Chapter 8

The Machine Jack Built Is In Working Order

In 1957, Owensboro’s incredible Eastern Little League All Star Team continued its dominance in the state by winning its second consecutive state championship. The year before, led by Randy Embry, they won their first. This time out it was another standout player who made such a remarkable difference. Bobby Woodward.

Bobby and Sherman Chappel were a duo of animals, both sluggers and throwers. Bobby, who actually had another year in Little League left………….which was unheard-of, an 11 year old doing what he did…….and they went and won, well, everything. For years………..but let me digress…………these guys were good!!

The kids beat Lexington and Martin, Ky for the state championship, then ventured to Huntington, W Va for the Divisional matches, winning over Bristol, Virginia and Montgomery, W Va to set up a 4 team, winner-goes-to-Williamsport prize for the 4 team final round. It was eventful as hell and historical in the end. These guys were good!

In the first game, Owensboro came out hot, leading 8-3 over Knoxville, Tennessee after only 2 innings. But they got tied in the top of the final 6th inning, creating extra innings. Then David Kirk launched a walk-off homer in the 8th for the win. They were 3 games away from the National Title. Terrific drama………..made more so by the “Angel” on the Monterey team, from Mexico.

Angel was also a baseball miracle in human form. He pitched either right handed or lefthanded, it made no difference. He was the best player on the field no matter where he was. He batted .510 in the tourneys, so far. And he batted right or left on how he felt.

Then there was the publicity. It was about this time when the story of the Monterey, Mexico Little League team became national. Angel was a legit true phenomenon and the kids all came from a poor section of already-poor Monterey, mentored by an ex major leaguer who loved the game of baseball. They played tight defense and ran like crazy..

…..if they got on base, lol.

I recall the hype, living in Bowling Green, then, and reading about Angel like every other kid in America. What startled me later was that it was Owensboro who were their very tough match-up this time around. I think the state was already accepting Owensboro as routinely good.

In the first innings, first baseman and cleanup hitter Sherman Chappel was hit by a pitch in the helmet. No biggie, but, according to strict LL rules, he had to sit the rest of the game out. Huge loss. He was killing it. And he was fine, of course. Sherman’s replacement had 2 hit balls go by or through, which scored Monterey’s runs. Bobby only pitched 5 innings but struck out 10. Monterey hit the ball fair only 6 times. But they managed to scrape across 3 runs to Owensboro’s Tough loss.

Monterey went on to win the World Series Title, and repeated the next year. Later there was some contentious noise about the “real” ages of the boys from Monterey, but the impact was honestly fascinating and huge for Little Leagues everywhere. It was a legit good story. Here is the Movie:

From Wiki:

“The 1957 Little League World Series took place during August 21 through 23 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Industrial Little League of MonterreyNuevo LeónMexico, defeated Northern La Mesa Little League of La Mesa, California, in the championship game of the 11th Little League World Series. Ángel Macías threw the first and, to date, only perfect game in an LLWS championship.

Different Machinery, Same Source, Much Much Later

In 2009, Owensboro High School baseball received the blessings of real ghosts. I can think of no better analogy for a program which saw its team take an absurdly terrible 4-15 regular season record into the gratefully final morsels of this miserably failed season only to discover themselves 3 weeks later playing for the State Baseball Championship.

I was living in Portland, Oregon at the time and had just recently discovered the wonders of the Internet and all those weird and wonderful ways to reach out and touch people. As I prodded and push-buttoned my way through elements of my past and the elements of my trade, I rediscovered the local Owensboro newspaper – The Messenger & Inquirer of  my youth, at the same time as the initial games of that season’s baseball District Tournament. Dang!! Bad timing!! 

It was with serious despair that I noticed that pathetic record, not entirely understanding the various dilutions of talent and energy which had infected my high school alma mater. I reconciled myself to a more tepid fanhood but resolved to explore the experience of their eventual and rather imminent final collapse. In other words, as always, I paid attention to the Senior High Red Devils.

I got a shock in my mini-depression, as Owensboro actually won their important first game and many of the obstacle teams later fell as well as they played through. They lost to the very favored and strong Apollo team in the District Final – to no one’s surprise, of course, but they still prolonged the season with their automatic berth no matter the result of the final game. It was an unlikely series of events. Not one bit of any of it so far had been the slightest bit predictable. But, incredibly somehow, they managed it. I gained a tiny smile between the winces over future pain, but that was enough for a beer. Therefore, all was not lost.

Owensboro showed some signs of life, even with bearing such a heavy load that their record indicated. They had made their overall record to 7-15. It was somewhere around here that I suspect Owensboro’s historical angels hopped on board.

Heroes and the blessings of the past

In the Bourbon mash-scented mists of the early 50’s and 60’s, the boyhood heroes of legend for Owensboro baseballers toil in a ghost-like Chatauqua Park Field of Dreams. Purposeful and relentless competitors, these idols exist in an approximate dream-like status which Owensboro boys have dreamt of since the seminal seasons of the early 1950’s and the incredible achievements of that era.. Their memory carries to this day a Supernatural Thrill in acts which eerily resemble that novel and film in every conceivable emotional and spiritual way. This time they would heal a season of pain and dysfunction and reveal themselves one more time for all the doubters and to this rapt observer.. 

For me, the names of Harold Pugh, Dicky Cobb, Woosie Woodward, Paul and Richard Anderson, Jan Aldeman, Allen Emerson, Ricky Nash, Randy Embry, Johnny Maglinger, Tommy Gentry, Denny Doyle, Frank Ballard, Stan Markham, Jimmy Oller, David Wolfe, Tommy Kron, Jimmy Howes and Bobby Woodward – competitors within and without the Owensboro line of succession who preceded my own little legend – are names which roll off the tongue in awe and respect. They still people my dreams. The severest admiration simply exploded in a direct line of succession which we aspiring ballplayers perceived like that Baseball Holy Grail – Owensboro Baseball  – which was always the primary nexus and impetus of this biography and historical study.

