Every Coach’s Dream, A True Story about Dixie Youth Baseball in Three Small Towns, by Harold A Brown
Chapter 1: Pre Season
The higher your expectation the greater your achievement.
The title on the baseball score book boasted All American Athlete. The man that had possession of the score book was known as Coach. He told all the new eleven and twelve year old baseball players that they could call him Mr. Brown, Coach or Dad. Only one All American Athlete called him Dad and he did not choose to call him anything when they were practicing or playing. The rest found calling him Coach was easier to remember.
It was a new season and there were enough kids for two home teams. Everyone was happy to have that many. Nolensville was one of three communities, Nolensville, Rockvale, and College Grove, that competed with each other and the competition was fierce. Nolensville would have two teams, Nolensville Red and Nolensville Blue. Player selection was important.
“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin” – Mother Theresa
Coach: Coach moved to the Nashville, Tennessee area in 1969 and wasn’t familiar with Dixie Youth Baseball. His early years of playing baseball in his home town was related to Little League. It wasn’t even in the realm of possibilities that black and white children could play ball together. It was a different time and different place.
There was a league of black adult players that worked out on the old ball field in my hometown of Hamburg, Arkansas on Sunday afternoon. One of the heroes of this town had tried out for a major league team but did not make the cut. The African American team had no problem with Billy Wayne, a white person, playing with them but it just would not have flown the other way around. In fact there was no white young adult team in the town. It was fun watching them work out.
Before Coach had children he saw his first picture of a youth baseball team, in Tennessee, that was listed as Dixie Youth Baseball. He asked the father of one of the players what Dixie Youth Baseball was all about? By the early seventies integrated sports was becoming a way of life. In the middle fifties it was not an accepted practice and every effort was made to keep the groups segregated. The father informed Coach that at one point in time a group defected from Little League in an effort to keep the races separate. His team had a mixture of colors but the name Dixie Youth was still being used.
When Coach became involved with youth sports most of the teams were integrated. That’s just the way it was. Most people had forgotten or never knew why Dixie Youth was started.
The boys and their parents were secretly evaluated as they signed up for summer baseball. If coaches are truthful they will confess that their selections, all things being equal, chose their players based on the appearance of their parents. So, if you were selected last on your team, don’t be discouraged about your playing ability, just take a long look at your parents. So much for selection strategies.
Most folks would tell you that Coach was in charge. Working with other parents, like him, was almost impossible. There was room for only one such personality on the team. For that reason Coach was the only person choosing players at the team selections. Not to worry, confidence may not be justified, but he felt good about his ability when it came to identifying boys who could play or wanted to learn. Certainly, making a mistake in the draft was the kiss of death.
Tim and Frank were two of the boys that signed up for baseball were cousins, and lived together. They asked to be on the same team. That was not unusual. Brothers are almost always put together. There are even cases where children that live close request the same team. Beware of coaches that suggest that parents do that because of their ability. Especially if both have exceptional talent and will be on that person’s team. These two boys had never played organized baseball before and were late for the draft. When all had been selected except these two boy and two others that were there, the other coach was given the option of selecting the two boys sight unseen or the two that were present. He made the decision that most would have made and selected the two birds in his hands. It was the beginning of a season to remember.
Let The Fun Begin
Both coaches took their new players to the practice field and started their first workout. The two cousins made a late appearance and made the roster official. Coach didn’t want to give any player the idea that a position was his by right but by ability. He wanted to see how they caught and hit the baseball. That was the objective of that first meeting.
Coach lost what he thought was his best selection of the day because of his, “I am in charge,” attitude. The boy was an all-star and his father did not want to take a chance that he would be placed at a position other than second base. What a shame that at eleven years of age he was delegated to one spot. In fairness, the boy was an excellent second baseman then and later. His father’s ego was a match for Coach’s.
The coaches for the teams realized, after the cousins arrived, that one had the arm of a winner. Both coaches smiled but one was not for joy. Tim “Rocket” Ridley would start six games and pitch relief in four more. Good pitching makes or breaks a team. You can’t win without it and have a 65% chance of winning with it.
Practice was fun, all the guys liked each other. Four of them had been team mates for the last three years and were a coach’s delight. They made all the practices and worked hard when they were there.
