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:
“The 1957 Little League World Series took place during August 21 through 23 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Industrial Little League of Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico, 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.
“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.”
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………….
Another good one. Thanks.
A pleasure to read about such an interesting time and a special man and coach.