And here we reach a confluence of legend and reality…………….a stunning historical event whose supernatural magnitude has never been adequately addressed. I say this because I doubt anyone has spoken of these ghosts and legends made quite so clear in one club, 30-50 years after they roamed the fields.

I was so reminded of these names, their teams and their legendary and provocative energies which survived enough in the baseball spirit of Owensboro to lift this very flawed latest version of ourselves into some exemplary and very rare atmosphere. In a phenomenally-impossible series of events, this Owensboro High ball team swept through the Regional Championships to take the crown and win a trip to the Semi-State Championship. The record was still a dismal 10-16, even after the successful wins in both the District and Regional Championships. The Impossible was leering at us from over the Horizon and I became utterly mesmerized at my seat in far off Portland, Oregon.

The death of Hope which had defined the regular season had found this bizarre region where all the factors inherent in baseball – luck, adequate pitching, amazing defense, timely hitting and general head’s up play had simply conspired to make comfort impossible for those who competed against them.

Jack Hicks’ accomplishments were rather legion and many took place in fields away from the baseball diamond. To the townspeople, Jack was an affable friend whose gifted steerage of the Sportscenter saw its emergence as a true engine of culture and a factor in the diverse entertainment environment Owensboro has since enjoyed. To boys, he was a giant presence of ineffable wisdom and authority, the “inventor” of Owensboro Baseball as we have come to know it. 

When I speak to Jack’s former players younger than myself, just as I nervously and respectfully regard those who preceded me, an unbroken line of awareness penetrates the moments. We are each the representatives of legends, a million unasked questions on our lips.

I was at a University of Louisville baseball game a few years ago, wandering down to grab one of their very average but cold beers at the concession as is my wont. It was around the 4th inning of the game and I had earlier seen a large bus pull up and disgorge a team of what was obviously high schoolers, where they would catch the last of the game. As I waited in line, I could not help but notice the red and black school colors and the ubiquitous  “O” on the hats they all wore together. I waited in line with these kids and began a fascinating conversation.

“So where are you guys from?”

“Owensboro.” came a respectful, somewhat proud reply.

Uh-Oh………..

“Oh wow. I played my high school ball at Owensboro Senior,” I smiled widely. “You guys walk by the picture of our team every day! I played in 1964 and we won the first State Championship Owensboro ever won.”

Their eyes grew wide and I had their attention, those who believed in such a coincidental meeting, waiting for Nacho’s. They were catching just a little magic when they least expected it and what was even more weird was that I was supplying it. Suddenly, I felt sort of responsible!

I heaped praise on the efforts of the team two years prior and asked how many were on that team – they were all listening to me now – and 4-5 guys raised their hands. I then asked:

“How unbelievably cool was that??” and they all laughed. 

“Crazy cool”, came the best response from a veteran. My smile could not have been wider. “Keep doing it!!”, was my parting shot.

I left them there and strode out under the passageway into the ramp behind home plate where I have sat near Muhammed Ali watching baseball played at an incredibly high level at these free admission ballgames. As I made my way in, I saw Kip Walters, the coach of the Owensboro team which had gone so far. I introduced myself and invoked the name of Eddie Parish who, it turned out, was Kip’s best friend and fellow teacher at a Junior High in Owensboro. What a great guy who I have spoken with often since.

But that day, as we cut up a little, I asked “What the heck happened? How did you guys do so well??”

I could not believe my good fortune as the KHSAA began streaming the entire Kentucky state baseball tournament on their own web site. It allowed me to see every pitch. I really thought I had died and gone to Heaven, way up in rainy Oregon as I paid the most rapt attention to the games. It also turned out that Jack Hicks made a game or two. What was made more compelling was how the KHSAA recognized Jack in front of an adoring crowd of wild applauders, reciting his amazing accomplishments and publicly celebrating his entry into the KHSAA Hall Of Fame. It was an amazingly memorable moment for his fans but perhaps even more so for his family – and allow me to presume to feel a part of at least his “Baseball Family”, because therein lies the magic.

The first game lasted a while. It went 10 innings with Owensboro beating a very good Lawrence County team 3-2. As I watched the game, it dawned onto me how the experiences of losing so many regular season ball games had delivered a team so toughened by disappointment and hardship that they had acquired a completely bend-but-don’t-break attitude which could be an astounding asset, and which was the case! Jams, tight spots, then timely hitting all proved a mettle which no one had seen coming, including Kip.

Next, we faced Bullit East who, along with Lexington Catholic, were the first and second-best teams in the state by consensus. To make a long story short, we won that one, too, also by one run. There were so many key plays, events and pitches during this game – totally similar to the first game – they are impossible to list. The pressure was huge – just incredible – but the Devils hung on for the wildly impractical win. By this time, absolutely no one was counting Owensboro out.

The Final Game was a loss and somewhat anticlimactic for that. Catholic was a skilled and veteran bunch. The 5-3 score overlooks the late inning rally Owensboro put together and the legitimate fright to the marrow the team gave the eventual winners. But, alas, the magic ended.

But it ended in Heaven and not one second sooner. What an incredible ride it was. I had never been quite so proud of any team I can remember.

“Everything we did began clicking in the District,” Kip related. “My pitchers were finally hitting spots and our team’s concentration suddenly focused on the job at hand. Our defense really came together as our shortstop refound his baseball muscles and instincts after a season of basketball. It all became sort of fun and then it just built on itself.”

My Conclusion

Us angels helped. 😉  And there are a slew of us. The baseball gods smiled on Owensboro 100 years ago and they have been smiling ever since. The team photographs of all the state champions which adorn the hallways of Owensboro High School catch the results, but not the many other workers and supreme athletes which made this all possible.

The 1960-61 Owensboro Baseball team sent 6 guys to Div 1 colleges on ball scholarships and 2 signed professionally. The names I listed above do not even include the names of great later players and competitors such as Mike Sturgeon, Bernie Strawn, Dale Law, the awesome later phenomenon of Mark King, Frankie Riley, Phil Munday and so many others who followed me but who were every bit as powerful as Icons for accomplishment young players so looked up to and admired and who set the bar of accomplishment which only the highest attainments are good enough for.

