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County native recalls playing for McKnight China

Contributed by Terry Wilson
It was with great interest when I read about the start of the Erwin Little League in the August 2014 issue of The Erwin Record. I remember sitting on the front porch of our home in Canah Chapel and looking at the lights of the Little League field. I told myself that one night I was going to be playing under those lights.
I walked over to the YMCA to find out when the Farm Team was going to start. On the starting date I took my glove and walked to the Y. There were about 30 boys there.
Hank Lowe was the instructor and I hung on to every word he said. Hank told us that he would show us how to bunt, field a grounder, catch a fly ball and make the throw to the appropriate base.
Hank said that he would instruct us on how to hold a bat the right way, how to choke up on the bat, the proper stance and he could show us how to hit the ball, but hitting the ball was up to us. He couldn’t bat for us.
The second year I was on the Farm Team, Robert Lawson and Harold Rice joined the team. Eddie Manville was on the Farm Team also, but I can’t remember if he joined the team with me, or when Robert and Harold did.
We played a game with the champion team from the year before, the Elks, coached by David Sparks. We were worried about playing the champs, but Hank told us not to worry, but play the game as he had taught us and we would be OK. The champs didn’t look too worried about playing the lowly Farm Team, but we won the game. Hank was right.
Before the new baseball season began, the eligible players on the Farm Team attended a two day evaluation in the evenings, where all our abilities were shown to the coaches. We caught grounders, fly balls, batted and pitched.
Richard Edwards was a longtime friend of my dad’s and coached the VFW team. I asked Richard to pick me for his team, but I didn’t make it.
At age 10 I was chosen to play on the McKnight China team coached by John Walker. Three players I remember being on the team when I joined were Guy Harden, Luthur Neblett and Richard Tapp.
I played center field and there was no grass because of the players walking around in the same spot seven days a week. One Saturday afternoon I was playing center field and a whirlwind blew in from the street. It missed the right fielders and came straight to me and stopped.
There I was, standing in the center of the whirlwind with my eyes shut to keep out the dirt. The whirlwind seemed to last forever before it dissipated. I guess the crowd got a good laugh at my expense.
The second year I was on McKnight China, Harold and Robert joined the team. Eddie might have joined the team when they did, but I can’t remember.
On Saturdays the team that was playing the afternoon game showed up early and sat in the oversized chairs to watch the game on TV that was on the mantle of the fireplace.
The players of the night game showed up also. Most Little League players like to be seen in their uniforms. I walked from Canah Chapel to the games and sometimes cars would stop and offer me a ride. I always said no, because I wanted to be seen in my uniform. When I went to school I was proud to be wearing my blue ball cap with the big white M.
On the opening day of the season Robert and I showed up early, but we wanted to be seen by the girls at the Capitol Theater.
We went down and bought our tickets and went in and sat down on the right side of the theater on the first two seats of a row. The show started and after it had been playing for awhile, Robert and I got up and walked to the bottom of the aisle, walked across the front of the theater and up the other aisle.
When the show was getting close to ending, Robert and I got up and repeated our stroll around the aisle. When the movie was over we went outside and started running to the ball field. Coach Walker was livid after we told him where we had been.
Robert and I were going to be starting at shortstop and third base. Coach Walker told us that we weren’t going to be playing, so we just sat on the bench and watched the team play. The next game found Robert in left field and I was back in center field.
I remember one afternoon game we played; a fly was hit to me. The next batter hit a fly to Robert and the next batter hit a fly to me. A few pitches and we were back on the bench.
One Saturday afternoon we were warming up and a grounder was hit to me. I chose not to throw to the cutoff man. I was going to throw a strike to the catcher, but something went wrong. I threw the ball and it sailed over the backstop, landed in the middle of the street and bounced into Dr. Peterson’s front lawn.
We didn’t have batting helmets in the style that are worn now. The head protector was made of a hard material that ran around the back of the head, from ear to ear. There were two elastic bands across the top of your head and one strap that ran from the back of your head to the front strap. This was worn on top of your ball cap.
One Saturday afternoon I put my head protection on and then looked through the bats for one of my favorites – either a Norm Cash or an Al Kaline.
When school was out each summer I had my dad cut my hair into a Mohawk hairstyle. When I came to the plate, the ump, Coach McNabb, called me by my name and told me to take off my head protection and my ballcap and then turn toward the announcer’s booth and bend my head down.
Coach McNabb pulled his ballcap off and told the announcers that I had more hair down the middle of my head than he had on his whole head. The announcers and the people at that end of the bleachers got a good laugh.
Coach Walker moved me to first base and I loved it. There was a lot more action going on and I made the all-stars at that position. I loved the banter between the fans and myself. I also liked talking to the girls I knew and I saw several girls that I wished I knew.
One game I remember was the time we got beat 22-2. I believe the team that pounded us was the Clinchfield Railroad team and I think that team was coached by Glen Howard.
Mr. McKnight came to see us play from time to time. He paid $5 for every home run that had been hit. If there was a runner on base when the homer was hit, $10 was paid. If a grand slam was hit, it paid $25. Mostly Luthur and Richard were the ones that got paid for home runs.
When the railroad had the big layoff in the late 1950s, my dad lost his job and we ultimately moved to Whittier, Calif. The high school was two short blocks from the apartment we lived in.
My mom and dad rented a house that was three blocks from the high school and I went to the office to give them my new address. The school checked their records and found five of us students who lived on the same street and were out of the school district.
We were told that we had to start attending high school that was a mile and a half from where we lived. My dad said that since I had to change schools we might as well move closer to his job.
We moved to a town called Bell Gardens. The inhabitants were mostly made up of people from North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma. They had come to California looking for work during the Depression and after World War II.
My dad told me that he would take me to school on the first day and then I had to walk after that. When dad picked me up that afternoon he asked me what I thought about my new school. I told him that I was going to fit right in because I had heard several you’ns and y’alls throughout the day.
I checked into school on Tuesday, the day after a holiday. When I went to my sixth period P.E. class, the teacher had the guys playing basketball in the gym.
He was the varsity basketball coach and he proudly showed me the banner the team won after winning the state championship that year in their division. He told me what store I needed to visit to buy my P.E. shorts.
The next day the class went outside and most of the boys played basketball on the outdoor courts. I chose to play softball. We didn’t have enough guys to fill every position on both teams, so the coach pitched for both sides.
I played shortstop and third base. I played back more than usual so I had enough room to cover both positions. I caught several grounders and because I was playing back I was forced to throw strikes to the first baseman.
The next day coach told me to play the same position that I had played the day before. Another man showed up to watch us play.
I made several good stops on grounders and made a diving catch on one. Since I was playing back from the usual position for a shortstop, I was able to catch a high, but shallow fly ball in left field.
The next day coach told me to play my usual position and shortly after we began playing, the man from the day before showed up. I had another good day.
On our way back inside, coach told me that after I had showered and dressed to come into his office.
When I went into coach’s office, he said the man, who had been coming over to watch us play, was the varsity baseball coach. The new coach said that spring try-outs were going on, but all I had to do was show up and I was on the varsity.
Four days in school and the new kid was a member of the varsity baseball team. Hank Lowe had made me into a baseball player.