Saturday, June 23, 2007

Little League but Large Lessons

I don’t remember how it all began but the five years I’m about to tell you about are no doubt some of the fondest memories I have as a boy growing up in Reynolds, GA. I think it was the first formal little league organization in the history of Reynolds. Youth baseball had been played since the beginning of time in Reynolds but I don’t think it had ever been quite like this. By the way, the Reynolds Little League was not a budgeted item in county or city government. It was started, organized and maintained by a few parents who cared about the kids in town. I was fortunate enough to be one of the beneficiaries of their care and concern.

The parents who cared who come to my mind are people like Willie Gaultney, Hubert Arnold, Bo Bo Bartlett, W.T. Williams and Pat Patterson. If I remember correctly, Willie (pictured here) was the chief organizer. I know there were others but these men were always there. They were sacrificing their Saturdays and many evenings after work to make sure the kids had this opportunity.

There were four teams: The Giants, the Indians, the Yankees and the Dodgers. The ages of the players ranged from age 8 to age 12. The uniforms were first class. There were no , “I need $15 for the shirt – you go buy the pants” speeches at the beginning of the year. The professional jerseys and baseball pants and the stirrup socks all matched. And they were all paid for by local merchants. The schedules were not printed on sheets of paper and handed out. Instead they were printed on professional cards paid for by local politicians with their ads on the back. Schedules in which the Atlanta Braves would be proud.

The league started in the summer of 1963. Major league baseball had real heroes in those days like Mantle, Mays, Aaron, Musial, Koufax and Drysdale. I was 8 years old going on 9 and already a huge baseball fan. But as a player I had to play against boys who were 12 years old going on 13. I can still remember the horror of having to face the much older fire baller pitcher named Steve Peacock. Local attorney and lifelong friend Chuck Byrd still has nightmares of the day he was hit by a Steve Peacock fastball. Years later when Steve worked for the City of Reynolds and I was the local undertaker, I was still intimidated by him. And I also remember facing the southpaw Wayne McInvale. He didn’t throw quite as hard but it was plenty hard enough with no control. Wayne hit about 3 or 4 batters per game. I made sure my helmet was on securely when I faced Wayne. For any of you tourists who drive through Reynolds, Fort Wayne is the only motel in town. Fort Wayne’s owner is former left handed wild man by the name of Wayne McInvale. You can eat there and you can stay there. But I would not advise standing in the batter’s box against him.

The interesting thing about this Reynolds little league was the younger guys would get better and better as the years continued. For instance, by the time I was 10 facing guys two years older was a piece of cake. And by the time my group was 12, we would now dominate the league. We had paid our dues, learned by a lot of hard knocks and now were pretty doggoned good baseball players.

As I look back there are a couple of lessons I learned from my incredible little league experience.

First it doesn’t hurt to be put in situations in life where we are overwhelmed. We learn how to survive and the experience provides us with enormous opportunity later. We may not appreciate the short term benefit of those circumstances but the cumulative effect is rather amazing. No different from when I first started working for corporate America 10 years ago. I was completely overwhelmed but I survived and the cumulative effect of many uncomfortable experiences made it possible for me to do what I am doing today. If I was never put in a situation where I was stretched beyond my ability I don’t think I would ever have even a chance to grow to my potential. I still appreciate the “overwhelming moments” this life always has a way of providing.

Secondly the importance of organized youth sports can never be underestimated. Not only do young kids learn about teamwork, personal success and how to keep going when there has been a temporary failure, but the memories of the people who played with them will stay with them the rest of their lives. Contrary to some opinions, the purpose is not to make major league players. The odds of that happening are about the same as winning the lottery. But the purpose is to teach lessons to kids about teamwork and accountability and to learn about the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. One thing is for sure: There will be plenty of both as their lives continue.

Amazingly it has been 44 years since the great men and leaders I have mentioned thought enough of the kids and our community to start our very organized and first class little league in Reynolds. Most of these guys have gone on to glory now.

But the investments they made are still paying off.

Little League but large lessons.


Judy S said...

Where did you get that picture of Daddy? Daddy and the other men you mention did work very hard to give the kids little league. I didn't like the fact that girls, couldn't play and I was a better baseball player than a lot of the boys.There was one thing for sure, we knew what we would be doing on Saturday. I also remember picking plums and selling them to raise money for the lights. Daddy got H.C. to let him use the equipment and got his guys that work with him to volunteer their time to put up the lights. Those were some of the best years of my life.

Daddy has spent the majority of his life working with the citizens of Taylor County. He served on City Council, served two terms as mayor and then 3 or 4 terms as County Commissioner. He loves Taylor County and most of all Reynolds.

Tommy Byrd said...

I still have nightmares about catching for Steve or Wayne.I played left or right field most of the time,but could catch if needed.Nobody wanted to face either one of those guys.Mr Sink Marshall took some of us over to FT.Valley to play one of the Pony League teams one night.As I remember,Wayne pitched and those guys,who were several years older than us were having a hard time hitting anything he was throwing.I remember how exiting it was to go over to Mr.W.T.Williams house and pickup your uniform when it came in.I remember walking into the living room and going through the box of uniforms to find the one you ordered.All of the people mentioned in your blog were instrumental in getting the program going and keeping it going.Mr R.C.Brooks being one of the early sponsers of Little League and he would be in the stands at every game.It seems like the entire summer consisted of Little League games or practice,watching the Sat game of the week with Dizzy Dean,some fishing or swimming and playing golf at the Reynolds Club.Oh I almost forgot,going to Potterville when they had the clubhouse open for swimming.Those are great memories.Tommy Byrd

Judy S said...

When I told Daddy he said that you forgot another very important person in the organization of the little league. That was Sammy McCray. Daddy started filling in the gaps about how the field lights got done.

Anonymous said...

This was a huge part of my life growing up in Reynolds.I am thankful for the men who were willing to take on the unpopular job of umpiring the games.Some of them were not very good but they were willing to help out. Ernest Parker and Dave Montfort were excellent umpires.
Cal Patterson (aka Cobby)