And make no mistake, not just anyone could have done what the Red Devils did. To call it a virtual Impossibility would actually be an understatement.

Dam near Supernatural………….


Chapter 7

As mentioned previously, Jack’s introduction to organized coaching really began at the American Legion level. Yes, he did squire the Little Leaguers to a state championship in 1952, but that was coaching by acclamation. Harry Steele, Ernie Knight and other well-known coaches to my generation were affected by the conflicts of their work and the demands of practicing and gelling a diverse group of all-star boys into a team. Jack asked his best friend Joe Bandy Penrod to help out and they gathered a local high school kid as manager (whose name escapes me, I apologize). Needless to say, they were successful.

1953

In the Spring of 1953, Jake Winkler, head of the American Legion ball team since its inception, invited Jack to take over as coach of the local James L Yates post American Legion baseball team. At the time, Ideal Milk and car dealer Harry Holder happily sponsored Jake’s efforts. The team was known as the “Ideal Holder Kids”, just 2 years away from adopting the more memorable “Velvet Bombers” title in honor of new sponsor Velvet Ice Cream. Jack was a great choice, proven by events. 

On June 8, Bobby Cravens’ bat and defense powered the team to a 12-6 victory over Tell City, Indiana in the opening game. Jack used 16 players in the game, in an effort to decide who will play. Six Owensboro High players were still involved in tournament play when the team began, delaying final roster decisions.

Eventually, it worked out well. The elements together had excellent team power with Cravens, Jim Jolly, Jackie Jewell and Lynn Wilkins supplying the power. Cravens had a year. He led the team in hitting and his center field defense was at times stunning. He threw out a baserunner at home from deep centerfield to keep a lead in one of the early games. The team gelled well. They finished 13-4 on the season, prior to the Regional, then State Championships, where they won an additional 5 games, finishing at 19-6.

The primary pitcher was Ralph Head, with 9 wins, Leonard McGlothlin and Bobby Bratcher excellent #2 and #3 starters. Head was almost dominating, however. Used for Big Games and tourney starts, Head racked up an excellent record, eventually winning the State Championship. This would be Number One for Jack, to be followed 10 more times in 25 years. It was the first visit  by an Owensboro Legion team to the State Championship Games since. 1941, and the Kids swept Lexington in 2 games.

They traveled to North Carolina to compete in the next, National Regional level, and got soundly beaten twice in a row by teams from Norfolk, Virginia and Memphis. But they thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It set the hook.

The players:

Bob Elson, Morris Kirkendall, Harry Bellew, Bobby Cravens, Ralph Head, Jim Jolly, Wayne Hall, Sonny Sturgeon, Paul Anderson, Billy Martin, L. P. Royal, Jerry Wiggins, Tom Wieting, Jimmy Coons, Leonard McLothlin, Jackie Jewell, Lynn Wilkins, Scotty Plain, Bob Bratcher


Jack took the job offer to teach for the Fall of 1957. Back into teaching Math, he also coached both football and basketball teams at Foust Junior High. Inasmuch as he loved both sports and had spent his life around such matters, he was capable and instructive.

In a classically “small town” such as Owensboro, to some degree or another, everyone “knew” – or perhaps knew of – each other. By this time, Owensboro had reached around 35,000 in population, a population boom brought about by General Electric’s massive enterprise, the relocation of Texas Gas Transmission to the town, a booming steel industry and better, more modern farming techniques and machinery. Kentucky Wesleyan University and Brescia College were expanding slowly but relentlessly. Much local forestry land was cleared for farming, carving out whole sections to take advantage of benign weather and Kentucky’s excellent soil conditions. Make no mistake, 35,000 is not a small number. One could still meet someone new every day. But the town was taking on an almost new identity. Declared an All American City, Owensboro was proud to reach this level. New ideas and Hope abounded, eager to meet the future. Educationally, Owensboro became second to none. Great effort was assigned the task of educating its children and the kids responded. A long running scroll of achievements were an annual rite. The town was at the peak of their game.

For Jack, the “small town” feel lived in the kids he taught. He knew parents, brothers, relatives and friends of his charges. It added a sense of comfort for him. Jack liked everyone, he was no small-minded man, beset with jealousies or rumor. This sense of inclusion was an important adjunct to someone who was so grievously hurt by the humiliation caused by his former employment. In this case, his Home Town rescued him. He gave the town another chance.

After getting his feet wet in a classroom again and after successful football and basketball seasons at Foust, Jack took the reins of the Owensboro Senior High Baseball team in the Spring. Suddenly, the circular nature of excellent preparation made that Karmic sense implicit in any successful organization. A bunch of Jack’s players this bright new season were much the same bunch of Little Leaguers he had cultivated in 1952.

A Personal Detour

Something I wrote………..Fall, 2016

The miles burn by through a lush and gorgeous maze of green forests, untended fields and manicured farms as I drive the 118 miles to Jack Hicks’ home in Owensboro. I reflect on the beauty of Southern Indiana countryside along Highway 64, then  South on Hwy 231, a gorgeous pastiche of nature and agriculture. It is shamelessly intoxicating, riveting automobile entertainment in all months of the year except for the Winter months. I often attach earphones as I drive and listen to the interview tapes Coach Hicks and I created together. I digest the “fresh” news, I have 40 hours of recordings, and I almost always dig up nuggets previously missed on the colorful history of this man and his times. On the seat beside me, I keep both a notebook  and a recorder handy to note my thoughts and reflections. The drive has become a deeply personal, heart-full experience.  I relish the biographical work, even including the physical act of the travel to the source. The work he and I have done  has caused me to reflect on my own life in the silence of this unfolding, deeply evocative movement of the land around me.  I often think of my travel as a testament to the America of roads, automobile power and my own well-chronicled personal  and powerful wanderlust. It becomes an accounting.

