It was a baseball reunion. Most of us graduated in the late sixties or early seventies. Billy Cunningham has called us together for the last ten years or so. We come eagerly. We shake hands and hug each other. We laugh over oft told tales with a joy and freedom that only wisdom and age can allow. And mostly we talk baseball.
The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, looks today much like it did back when Coach Shirley Majors was banging out those infield ground balls to us during pre game warm-up. Sure, there are a few new building sprinkled here and there. Ruth is no longer passing out hamburgers in the Thompson Student Union. Rebel’s Rest has burned to the ground. The small gym we remember has grown into a sports complex……
But time is irrelevant on this hallowed ground. It has always been so. All Saints’ Chapel still reigns over The Domain. The granite, limestone and stained glass are unmovable. No matter the ups and downs of life; the waywardness of youth; the political strife; the cold hard reality of growing old……..The Mountain remains.
George Horton hugged my neck and told me he loved me. We have, in reunions past, recounted the story of George breaking his leg sliding into home so often that it overshadows the fact that he could flat out hit. Of course, we didn’t get back together after fifty years to talk about how many hits we got.
It was the dropped fly balls, missed grounders and errant throws that brought out the laughter. John Popham gave up a home run in 1971 that knocked down a Russian satellite. We remember that one game where Rick Matthews ALMOST caught a fly ball. We marvel that smart, baseball minded Cunningham could get picked off second with the bases loaded in a one run game. We laugh now over Robert “Bambi” Akin running into the centerfield fence so hard it ALMOST knocked some sense into him!
Bill Davis, or maybe it was Ed Ellis, remarked that it was hard to believe it had been exactly half a century since this group won the College Athletic Conference Championship in Memphis. I couldn’t tell if the “believability” part dealt with the number of years……or the fact that we won the tournament!
Mighty Silly Tommy Tilley’s wonderful smile has not waned one bit. As Tim Turpen hugged me I thought of his parents. They always liked me better than they did him! Gary Sims blessed my memory by bringing up one of my old high school football coaches. And Jim Williams, who grew up on Stonewall Street just a few houses away from me, and I talked more about our hometown than Sewanee baseball.
We spent a special afternoon together at the old ball field yelling at the umpires and marveling at the youthfulness of the current crop of players. We munched on Dan Sain’s chicken between games and recounted David Paschall’s headfirst slide into third against Belmont in 1967. We “remembered” the earthquake in St. Louis; the obnoxious fans at Spring Hill College in Mobile; Coach Carter’s rocket like ground balls; building a fire in the dugout on those murderous cold February days; the flying tobacco spray; and, of course, Bob White’s famous broken fungo escapade.
Everyone had a Coach Majors’ story. He could be a little tough and a tad intimidating on an incoming freshman or a lazy sophomore or an unrepentant junior….. He demanded his “mens” play—and live—by some kind of Hammurabi code that only he understood. He was yelling at us way before “old school” became an aphorism.
He was one of the many “common denominators” we shared during our time at the University.
I laughed till my face hurt. And even as the chatter banged on, the insults flew, the “one up” story telling non-stop…. I thought of how fortunate I was to find this place and these guys those many years ago.
I shall always be grateful for junior leftfielder Tim Peters’ quiet and patient guidance through my freshman year. Corky Grant led by example. John Stewart was a friend when I was in dire need of one. Bambi could drive you nuts but he’d give you the shirt off his back in a heartbeat. Paschall often loaned me two dollars when I was down to nothing.
George Horton wasn’t kidding when he said he loved me. He was expressing a sentiment that we all felt……and one you might not can understand unless you had banded together to withstand the sunless days, sleepless nights, finite mathematics, W & L onslaught, mandatory chapel attendance, owl flicks, abject loneliness and a million slides into second base on a field that was harder than reinforced concrete!
It was a baseball reunion. And we talked baseball. Lots of baseball…… But somewhere on the ride home it dawned on me that this baseball reunion wasn’t really about baseball at all.