There Used to be a Ball Park Here
By Wayne Minshew
There used to be a ball park right here, near where the scout cabin stands in its renovated functionality, maybe a 10-minute walk from the drug store where the post office was, and is, where William Gaines once sold clothing and where Bobby Jones now crushes powders into doctors-ordered prescriptions once he deciphers their penmanship. It was an anxious walk, from the drug store to the ball park, but rewarding because our game was baseball, the mill team players our idols. It is pleasant reminiscence to recall those halcyon days when tobacco-chewing, hard-playing mill worker by day and ball player by weekend gave us a winner’s pride.
The ball park that used to be right here had grandstands, big ones, a clubhouse, and bleachers and a nice playing field, tended to by a grounds crew led by Lou York, who managed the team in its latter days, played first base, sometimes pitched and always preached the game’s positives. He was preceded by Claude Satterfield, who knew all the angles and sometimes on nights before games that featured heavy-hitting opposing teams, froze baseballs to deaden them, giving the Brightons a gamesmanship edge even before the first pitch.
We gave other games a play in those days before TV -- football in the fall, basketball in the winter. But we lived and breathed and talked baseball and we longed to play someday on the mill team. It was J.M. Culberson’s time, those innocent post-war days of the late forties and early fifties. He pitched and played outfield and, boy, could he hit. He could’ve made it all the way, we told ourselves, just as his hometown brother, Leon, made it and even played in a World Series.
It was Badeye’s Lindsay’s time. Teammates kidded that Badeye could throw a baseball into a gnat’s eye at 60 paces. He was a lefty, a crafty lefty in the parlance of the day, with red hair and mischievous blue eyes, also with a curve and change-up and sneaky quick fastball. It was Claude Shoemake’s time, he of ambidextrous abilities. It was the time for James Talley, who answered to Sam. It was Luke Nasworthy’s time and Bear Bryant’s and Gene Cronic’s. And nobody chased down a fly ball the way Joe Stephens could.
It was Lou York’s time. Lou, who answered to Snooks, was a great story teller who often visited big league brother Rudy, who belted them into the furniture for Boston and Detroit. He mesmerized us with tales from those visits to places we thought we would never see. We did see some of them eventually, but Lou got us there first wide-eyed and awed.
Those guys, the Culberson,Yorks and Lindsays, led Brighton to championships in the Northwest Georgia Textile League, a fast league of talent and knowledge. They did more than that for us kids. Their cracked bats became our game bats made usable by black tape and well-placed tacks. We begged players for "last balls," for it was ritual then that the player making the final put-out of a winning game kept the ball, then gave it to the kid who asked first, "Can I have the last ball if you catch it?". Thus, we were never without ball or bat for our choose-up games which lasted from first light to early dusk of those lazy and long summer days.
Brighton’s games, especially the ones against Lindale, when J.M. matched fastballs with major leaguer-to-be Wiliard Nixon, packed roped-off ball parks – Shannon’s and Lindale’s, the latter with a ridiculously short right field fence. Successful home run swings were profitable because Brighton Mills president Julian Morrison would often sit in the dugout passing out five-dollar bills to players who belted homers, many over that inviting right field fence. You see, the rivalry, Pepperell and Brighton, Lindale and Shannon, was just the other side of vicious.
Rogue gamblers fortified by whatever was in their brown bags sat in the right field bleachers, which we raced toward following games because we knew that underneath the bleachers there would be loose change to claim, dropped through the cracks by inebriated bettors. A Rome radio station broadcast games from a tiny booth located in back of home plate and attached to the big grandstand. We thought the announcer, Lee Mowry, was pro-Pepperell; Lindale people swore he was pro-Brighton. It was heady, serious stuff in those beautiful days of yesterday.
Model High School, attended by mill kids for the most part, played its sports, too and, in the mid-fifties, ’53 and ’54, turned our attention to football by winning consecutive Class B state championships. Mitch Shellnut was the state’s premiere running back of that classification, while his uncle Wayne roamed the field making tackles from his linebacker’s position. The uncle-nephew angle frequently made its way to the sports pages of The Atlanta Journal and Constitution.
There was also the pass-catch combination of Jones to Webb to cheer, along with a line that performed both ways, offensively and defensively, and was anchored by Pete O’Dillon. Team captains Harold Crowder and Sherman Clark were there with leadership and talent, and spunky defensive back Modie Hamilton took on ball carriers of any size.
Those championships gave us identity throughout the state.
It was along about then that television came along to help kill off baseball town teams, and our attention turned to Milton Berle and The Colgate Comedy Hour and Toast of the Town. A part of our contribution to Americana, enthusiasm for and support of our textile league team, moved silently out of our conscious sphere and the league folded. Too bad. But we remember . . . we remember, always.
We had Model sports teams besides football -- always competitive in baseball, seldom so in basketball. We recall the innovative John Self on the basketball court because he shot the ball with one hand on top, the other underneath, stealing away from the standard two-hand set shot of the times. He was the only one to shoot that way. Soon, the one-hand shot was prevalent -- from the corner, from the outside, usually with one leg hoisted, the way they did it in "Hoosiers." We can verify that movie’s fifties authenticity, because that is how we shot the ball. Soon, everybody shot jumpers, the way Jerome Webb did, and the game changed; we still didn’t win very often. The dunk was a showboat thing for the future.
Baseball? Pepperell owned us . . . and the entire state, for that matter. We had Webb, the Shellnuts, Dub Hawkins, Bobby Jones, J.H. Dyer and, hey, even the MInshews. We had three guys to eventually sign professional contracts. But there was Pepperell. There was always Peperell -- disgusting, talented, powerful, hated Pepperell. The Dragons. Spare me their apparent smugness and their year-after-year-after year state baseball championships. Strange thing, though, we met several of their players along college trails, and they turned out to be nice guys.
College, West Georgia and then The University of Georgia, beckoned and we went away but always with an eye and an ear tuned to Model sports. We acknowledged with pride their emerging state titles in baseball – three of them – and yet another in football, when future Georgia Bulldog Doug McFalls starred. Sally Echols and the girls basketball program produced state championships and we wore proudly the pride that produced, especially when daughters of old classmates and friends led the way.
We can’t forget our coaches – N.S. Woodard, who brought knowledge and fundamentals and coached those title teams of the fifties; Ralph Tuggle, the former Marine whose stern manner and high regard for discipline made us all better athletes . . . and people. There were Nevin Jones and Joan Dunn, who would marry, and taught us appreciation for hard work and team play. They were the leaders of my day, and we appreciate them still.
The names reverberate – Bobby and Eddie Potts, Wassie Hartline, John Self, Bill Lawrence, the Shellnuts, Jones, McFalls and O’Dillon, Jerome Webb, Gary York, along with the Brighton guys such as the Culberson brothers, Lou York, Sam Talley, Cronic, Shoemake, Nasworthy, Pat Locklear, Gerald Bell and ol’ Badeye. So many passed through our close-knit village, where all things revolved around the mill and the high school. At last count, a dozen or more athletes who came our way have been inducted into the Rome-Floyd County Sports Hall of Fame. We played all the games, and we played them pretty darn good. Later, and now, able athletes carried and carry the Model banner. We wish them well.