The irony of my current situation strikes me with the brutal realization that there seems to be so much mortality around  me these days. My mother, who is 95, is someone I help and care for back home in Louisville, where I relocated to help her  and my brother Tom. Her medical struggles are similar to Jack’s. Each are failing and a little frightened. Each has become in need of caregiving, even as Jack still hosts loving friends and family. Each might have jetted off this mortal coil and  well could have years ago, yet both hang on in ways which are unselfish and rather refreshing for that. Each of them exist  because the fire of their curiosity is still alive. Each are “waiting to see how things come out.” They are also surrounded  by an absurdly caring tribe who relish their remaining moments on Earth and who ask nothing more than that they stay  mentally active. One cannot miss the impression that each still very much enjoy living. Both now feel well beyond  desperate, and far more grateful than resentful. Their proud exhaustion fuels my sadness. What they have grown to  understand is beyond me..

When I took on the project of writing Jack’s life story, I had no idea my own mother’s medical fate would parallel his.  The days spent in Owensboro interviewing Jack, recording his words and recollections, kept us both fresh with newly- recorded reminiscences. Each meeting became richer than the last until all this momentum “stopped on a dime”.

 Last September, while going to her weekly lunch with ladies who had shared the tradition together for long years, Mother  broke her hip in a terrible fall. She shattered her hip. Her situation quickly deteriorated in the hospital hastened  further by kidney troubles. She was on heavy pain-killing medication and she suffered from hallucinations. Her  helplessness was something new to my brother Tom and me. We each struggled with our emotions and we felt the grimness of  the absolute finality we faced. Mortality haunted us for a while, an uncomfortable revelation of Nature’s power. 

I cut off my Owensboro visits with Jack to attend to Mother at home in Louisville. She eventually found herself in a rehab  facility where she slowly but effectively returned to some seriously robust health. We each visited her two times a day to  keep her spirits up and to encourage her improvement. Caring for Mom became our job.

Mother became one of the exemplary rehabilitations of her rehab facility at the young age of 94, full of spit and vinegar. She improved by leaps and bounds every day. She got to where she read the most of a book a day, and she was insanely and  absolutely delighted to finally get her release and return to her own bed. Honestly, it was very cool.

However, Mom’s broken hip set my work with Coach Hicks back five months, which would stretch to longer as Winter descended  and made traveling perilous. I lost momentum and barely communicated with Jack, who knew and had taught with Mom at  Owensboro High School. Jack asked about her often and fondly..

At the same time, Jack’s health began to decline. He had landed at an age and condition where the only question is “when?”  not “how?”. The question  was most certainly not “Why?” Few others could have made it so long and far as he had.

On my next visit to Owensboro, I am left to digest the bittersweet and dueling sensation of loss and accomplishment. I  entered Jack’s house without knocking and yelled out my presencet: “Anybody home??”

I hear the familiar as I walk back through the hall to Jack’s bedroom.“Come on in!!” 

It is baseball season and Jack scrolls through his beloved Christmas present of 3 years ago: The Major League Baseball  Channel’. Jack now has access to every single game of the day and he is already smiling.

The vibrant, huge sporting giant who loomed over my youth smiles at me through his never-ending bodily pain from his bed  and extends his hand. Jack’s hands themselves are personally legendary and worthy of a story themselves some day. Spare,  smooth and boney, large and amazingly strong even still, his hand engulfs mine with sincere pressure. Those hands lifted  his polio-ravaged lower body into a society which allowed him to excel. They have worked as hard as any hands in Western  Civilization.

His Beagle attacks me with licks, rotating upside down on my lap, schmoozing in even closer, recalling the serious petting  I was responsible for for quite some extended time now. The dog never fails to evince a smile out of Jack who will comment  about its recent behavior. Our ritual is established and wholesome, our smiles intact as Jack once again wonders why  anyone figures he is interesting enough to actually write a book about.

Occasionally we get visited during our meetings by various and sundry folks. Jack maintains a social life in his bed- ridden days which he still relishes. On the days when Randy Embry visits, he has an especially large smile. Randy’s  obvious love for Jack is reciprocated, all of which revolves around the nexus of Owensboro sports. In Randy’s case, I am  somewhat positive Jack’s admiration is more for his athletic gifts, inasmuch as few people in the world had talent  remotely close to his. But Randy was also among the coaching fraternity, fully furthered in his progress and career by  Jack. They “go back”, in short. We sit and cut up, swapping stories about our teams, asking questions we may always have  wondered about to these days. The time passes effortlessly and fluidly and I suddenly realize Jack’s eyes are drooping.

A couple of “attention rallies” later, coupled with another long story or two, I bid them both a fond good bye, already  missing this priceless ambiance.

I stop by Starbucks to sum up what just happened on an informational basis and drop notes on my laptop. A good large  espresso primes me for a visit to the Messenger & Inquirer archives on micro-film at the public library where I spend the  next 4 hours studying events of decades ago. At times the work seems insurmountable. There is just so much. Jack won 11  American Legion State Championships. He won 4 High School State Championships. His high school record was basically 700- 200. This guy won games at an 80% clip. He scheduled everyone from everywhere. So many stories…………..so many athletes……….so  many bizarre and impossible situations………..and so much respect this man earned from those who played for him.

Both he and Mom have limited time left. I have long since decided to enjoy what time they give me. That seems a near- perfect solution.

In addition to all of that……….I myself developed cancer and was operated on in the midst of all this………………. This led to a 7 year battle of my own. Indeed, I am taking a dose of Chemotherapy as we speak. I find it difficult to place this in light of the above. Maybe something like “Everyone got sick as hell.”


Back to 1957 – a remarkable year

The spring shone as gorgeous as usual as baseball players began practicing, unwinding unused sport-specific muscles and getting a chance to develop at a sport which, for most, was a First Love. Jack held a meeting at the ball park, as he often did later, with ballplayers sitting in the stands and he up front. He welcomed those players he had in Little League in 1952 and he also acknowledged that this was something new – to him, perhaps more than them. He spoke of the drills they were going to undergo and the process of becoming a team. He then asked who wanted to win. Jack was gratified at the alacrity his guys responded with. These guys he could work with.