Lajuane Stewart: Lajuane was small and fast. His glove made him the best shortstop in the league. Lajuane didn’t hit a lot of pitches but he was on base almost every time he went up to bat. He was the first batter in the line-up for every game he played for Coach that year.
Jimmy Johnson: Jimmy was big and slow. His defensive play was excellent. His reflexes made him valuable at third and first. Jimmy also pitched. He worked relief in six games and started three. He knew more about baseball than most of the coaches and all of the parents. His grandfather was a student of the game and Jimmy listened to him. Jimmy’s grandfather could have played in the old Negro League like several of the older African Americans in the community.
Owen Brown: Owen was the only one allowed to call the coach Dad. He was always better than the credit his dad gave. He worked hard and was rewarded with the title of All-Star Catcher at the end of the season. He was a tough catcher and sharp base runner that always made the base coaches look good.
Teddy Hannah: Teddy was strong and fast. He hit from the left side and could steal a base faster than anyone playing that year. He always wore a smile under his hat. Teddy started the season batting last in the order. He quickly moved up to number three and eventually found a home in the middle of the order. His bat speed made him a feared hitter. Coach hoped that he would develop as a pitcher but Teddy only started one game.
Lajuane, Jimmy, Owen, and Teddy were the four players that had been together for the last three years.
Marty Jones: Marty was a pick up from a different team but was not unfamiliar to the other players. He was a lefty that could hit and field the ball. He played second base, unusual if not unheard of, all season. Marty had been a successful pitcher for other teams but never made an impact for this team. His father was very involved with his other teams and had always worked him at home before the game if he was going to pitch. He confessed the problem and Coach understood. Pitching isn’t easy and those that are successful almost always have a father that works with them every day. Marty started four games and had a part in winning three of them.
Darrell Skinner: Darrell was a small boy that played a big first base. He hit for a good average and was a smart pitcher. He started one game, did relief in eight with six of those as finisher. If ever a player deserved to make an all-star team he did.
Tim “Rocket” Ridley: Rocket’s arm was alive and his bat was solid. Rocket was in reference to his arm but could just as easily have noted his speed. He wanted to play and his energy was contageous. Coach thought he was the most valuable player in the league. He started six games on the mound and took relief in four. When someone else was pitching he took their place in the field. He was the lead-off batter in the All-Star game.
Frank Ogilvie: Frank was Rocket’s cousin. They were a fine pair. Frank played left field and had a strong arm plus a willing spirit. He just wanted to play. Frank didn’t always hit the ball but when he did, oh my!
Alex Lankford: Alex was in a world all his own. He had a “me attitude” in a team sport.
Brad Alexander: Brad had the want-to but needed more playing time. He was blessed with excellent balance. Brad showed his lack of satisfaction with Coach during one of the games by giving him the finger. Coach had his back turned to the dugout and it appeared that he had not seen the gesture so an adult told him what had happened. Coach replied, “If I let him or the others know that I saw what he did, I will have to dismiss him from the team and I don’t want to do that.” Coach liked Brad and when his parents spoke to him about Brad’s behavior he told them why he could not acknowledge their son’s anger.
Derek Pack: Derek joined the team later. He was two or three years younger than the other players. He certainly had the talent to play with the older guys but didn’t always show confidence on the field. He made an impact on the team because of his consistency and team first attitude. The older players took to him like a baby brother. When one of our players dropped out, Derek took up the slack, never letting the team down. Derek and his father were a package deal.
Jerry Pack: Jerry, Derek’s father, loved the game and wanted to win more than most. He was good with the boys and had no desire to be in charge. Jerry spent his time coaching first base. Coach was glad to have his help and the players all enjoyed his attitude. One of the players asked Coach Pack why he always wore the same clothes to the game. He replied, “I do it for luck, as long as we are winning I do not wash them.” The team thought that was funny and asked him about his underware. He confessed that he did wear clean underware to every game. Jerry would become more involved in Dixie Youth and went on to serve several years as district director.
Coach liked to win. His experience with losing didn’t make him a fan. He expected total effort from the team. Everyone wasn’t equal but their commitment should be.
The higher your expectation the greater your achievement.