Band of Brothers……naw, none of them would ever say that. It was just college baseball. And we came from all over. Mike Scheunemann was from Carlsbad, California; Chap Wasson from Falls Church, Virginia; Bill Davis from Illinois; Rick Mathews from Seattle; Gary Sims from Mowbray Mountain; Bob White from up near Cleveland……you get the idea.
We didn’t have hardly anything in common. Except, maybe surviving! The University of the South is located on a wind swept plateau forty miles or so west and a couple of thousand feet higher than Chattanooga, Tennessee. It could get colder than all get out up there! And, since it was an all boys’ school back in the late ’60’s when we were playing, it could be “way passed lonely”. You throw in professors that lectured faster than a speeding bullet and expected you to memorize the entire syllabus the first day, it could be a little intimidating. Ok, it could be a lot intimidating!
Baseball was a much needed outlet for most of us. Of course, some were there because the football coach (who doubled as the baseball coach) made them play. I reckon he wanted to keep an eye on them. Or he felt like we needed a little more beef when the fights broke out.
We spent hours after hours on that ball field from February into May whether we wanted to or not. We answered to names like Dootsie, Chappy, Under Dog, Blue Steel, Bambi, Corky, Mighty Silly Tommy Tilley, Loony Scheuny and “The Prune”.
We built a fire in the dugout on extra cold days. We raked an infield that was so brick hard you couldn’t make a dent in it. A slide into second base was like throwing your body across a slab of concrete. We ran endless laps around an outfield that seemed to grow longer as the season progressed. We took road trips in a couple of old Checker limousines that looked like something out of “Bingo Long and The Traveling All-Stars”. And we had to endure Bobby Akin reminding us how good he was…..at every practice, before and after every game, at every meal, on every road trip and any other time that he was awake.
We had each others’ backs. The day I got my Dear John letter John Popham met me at the first base line, “She must have finally gotten a good look at you in the daylight.” John Stewart added, “You didn’t send her a recent picture by chance.” Rick Van Orden strolled by singing, “It’s just a matter of time”.
Teammates to the end!
We did hold our breaths and our tongues (for a moment) when Akin hit the fence nose first, George Horton broke his ankle sliding into second and Van Orden ripped a deep gash above his eye in a collision at first base.
Bob White told me about the big city. I explained how we did things in a small West Tennessee town. Tim Peters drove me down to the City Café after practice and, over a Coke, talked baseball, country music and how to survive at the university. Corky Grant didn’t say “you need to practice hard”. He led by example. Tim Turpen’s mom liked me more than him most days. We laughed and joked and got on each other…..and in between we played some pretty good baseball. It was an honor to play behind Bob White or Dain Sain and along side John Stewart, Chap Wasson, Ernest Kirk and the others. Scheuny would grab me as he headed out to right field, “Kes, you get out here quick and catch anything you can, I told Coach Majors I came here to hit, not to field.”
If you needed an encouraging word, it might come in a strange form, but it would come. When a real problem arose, those baseball players lined up to provide aid and comfort. If you were really down and out, they wouldn’t let you get near a gun or a cliff. If you were short on cash, those guys were better than an ATM.
Jim Williams and the Paschall brothers talked me into attending the University of the South. A baseball team saw that I didn’t fail.
Those people that think a college education is immersing yourself in European surveys, trigonometry and memorizing ream after ream of John Milton and Shakespeare, might be surprised. I learned more out on that old baseball field than all the classrooms put together.
Billy Cunningham, a pretty fair switch hitting catcher, had the idea to get us all back to The Mountain for a reunion. We’ve been doing it for several years now. We hug each other unashamedly. We talk about marrying above ourselves. We relish in retelling those wonderful stories (again and again) of yesteryear. We watch the present day team play. And we lean on each other getting up and down the bleachers.
Popham keeps us informed via email on the comings and goings in our group, as well as reminding us that Akin might not have been quite as good as he says. John will zing all of us from time to time. But I thank God for John and Bobby; both live near my oldest son in the Nashville area. If something went terribly wrong they would drop everything and sprint to Josh’s aid! As would any of the others that understood I had a real need. I marvel at, and appreciate to this day, the depth of friendships that were born on that old hard rock baseball field in such an “out of the way” place. And I’m so thankful there are still things left in this world the years can’t diminish.
But Band of Brothers…….naw, none of them would ever SAY that…...