In 1957 the schedule for the season saw a relatively small schedule of games by Jack’s later criterion. Indeed, before the tournaments began, the Red Devils record in the 1957 season was 10-1. In later years, that may have been a busy week. There was a point, eventually under Jack’s guidance, where Owensboro baseball played games every day, featuring weekend double headers. Jack came to believe in this: “Games give more input than practices. By the end of the season, a team playing 40-50 games will have experienced more pressure and understand the game better by facing mistakes made and successes digested.”

Jack stuck with this theory until it was legislated not to. He never changed this philosophy. It was blissful to ballplayers, make no mistake.

Sailing through both the District an Regional Championships, the Red Devils under Jack were off to their first ever state tournament………….it created the following column from sports editor Russ Melvin:

(Not commonly-known history………..)

June 6, 1957“Owensboro High is just 2 games away from a State Title and the Red Devils are capable of walking away with top honors. Using the Little Leagues and Babe Ruth Leagues as a foundation, Owensboro High has come up with a powerhouse this year and should continue to be strong in the future. This strong team probably comes as little surprise to the people around here………..

2 years ago, baseball had been dropped from the Owensboro High program….the Athletic Committee, in a meeting, just decided to end the sport as it cost money to have it and it didn’t bring in any dough. I heard about it and broke the story in this column……….There are denials on it but it was an established fact that the athletic committee had to meet in special session and vote it back in again………… Despite the fine baseball program in Owensboro, some school board officials were against having it in Owensboro and it was only at the insistence of Chubby Vittitow that it was kept in.

In fact, when it came up for a vote, one school board member still voted against having baseball in High School.

Wouldn’t it be ironical if the sport they didn’t want brings Owensboro its first state title since 1949?”


In the opening round of the State, Owensboro beat Paintsville, 3-1. Jimmy Ransom pitched a 3 hitter and Billy (“Woosie”) Woodward got the save when Jimmy got wild. Harold Pugh had him a day. He hit one out for a Home Run in the fourth inning after doubling in the first and then sending the Paintsville outfielder to the wall to make the catch later. Paul Anderson also had 3 hits of the 7 for the Devils.

In the second game, the semi-finals, the next morning, Woosie Woodward pitched a no-hitter against Russell County and the Devils pounded out 9 hits and 9 runs, winning 9-0. It set the stage for the Final, with Louisville Manual High School that afternoon.

Manual jumped on starter Jimmy Ransom and then as well onto Woosie. Both pitchers had control issues, walking a total of 10 batters. Timely hitting by Manual after the numerous walks determined the outcome. Owensboro could not overcome the wildness.

But it was absolutely an excellent season result. There was much to be proud of, establishing themselves with the Owensboro Brand as this team did.

(The Players: Parvin Bishop, Harold Pugh, Paul Anderson, Billy Woodward, Jackei Poynter, Gerald Wellman, Jimmy Ransom, Johnny Strehl, Charlie Sturgeon, Butch Thompson)

At the same time, or rather, just a touch later, Owensboro Baseball had another phenomenal result.

Harry Steele’s Eastern Little League All Stars won their second consecutive State Championship. Jack Hicks’ Post 9 American Legion team won another State Championship. The Babe Ruth Leagues All Stars lost in the finals of the State Championship.

The baseball fortunes of Owensboro were taking off.

Next Chapter – Bobby Woodward, baseball force of nature








Avant Garde Things Part 2

3320129771_197131e33f (1)Beauty on the couch:

“…Consider the interesting case in which happiness in life is predominantly sought in the enjoyment of beauty, wherever beauty presents itself to our senses and our judgement–the beauty of human forms and gestures, of natural objects and landscapes and of artistic and even scientific creations. This aesthetic attitude to the goal of life offers little protection against the threat of suffering, but it can compensate for a great deal. The enjoyment of beauty has a peculiar, mildly intoxicating quality of feeling. Beauty has no obvious use; nor is there any clear cultural necessity for it. Yet civilization could not do without it. The science of aesthetics investigates the conditions under which things are felt as beautiful, but it has been unable to give any explanation of the nature and origin of beauty, and, as usually happens, lack of success is concealed beneath a flood of resounding and empty words.”   Sigmund Freud

Here is world famous Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx verifying Freud’s claims.

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Not many landscapers begin blog posts with quotes by Sigmund Freud – I fully understand this and like to think I respectfully comprehend the potential failure of my own possible pretension. But I believe he captures the nuggets of our desires, including the hopelessness of fully explaining why we react as we do to not just beauty itself, but to beauty’s evolving and ever-changing expression in the works of those artists who challenge us the most. The mysterious processes of the artist are part craft, part imagination and part fearlessness, allowing one’s Muse full reign in physical expression with results which can be catastrophic failures, mildly amusing or else world-changing.

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So what the heck is this?

“This” is a glimpse of the ceiling, taken from the floor, of the incredible world-famous Sagrada Familia, the church designed by Antonio Gaudi (1852–1926) in Barcelona, Spain whose construction passed the “mid point” in 2010. The world-wide recognition of the genius of this masterpiece of architecture has consistently produced funding from various sources, whose stop and start construction began in 1882. Gaudi was famous for his iron work, producing gates, fencing  and apartment patio security rails in his buildings which, alone, would place him as uncommonly talented.

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Gaudi’s world included the implementation of the new technology of cement and the plastic formative originality it offered. He used cement to express a rebellion against classic forms, utilizing curving lines and it’s potential free-form solidity as a finished product. He began architecture’s rebellion against straight lines and the results were incredible.

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Gaudi was the inspiration behind architects for 100 years, culminating in the works of people such as Frank Gehry, who took the plastic fun of Gaudi’s cement into his own creations of metal:0000000

These very arresting pictures push the edge of Beauty into places we never imagined. Some of them even torture our original aesthetic senses and we end up staring at them hoping some idea will flit through which identifies with our own visions of beautiful things. If so – and even sometimes if not –  then the artist has been successful, in my opinion. After all, the restlessness produced guarantees we spend those moments within our own creative selves.

Body Art

It is the similar with the modern passion for body art – from painful-looking piercings to the modern passion for tattoo’s as a means of expression.

