toss, kids running the bases, the dizzy-bat race and if you’re lucky, you may catch a Hooks t-shirt shot from an air gun. “Thirsty Thursdays,” one-dollar hotdog night, and Friday Fireworks keep mom, dad, and the kids coming back. There are a swimming pool and playground on site, with picnic tables. Besides, baseball and kids seem to go together like pork and beans. But the give-aways, now we’re talking. Bobble heads, hat night, and jerseys will make the most restless child stand in line. Whataburger Field is nestled on the south side of the harbor entrance underneath the Harbor Bridge on Corpus Christi Bay. Weddings, concerts, and private parties fill the space in the off-season. Within eye sight, there are the USS Lexington and the Texas State Aquarium.
But tonight was different. It was July Fourth, Independence Day and the 75 anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s farewell address; “Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” The Fireworks were spectacular and so were the Hooks as they shut out the Springfield Cardinals 8-0, in front of a record crowd of 9,185. How lucky we are to have a Minor League park in Corpus Christi, Texas. Go Hooks!
The Storm before the Storm
He was as happy as I’ve ever seen him. We took a picture together and that photo said it all. As a coach, he was on top of the world. It was a Monday night, March 7 and the Islanders Men’s Basketball team was gathering for a meal with the Rebound Club members at Fuzzy’s on Staples. The team was headed to Katy, Texas, for the Southland Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament. With a 24-6 record, the Islanders had secured a second-place finish which gave them a double bye in the tournament. They would play on Friday, but their opponent had not yet been determined.
For a coach, the grind of trying to win over and over is a difficult task that requires extreme concentration, long hours of practice and watching film, continuous questioning of have we done enough, are we ready, do we know everything we need to know and are we prepared to play?” The pressure never lets up. Although the mood was joyous that night, you could feel the intensity in his handshake. Marty Gross was so revved up; he could have played two games back-to-back.
Martin Christopher “Marty” Gross was born on August 5, 1955, in Yankton, South Dakota. Marty attended Yankton Senior High and graduated in 1973. He was selected All-State his senior year. Gross was a four-year letterman for The University of Jacksonville, serving as the 1977 team captain when he was a senior. He also played on the 1974 Jacksonville NIT team. He received his B.S. in management in 1977 and his masters from UAB (University of Alabama Birmingham) in 1979.
Marty is mostly quiet, reserved, and intense: a thinker known for crossing his arms in front of his body as he takes exaggerated steps up and down the sideline, before the game begins. Ahh, “Game time,” he has been in this very place thousands of times. He is trusted, meticulous and thorough; this guy could find dirt in a snow bank. Nothing gets by him. Why? Because he’s put the work in; Marty is the storm before the storm. Gross has a national reputation and has been in the coaching business for 39 years. Head Coach Willis Wilson relies on him and they’ve been together for 20 years. We’ve been through so much together,” said Wilson. “Nobody can outwork Marty. He keeps track of everything, even the stuff the other teams don’t keep up with.”
By Thursday, we knew that we had drawn our two-time nemesis, Sam Houston State, for the semi-finals. On Friday night, the Islanders, two star big men (Douvier and Thomas) were sitting on the bench with five fouls each, and the Islanders trailing by two points, things got interesting. There were only 1.2 seconds on the clock when senior guard, Hameed Ali launched a three-point shot, from the top of the key, to give the Islanders a one-point lead. He then interrupted Sam Houston’s inbound pass and was fouled. He would make both free throws for a 79-76 Islander win and a shot at the “Big Dance” by beating Stephen F. Austin on Saturday night. It was the biggest shot in Islander history, and some joked that they may rename the Merrell Center in Katy, Texas, the Ali Center. Marty Gross always does the Islanders’ postgame interview. I could not believe how calm he sounded. Then I remembered, he’s been ready for this his whole life.
Saturday, March 12, was not a good day for the Islanders, as Stephen F. Austin controlled the tempo of the game from start to finish and shut down the Islanders inside. Poor shooting and turnovers resulted in a run-away game for the Lumberjacks. I am reminded of a quotation from legendary coach, “Bones” McKinney who once said, “The problem with officials is that they don’t care who wins.” The whistle did not go our way that night.
With Sunday came a new opportunity and maybe even some redemption. For the third year in a row, the Islanders (25-7) were invited to play in the College Insider Tournament (CIT). They opened at the University of Louisiana on Wednesday, March 16, 2016, but it was not to be. The Ragin’ Cajuns made 11 of 24 three-point shots, did as they pleased, and sent the Islanders home early. You can find Marty Gross working today, as he will begin again, looking for fine young men who have character, toughness and talent. That’s what a great coach does.