Sunday, July 26, 2009
THE BIG GAMES AT LITTLE HILBURN PARK
L-R Tournament Director, Dublin Coach Minton Williams, Tom Perry, Don Vaughn, Reggie Belote
The 1959 District 5 Little League Tournament
There is something special about little league baseball. It’s not the heat. It’s not the bugs. It’s not the mothers exercising their inalienable rights to chastise the umpires, even when they are right. No, what makes little league baseball so special is that it is a part of America. The bonds of friendship formed in these years last a lifetime. There is something special about seeing a kid get his first hit after striking out twenty times in a row; something special about watching a kid strike out the side in his first pitching appearance; and something special about seeing your child driving in the winning run.
The late A. Bartlett Giamatti, a former Commissioner of Baseball, probably said it best: “ It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in spring, when everything else begins again, and blossoms in summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then, just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”
The summer of 1959 was a special one for Dublin’s baseball fans. There was no minor league team in town that year. Little Hilburn Park was selected as the site of the District 5 Little League Championship. Four teams from Macon, two from Warner Robins, one from Wrens, and the Dublin team played against each other in late July. Playing for Dublin were: Jimmy Forte, Edward Jones, Edward Hall, Reggie Belote, Danny Camp, Joel Smith, John Cooke, and Roy Bedingfield, kneeling. Coach Don Vaughn, Joseph Rogers, Lindsey Swida, Kirk Reed, Glenn Register, Robert Swinson and Tom Perry.
Spec Hall groomed the field into one of the finest Little League fields in Georgia. Elmer Mackey and Clyde Felker served as the tournament directors. Ed Bateman handled the public address system and the official scoring. The crowds were big - about twelve hundred (yes, I said twelve hundred) people in attendance every day.
The Dublin All Stars went through two a day practices in preparation for the tournament. They defeated the Mike Belote Crackers in a practice game just before the tournament began. Dublin’s first game was against the Warner Robins Americans. Tom Perry, who paced the Pirates during the regular season with an 8-0 record, held the youngsters from Warner Robins to two hits and one earned run in the six inning game. Edward Hall led Dublin with two hits and Robert Swinson drove in two runs when he stroked a home run, which gave Dublin the victory, 4 to 1.
In the other opening game, Ralph Walters of the Warner Robins Nationals mastered the hitters from Wrens, striking out thirteen out of eighteen batters. Walters hurled a perfect game. He had to. The opposing pitcher, Tony Holley, allowed only one hit, but that one hit was a long home run over the left field wall by Ralph Perkins to give the Nationals a 1-0 victory. In the other games of the opening round, Macon squeaked by cross-town rival, Ocmulgee, 4 to 3. Two other Macon teams, South Macon and Vine-Ingle battled each other. Vine-Ingle came out on top, 3 to 2.
Dublin’s semifinal opponent was the Warner Robins Nationals. Reggie Belote went the distance for the Dublin team, striking out five and allowing no bases on balls. Belote forced his opponents to hit the ball right at his fielders with only three balls getting by them for hits. Warner Robins scored first in the top of the fifth inning. Ed Hall managed to score the Irish’s first run through a trio of National errors. The Nationals took the lead again in the top of the sixth and final inning.
The boys from Dublin wouldn’t quit. With one out, Reggie Belote doubled down the left field line and moved to third on a passed ball. Jimmy Forte walked and stole second base. Danny Camp walked to load the bases. Roy Bedingfield, Jr. stepped up and sent a bullet through the gap to plate Belote and Forte and give the Irish a ticket to the finals. In the other semifinal game, Richard Jordan hit a 230-foot home run to lead his Macon team over Vine-Ingle by the score of 7 to 5.
Fifteen hundred people turned out to see the final game between Dublin and Macon. Some of them stayed for the game after the Nationals’ victory over Vine-Ingle in the consolation game. Dublin broke out on top in the first inning when Kirk Reed singled and came around to score on a combined three base throwing and fielding error by the left and right fielders from Macon. Macon came back to tie it up in the bottom of the first. Two scoreless innings followed. Kirk Reed led off the fourth inning with his second hit of the day. Tom Perry and Reggie Belote reached base on walks to load the bases. Roy Bedingfield drew a walk, driving in the go-ahead run. It was Robert “Rabbit” Swinson’s turn to bat. Not wanting to be out done by his opponent Jordan of Macon, Swinson swatted a monster two hundred and thirty-foot grand slam blast over the left field fence, which is about 190 feet from home plate. Macon attempted a comeback in the final inning of the game, but only managed to score once. Tom Perry, who hurled twelve strike outs in the game, held on to strike out two batters for the first two outs and get the final batter to ground into a fielder’s choice. The crowd, especially the mommas and daddies, went wild.
Manager Minton Williams hoisted Tom Perry on his shoulders. The was no hollering at the umpires that day. Larry Schenk brought along three other “blues” to make sure that they were on top of every call.
The Dublin Irish had made it. They were going to Marietta for the state tournament. Tournament officials held a banquet for the teams the night before the tournament began on August 6th. Dublin was joined by teams from Albany, Buckhead, Winder, Columbus, Cascade Heights, Rome and Marietta. Dublin’s first opponents were the all-stars from Buckhead, a suburban team from Atlanta. The Buckhead boys were loaded. It was the big city boys against the little city boys. The Irish got their first hit in the fifth inning and managed their only other hit in the sixth inning. Ten Dublin boys went down on strikes. Despite the best efforts of three Dublin pitchers, the boys from Buckhead plated ten runs to send Dublin home empty handed. There was no joy in the Emerald City that night, but there was no shame either.
All of Dublin was proud of its little leaguers. They had risen to become one of the best teams in Georgia. That was enough, there were no losers on this team. Don Lamb, of the Dublin Rotary Club, organized a fete at the Dublin Country Club for the all-star team and the Dublin Pirates. The Pirates had been under the sponsorship of the Rotary Club for five years and who established a record of eighty four wins and only eight losses. Playing for the Pirates were Perry, Swinson, Reed, R. Belote, and Smith of the all-stars along with Pat Reed, John Strickland, Vic Belote, Johnny Grier, Bobby Wanner, Tommy Wanner, Harry Graham, Billy Bracewell, Billy Beam, Rickey Eberhardt, and Buddy Jones.
Take in a little league game, even if you don’t have a child playing, even if you don’t particularly like baseball, and even though you don’t like hot weather. You will never regret it. It is baseball where the players play for free. It is baseball where anyone can be a hero. It is simply, baseball at its best.