Beautiful Tattoos For Women

We are all familiar with bad body art. Bodies which are “too busy” with unrelated tales tattooed all over themselves in a rather uncoordinated fashion generally serve to repulse us, telling us more than we wanted to know about personal taste – especially in such visible fashion. Because many of us are unfamiliar with an art once restricted to coastal seaport towns and cities rife with sailors on a lark, we tend to miss the products which are actually intensely interesting – great decisions which mar our understanding of our own body representation, yet a fully embraced joy for the artists and the subjects who pull off amazingly creative and tasteful body art.

My nephew Aaron Campbell is one of these types. Hard-working with a great artistic pedigree, Aaron faced choices ranging from working for Disney to arting around  with Marvel Comics as career decisions, yet he chose Tattooing. I think the tension of ‘getting it perfect or else’, lol, tempted his “risky” gene. Inasmuch as there are no real ‘do-overs’ in Tattooing it does legitimately ask an ongoing perfection right from the start of a project. Tattoo’s are one time things. I have really enjoyed some of his work.

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Complex and detailed beyond belief, these body art renditions are pretty much as good as it gets.

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The landscaping Avant Garde shows itself as well in large cities, such as this view of downtown Osaka.

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Or the amazing and refreshing ‘vertical garden’ views of Patrick Blanc, whose creations climb the walls of buildings and give a forest look in the midst of major cities:

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………..or for that matter, inside buildings in major cities………….

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There’s lots of amazing stuff going on out there in the landscaping and urban design field, even in The Oregon Garden in modest Silverton, Orgeon:

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Burle Marx again, downtown.

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What is avant garde about this gorgeous chain of blooms? Simple profusion and that is a personal choice of someone prone to excess. 😉

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The River Walk in downtown Portland, Oregon.

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Once more with Helen Nock.

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And Gaudi………………..at Park Guell in Barcelona

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Oh yeah, and Noguchi’s Osaka World’s Fair hanging water features.

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That’s it today.

‘cept for this……………..

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Jack Hicks – Chapter 1

A Boy’s View – 1960

The muggy atmosphere was redolent with the comforting Owensboro-specific scents of of sour mash bourbon, the slight odor of Sulphur from a steel mill nearby, mixed with Hickory barbecue-smoke in the air. A heady dose of Springtime lilac and dogwood blooms in this lush and heavy Kentucky late Spring made as if Nature had planned an extreme contrast – the exact languid opposite of the energy being expressed on the gorgeous brilliant green grass infield at the baseball field where two teams battled it out for a year’s worth of bragging rights and certain immortality.

Chautauqua Park in Owensboro, Kentucky was a boy’s paradise. For a 13 year old, new to town, browsing the local Little League baseball talent among the local fields – all imminently reachable by bicycle – it was a comparative feast. But not only were there the “known un-knowns” such as a set of completely new guys spoken of by my few friends who still played in those leagues, this Bowling Green transplant also got to see the “big guys” play next door at Chautauqua Park, a venue which held Little League and Major League dimensioned fields, side by side. In the end, the choice of who to watch was always easy – more compelling for me was the near grown-up drama and skill shown by the American Legion team who were the only ‘big’ game in town that fresh and surprisingly new Summer. Nervousness over being “the new guy” disappeared in the face of this up-close vision of baseball electricity. Every one of my senses was heightened by the real time displays of athleticism produced by such awesome strength and speed.

No Little League sound could conceivably match the concussive echo of a “crack of the bat” by these guys. Home runs were sometimes hit at major league distances by supreme athletes produced by a town which was apparently sports crazy. The enormous gorgeous green hill – profuse in green grass as well as large shade trees – looming just across the small street leading into the park beyond left field – offered the equivalent of a left field bleacher seat at Fenway Park. Sitting a full 100 feet above the action, you could cut up with a friend or two, or one could watch in wonder at the baseball pageant below. Or you could roll down the big old hill for a while, laughing uproariously enduring the dizzying effects of gravity and anarchism. That happened a lot too. In fact, large cardboard boxes could supply the equivalent of an afternoon at the best amusement park in its pure recreational release of derring-do, speed and accidental hilarities.

The seriousness, however, of competition was a frankly almost fearful thing to a 12 year old represented by the virtual young adults playing baseball in front of me. Owensboro’s team had abundant players over 6’ tall, as did their opponent. Their seriousness seemed magnified by the image of a huge man I watched lumber slowly to the third base coaching box.

This was my first-ever image of Jack Hicks as I watched what eventually became a familiar image, his gait magnified by his straight right leg swung wide, buttressed by a few inches of heel added to the bottom of his boot, slowly making his way into position and voicing encouragement and hitting advice while passing to his accustomed spot in the third base coaching box. He busily sent signs to hitters, voiced pleasure and displeasure, waved runners towards home plate and acted in general as if the entire field were his domain. Mesmerized somewhat as children can be over physical handicaps, I watched his overall level of comfort and found him somehow a fixture of awesomeness. This was the leader of these guys. He belonged to a category I was literally mystified by and very unsure of. I have often thought this may have been one of my first glimpses of real Zen.

The Owensboro American Legion Post 9 “Velvet Bombers”, very creatively-named after their sponsor, Velvet Milk, Inc., became legendary for young boys with baseball fantasies, of which there were many – most pointedly including me. They seemed to – and did – play nearly every single night during those wonderfully long summers, at times in front of reasonabley large appreciative crowds. Teams would stream in from Nashville, Louisville, Memphis and, of course, the ever present local rivals from Henderson or Bowling Green, Kentucky and Evansville, Indiana to provide exotic and extremely high-quality opposition for the Owensboro teams and players who had met them at very advanced levels of post-season, tournament play. July 4th celebrations often included a home game and fireworks afterwards, usually against terrific competition.

