Nearly 50 years ago, I played Little League baseball growing up in Independence.
Back in those days the players were all lumped together, 9-year-olds through 12-year-olds. Because I didn’t think I could compete against the older kids, I didn’t play until I was 11.
Little League baseball was huge, it took over the town in the summer at Clark James Field. It had a player “draft,” much like the Major League Baseball or NFL draft. Games were broadcast on the radio, at least until the sun went down and the station had to sign off since it didn’t broadcast after dark. The league had playoffs, culminated by the City Championship and it was a best 2-of-3 series that was viewed by hundreds.
When I finally decided to play, I was chosen by Kiwanis in the draft. The good news was the team was so bad that I was almost assured of playing. The bad news was, we were The Bad News Bears before the term ever existed. I always thought the movie was based on our team.
The only saving grace was that one of my teammates was Timmy Davis. Along with his brother Terry and my friend Stan Webb, it made all our losing tolerable in that first season.
We won all of two games. We were generally pounded by teams like Rotary (which was like the ’27 New York Yankees) and The Daily Reporter. We just weren’t very good. The opponents put a lot of crooked numbers on the scoreboard.
But we also were a team of young players. Fortunately I was one of the players “kept” by Kiwanis and not put back in the draft the following year. A team could protect a set number of players and since I was a starter I was retained.
With a new coaching regime and a high draft pick (Kent Evans, a slugging first baseman), we caught fire our second year. While we didn’t win our division, we did qualify for postseason play.
Then we really got on a roll. We weren’t supposed to make the finals, but we pulled off an upset to meet mighty VFW and its ace pitcher Jerry “Sox” Hiatt and his batterymate Brandt “Barkley” Bish in the finals.
VFW won a tremendous first game that was a pitcher’s duel between Hiatt and Terry Davis, then it took us out in Game 2 in lopsided fashion to win the championship. We were one of the most unlikely teams to ever make the finals.
Timmy was a talented catcher for our team with a cannon of an arm, later throwing the javelin for our high school track and field team since we didn’t have high school baseball at the time. He also had a booming bat as he and Terry were the Ruth and Gehrig of LL baseball. I would hit leadoff, Timmy would hit behind me and then Terry would normally bring us home as he hit something like .700 that year.
Fortunately, the friendship I made with Timmy — we didn’t attend the same grade school — carried over long after our Little League days were over. Even though he was a year behind me (his brother Terry was in my class), we stayed good friends. He was a standout football player and also played basketball for the Bulldogs.
Timmy passed away on Sunday after he had battled a recent illness. He was renown throughout Kansas and the country as a top baseball umpire and especially enjoyed working his summers in Alaska where some of the top amateur baseball is played. He worked the junior college circuit as well.
Tributes to Timmy’s Facebook page have poured in from his fellow friends and umpires. He was a big man with a big heart. Timmy also in the day worked as a basketball official and even worked a McPherson High state game at Topeka.
I always had to laugh when I’d see Timmy, which hadn’t been nearly as often as earlier years. From the time I was 11, he always called me “Little Howard Cosell” or just “Howard” because I was always talking about sports. He once told me he knew I would someday be a sports writer because I talked incessantly about sports when I was growing up.
Timmy was one of those guys that nobody ever said a bad word about. While large in stature, he always had a smile and was softspoken, except when he’d bellow out a call. When reading tributes to him today, it was obvious he made friends instantly and once he did, you were his friend for life.
As I have now reached 60, more and more recently I’m hearing of old friends being called to serve The Lord. Timmy’s passing makes me realize more than ever we are put on this earth for only a short time in the grand scheme of things. I can remember our Little League days like yesterday and Timmy always being the guy on our team keeping everybody up and giving us hope, even when the outcome appeared impossible.
We all had nicknames in those days and Timmy’s was “Large Lewis,” one reason being his size and his feet. But it should have been in honor of his heart, as nobody had a bigger one than Timmy.
Rest In Peace my dear friend. Maybe when I come to join you we’ll play one more baseball game.