Ah, in the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of ... well, you know — baseball spring training. Major league teams are heading for warmer climates to get ready for the new season.
One of my favorite spring memories goes back quite a few years to 1960 when the Optimist Club was getting ready to host a barnstorming fundraiser between the famed Indianapolis Clowns and the New York Royals.
The publicity man and manager for the game was none other than Virgil “Fire” Trucks, who had spent some 16 years pitching in the American League. Virgil had retired only a couple of years earlier after compiling a 177-135 win-loss record, including two no-hitters in a single season, which should be worth of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Virgil met with me at the Democrat to plan publicity for the game.
The game was to be played at the old Pony League park, just east of the present Ninth Grade Center. The Clowns were making their 30th anniversary tour and boasted several prospects hoping TO follow Clown star Hank Aaron to the majors.
Trucks had a couple of ageless wonders on his roster: Leroy “Satchel” Paige, the Cleveland Indians World Series star of some 13 years earlier, and the Harlem Globetrotter Hall of Famer Reece “Goose” Tatum. Although primarily noted as the Clown Prince of the Trotters, Goose was a colorful first baseman in the Negro leagues as well.
The day of the game came with Satchel and Goose arriving in a long, red Cadillac convertible. When the two stars found they would have to dress at the high school on Alamo Street and ride to the game in a bus, they balked. The Negro League veterans said they had been there and done that — riding a bus across town to play in a park that didn’t have dressing room facilities.
Virgil prevailed and a black family living near the park offered their home for dressing. Goose chose not to play and both sat in their car in the parking lot until late in the game. Virgil reminded Satch that he had to pitch at least one inning.
The ageless hurler sauntered to the mound and promptly threw nine fastballs across the plate, striking out the three Royal batters. Satch then walked back to the car and they were gone. Goose was 39 years old at the time and could still hit the ball hard. Paige, who was born in 1906, was well past his AL Rookie of the Year award, won at age 42.
I wished I could have spent more time visiting with the pair since both were such interesting gentlemen. Satchel’s win-loss record in the American League was only 26-31 with four shutouts and 32 saves, but he had compiled a record in the Negro leagues that was unmatched, playing for two of the best — the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Kansas City Monarchs. He wound up his major league career five years after appearing here, throwing three innings for the A’s against the Red Sox on Sept. 25, 1965. He allowed one hit, no walks and one strikeout. It’s no wonder he is in Cooperstown.
Vandagriff is a retired editor, college professor and sometime speaker. You can reach him at email@example.com or 817-341-3719.