Among the highlights distilled from a million impressions, I so recall watching Randy Embry patrolling shortstop. In one game I remember so vividly I still dream about it to this very day, Randy leaped straight up in a desperate grab for a hard-hit line drive shot off the bat of someone. His legs spread out in the splits in mid-air, Randy reached as high as he possibly could and actually speared that line drive – and “spear” is the appropriate verb. It all happened amazingly quickly, a feat accomplished within a second of earthly Time, but it left an impression of permanent durability – another incentive for a young baseball aspirant to hope he could someday match or even approach the unholy athleticism and sheer desire that produced such an impossibly elegant maneuver. These are the stuff of legends for young men. They are the motivations which inspire for literal lifetimes.

I recall a tense moment in the later stages of a ballgame between my former home town of Bowling Green and the “Bombers” when pitchers from either side had successfully dominated the game until the late innings. I believe Frank Ballard was pitching for Owensboro, just as I am partially certain Tom Gentry was throwing for Bowling Green’s team. In what I recall as being the 8th inning, I remember being mesmerized by the sheer velocity of Gentry’s fast ball – a common experience in we young fellows, marveling at the abilities of recently-arrived ‘grown men’ who had worked at the game for long years.

Gentry was throwing what we used to refer to as “Aspirin Tablets” – “BB’s” – fastballs thrown at such a velocity, it literally made the ball look tiny, if one could actually follow it at all. Owensboro had just had a guy walk, to make it to first base, had bunted him over to second to put him closer to scoring. I recall thinking the “no brainer” prediction would be that the batter, Frankie Williams, would undoubtedly be a virtual victim of anyone who could throw like Gentry.

I was wrong.

In a lesson which stayed with me for the entirety of my own baseball career and beyond, I watched Frankie Williams match the speed of Gentry’s next bullet with speed of his own, his bat whipping like it knew precisely what it was doing and sending this line drive blast with a ‘crack’ of incredible volume out into the nether realms of right centerfield. For the sheer beauty of baseball’s innate competitive sensibility, Frankie Williams’ hit that evening provided an absolute template for my future. I was surprised and shocked to find out that there was no one who was so overpowering that he could not be hit, and hit hard. I learned that intimidation was a 2 way street.

It was a complete revelation. The spectacle of speed on speed registered in that same place reserved for Space Travel and women like Marilyn Monroe. I was stricken with the forever-imprinted ghost of achieving something Impossible. What would mesmerize me for all time on those days of watching the “big guys play ball” became not just a goal and impetus for playing at that level, which I surely did, but provided the grist for a view of life itself which included the definition of World Class. It made everything seem possible.

But what equally mesmerizing on that perfect day was the very idea that a man could gather groups of athletes and help them realize that dream. The knowledge and wisdom inherent in this sort of enterprise bordered on the religious to my young mind. The fact is, this never changed. He became my first Guru.

This is the story of that man.


In 1926, Owensboro, Kentucky had become a bustling town of industry and agriculture of some 25,000 persons, complete with a police department, fire stations and infrastructure common to mid size towns. Among the residents was a local constable, Dayton Hicks, who was married to the love of his life, Nancy, and with whom sired a seemingly unending series of children. Young Jack was produced as the second youngest, when all was said and done, joining a retinue of 7 sisters and two older brothers. The 5 bedroom home on 9th Street was a busy site at the slowest of times and young Jack was as welcomed as the rest.

A year or two passed in infancy and then Fate delivered a dreadful blow to young Jack. He contracted polio, a common enough occurrence in an era which featured a panoply of dis-eases, many resulting from expanding populations and the inability of water and sewage systems to keep up with the standards which later reduced these incidents. Typhus and poliomyelitis were both products of sanitation issues regarding fecal matter and sanitation issues of a changing era of modernity and mass population. As a result, it can be considered a by-product of the Industrial Age, but it all – the worst of it – occurred at a strange segment of time, right when humanity seemed to be getting a grasp of the role of hygiene and who were adapting with the times.



A Word About Polio

History reveals poliomyelitis as a literal scourge of an era during the first half of the 20th Century. The dread of polio was most common just prior to the invention of the Salk Vaccine in the early 50’s and the universal application of preventative measures – including better water treatment. Those of us with parents who lived that era have heard of their absolute terror of birthing children in an era where Polio was so aggressive.

Outbreaks of polio epidemics began to inflict the fearful souls of expecting moms and dads with an abject fear soon after the turn of the 20th Century. Ironically, polio epidemics were virtually unknown prior to then, although the disease has a history extending far, far back through human pre-history and history. Alas, thousands of years of experience with the illness did not prepare the world for its first appearance as a literal epidemic until the 1880’s when widespread epidemics first appeared in Europe. In the US, the first report of multiple polio cases was published in 1843 and described an 1841 outbreak in Louisiana. A fifty-year gap occurs before the next U.S. report—a cluster of 26 cases in Boston in 1893.The first recognized U.S. polio “epidemic” occurred the following year in Vermont with 132 total cases (18 deaths), including several cases in adults. Numerous epidemics of varying magnitude began to appear throughout the country. By 1907 approximately 2,500 cases of poliomyelitis were reported in New York City. In 1916, they counted over 2,000 deaths in New York City alone, with 27,000 cases and over 6,000 deaths from Polio, nationally. Families were quarantined, names and addresses published and their homes were identified by placards placed in visible locations on the houses. Then the worst hit.

From 1916 until the Salk Vaccine was discovered on April 12, 1955, a polio epidemic struck somewhere in the United States every summer, with the most serious occurring in the 1940’s and 1950’s. In 1949, 27,000 cases were reported with nearly 3,000 deaths. The 1952 polio epidemic would be the worst outbreak in the nation’s history. Of the 57,628 cases re-ported that year 3,145 died and 21,269 were left with mild to disabling paralysis. According-ly, it was the literal peak of parental fears of the disease. It also began the all-important fo-cus of public awareness on the need for a vaccine. In 1927, the year Jack was born, Ow-ensboro recorded some 12 cases, one of which included Jack.

Polio itself has as many various manifestations as it has causes. Ironically, younger children of 6 months old or less would not generally contract the disease, but those 6 months old to 4 years could suffer a variety of effects, from mild symptoms and thence to an immunity to polio to the more debilitating effects suffered in mostly the lower extremities. It was this which 2 year old Jack Hicks contracted.

