51-0 wasn't a bad start, if you ask me

Friday, May 25, 2012

To be honest with you, I got the 51-0 from Bruce Hay, who was a little leaguer back in the day when I was an American Legion 17-year-old in the summer of 1970. Bruce was telling me he and his dad would go out to the old Grandstand and watch Legion baseball after Bruce's Little League games were over.

Most games, there was a crowd of 1,000 or more there with them.

Times have changed.

But anyway, as far as the 51-0 is concerned, what I actually remember is 45-0, but the main thing is the "0." And I could be wrong. It really might have been 51-0.

Mark Littell was supposed to use up his last year of Legion eligibility to pitch for that 1970 Legion team, but signed with the Kansas City Royals instead. Mark was from Gideon (up a little ways northeast of Kennett) and I faced him several times in high school ball, me playing for South Pemiscot and Mark for Gideon (that little town still had a high school then). I remember two things about my at bats against Littell ... the imprint of a baseball on my upper left thigh that lasted for years after he plunked me, and the double I got down the right field line that got me plunked.

It wasn't much of a double, but I think it might have been the only hit Littell ever gave up in high school. He threw 100, and even had a curve ball. A long, successful Major League career followed for Littell.

No so for me, nor any of the other guys on that team, although Dee Human signed with the Royals too, but I think his knees messed up on him. A few of the other guys played some college ball also.

What brings on this baseball nostalgia is the recently announced hiring of Randy Smith as Blytheville High School baseball coach (I guess he still lives in Arbyrd or Cardwell or someplace, because he's been coaching in the Southland and Senath-Hornersville systems for years now).

Randy was on that 1970 team (and 1967, 1968 and 1969 teams), pitching and sharing first base with Steve "Pig" Smith, who's now the manager of Motor Appliance Corporation. He never hits a fairway, but don't hold that against him.

Danny Beck (Beck Painting/Construction) was the catcher 'til he broke his arm (Beck can hit fairways but he can't putt), then Gary Edwards (Crosstown Liquor) and David Tennyson (me) had to take over the catching duties, and that was the first bad sign of things to come for that 51-0 start.

Tommy Fowler (from Manila, now coaching at Nettleton, I believe) was the third baseman, Gerald Adams from up around Cardwell was the shortstop, Human at second, Les Alsworth and Terry Brown and me alternating playing left and right with Jim Calewaert holding down centerfield after he got through with a tour of national track meets in which the short, stocky, fast little sucker set some records. I played center most of the time he was on the road, but there was no contest for the job once he got back in the mix.

Gary "Legs" Nelson from out Armorel way, Art Hill from Trumann and Johnny Paul Beard from Blytheville were pitchers, in addition to the Smith boys. There might have been a couple more pitchers, but I can't remember who they were at the moment.

No offense to "Pig," but Randy was the ace of the staff. But the other guys were all real good pitchers too; that's why we went 51-0.

Anyway, the eligibility of the boys from out and about (Smith, Adams, Hill and maybe a few more) was called into question and Dwight "Red" Williams had to sit them out of the District Tournament and we got beat and that was the end of that.

I didn't come back to play my last year after a freshman year at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., but I probably would have if the eligibility thing hadn't come up and we'd won the American Legion National Championship.

That would have been a certainty, I think.

Anyway, Randy knows about all there is to know about baseball and has a world of experience coaching at every level you can think of, including professional. Blytheville ought to be really glad to have him and know how lucky we are the school retirement rules work the way they do to give him, and us, the opportunity.