Ironically, much later, Epidemiologists found a stunning, seemingly counterintuitive fact about these outbreaks. It turns out that all that terrific newly achieved hygiene – the purification of po-table house water – actually contributed to the problem rather than relieved it. Prior to that, they believe kids all contracted and beat polio with their natural immune systems, quietly and all on their own. As water systems became modernized, it led to the virtual eradication of Diphtheria, Typhoid and other scourges. However, in this theory, polio proved the exception to that rule. Evidently, for centuries, kids had beaten polio with their natural, inbuilt defense.

Jack’s right leg became paralyzed and unusable – it ‘withered’ early on, not keeping up with the growth of the rest of his body, unresponsive to stimulation or nutrients. About three in 1000 cases progress to paralytic disease, in which the muscles become weak, floppy and poorly controlled, and, finally, completely paralyzed; this condition is known as acute flaccid paralysis. He suffered from a “flapping knee” – which meant that his leg basically could not support him. It led to a system of heavy, bulky and ridiculously uncomfortable braces which were often made of iron or a heavier steel. Jacks speaks of the occasional exasperation suffered by the family as he would “break” the brace – probably “doing something stupid” – requiring a “fix” from a local ironworker and welder well aware of the boy and his trials. Jack would wait as he would re-weld broken parts for him, before launching out on his next boyhood adventure.

The brace Jack wore for long years attached to a canvas belt worn around his middle, which held it up. It also made for a stunningly uncomfortable ride. Heavy, bulky, clangorous, Jack’s edifice of mobility did, however perform the function of letting him get around. Make no mistake, Jack was delighted he could travel and, like any boy, he traveled and did everything any boy does. At the same time, Jacks upper body became wide and strong as he depended far more than others for arm strength for purposes of sitting and rising. He used an occasional cane, especially early, which also grew his always-impressive biceps and shoulders.

Father Dayton’s position as local police constable was a fortunate job to have during the Depression years which formed Jack’s earliest memories. Waste was unheard of. Many Owensboro families suffered as manufacturing slowed and the demand for its many agricultural products weakened. At the same time, Owensboro’s diversity – from its river port, to farms and their products, local coal mines as well as a small but well-managed manufacturing base helped guide it far more successfully than company towns dependent on, say, a single industry.

As young Jack grew, he became increasingly mobile and physically functional as the months and years following his acquisition of Polio passed. The benefit hidden in this scourge of young children lies in its numbers. While somewhat rare, the variety of polio suffered by Jack provided many examples of such coping. Needless to say, the children with similar syndromes learned early to move with the aid of a crutch and later perhaps a cane supplanting the anchor for the useless leg. Rising to a stand from any position became an effort equally demanding arms strong enough to lift one’s entire body temporarily, without the help of the strong leg. Typical of the youngest lads with lower extremity impairments, young Jack’s chest, shoulders, his hands and his strong arms developed over time into amazingly able and strong personal features. He was ‘broad shouldered’ at a very young age and his handshake could crush a friend’s hand.

Young Jack’s two older brothers and his large retinue of sisters were forever faithfully help-ing him cope with his infirmity from the very first. He was a quick study, in some ways, hungry to get on with devouring the world. He adapted as he should have – learning the methods of dealing with what life had presented him without rancor. He discovered early on that lamenting his fate was a destructive possibility. He made the single most important decision of his life.

He banished regret of his fate from thought as a very young person. It remained the signifi-cant and life-affirming value he maintained for his entire life. He would tell people later that he felt blessed to be who he was, active and alive in such a loving family at such grueling times in the nation. His compassion for the misfortunes of other people was formed early. He always felt his misfortunes were small compared to theirs. At the same time, he relished and even celebrated observing what men were capable of. He had zero jealousies about other men – in fact, it was the opposite. The only negative issues Jack would take with male physicality would be in the squandering of such a bounty. Later, as a coach of young men, he illustrated his learning in the form of their improvements. He taught technique and power. He became someone who ‘honed the rough edges’ to form a more perfect specimen.

As a student, from his first grade and further, Jack was attentive and diligent, and his grades reflected it. His family practiced a no-nonsense attitude towards schooling with little toleration for excessive frivolity. At home, young Jack had chores to accomplish just as did the rest of the Hicks family and they were unfailingly completed. Jack was responsible for the small lawn outside the home, as well as for daily feeding the family dogs. As an adult, he often hearkened back to his roots in describing a lifestyle which included hard work and a distinct lack of complaints. Things were simply done, no questions.

But there was also much love in his house. Nancy was an excellent cook who made the best out of their resources and who supplied increasing numbers of hungry young mouths. Visitors and young friends were never turned away at lunch or dinner time. And the Hicks kids were not small, it should be noted. Jack himself became 6’ tall and his brothers slightly taller. These were strapping young people.

Until Jack’s second year, Dayton and Nancy understood how fortunate they had been in making such a large family. But tragedy was also not unknown. Two sisters of Jack had died in their infancy. The times were very hard and heartbreak always hovered near above all the families of the era, a threatening companion of daily life, made worse by the Depression years during which young Jack grew up.

Jack’s polio was also a hard blow to his parents and family. Their response in making him as able and competent as possible led to a debt he never failed to acknowledge.

Dayton’s fellow police officers sympathized greatly. These hard men – the 24 members and constables of the Owensboro Police Department – adopted young Jack as if one of their own. His forays to the station were always boisterously welcomed – a welcome break from dealing with evil, as it were. Smiles beset the lad, hair-tousling and even quite a few trips skyward in their incredibly strong arms to squeals of delight at both parties. Jack explored the station, sometimes with the men, sometimes on his own. He nervously discovered the cells where criminals and drunks and scofflaws of all types were held. He witnessed resistance and the calming of out-of-control types at the hands of Dayton’s fellow officers, not as regular fare by any means, but on rare occasion. He developed not only a sense of justice and penalty, but of the competing factors to love and acceptance alive on the planet. He also witnessed true evil and larger social forces in action in a most galvanizing event.

A Murder and National Scandal