HUNKER DOWN WITH KES
By KESLEY COLBERT
(Reprinted from The Star, Port St. Joe, Florida - see below)
I moved cautiously toward the pitchers mound. What was I going to say? It seemed like a good idea when David Paschal told me about this team over in Paris that needed a catcher. I had taken a day off of work and hitchhiked the twenty miles.....
But now, as I approached the big guy picking up batting practice balls, I wasnt so sure I needed to be here.
I wouldnt be here if we had a team in our little town! But heck, we were so small that we didnt have a league after you got past fourteen, It was either here, or not play!
I had stood behind the bleachers, watching for the longest time. These guys could hit. And run! and throw! But mostly, I studied the big guy on the mound.
Id heard of Chick King for years. He had played in the big leagues with the Detroit Tigers. The Chicago Cubs. And my beloved St. Louis Cardinals.
Charles 'Chick' King
I watched him now so smoothly, effortlessly tossing in strike after strike. Pretty good BP, I thought, for an outfielder!
It crossed my mind to simply ease back out to the highway and head for the house. I didnt need the hassle. I dont know a soul at this park. They look sort of stuck-up citified to me....
My love for the game overcame my thumping heart.
I rehearsed as my feet carried me over the foul line. Yes Sir, Mr. King, I can hit and run and Ive got an arm like a cannon. I led the league in home runs where I came from ... I figured I was only going to get one shot, Id lay it right out when he asked.
The closer I got - the bigger he got!
"Mr. King, I-uh-Im," he turned and pierced me to the heart with eyes that had stared down the likes of Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson and Whitey Ford, "I-uh-Im Kesley Colbert from over at McKenzie-I -uh-uh- David Paschal said you might need a catcher-I-uh---"
"Son do you like to play baseball?" His eyes didnt stop piercing, but his face softened and I swear I thought I saw a hint of a smile.
"Yes sir, Mr. King."
"Well, youll get a chance here." He motioned to the line of players behind the batting cage waiting their turn and I moved off in that direction.
What kind of coach is he? He didnt even ask if I could hit or throw! He has probably already made up his mind!
"And son," I froze in my tracks and turned to face him, "its Chick."
The second or third game I ever caught for the Paris American Legion team a runner tried to steal third base with a left-handed batter up. That was impossible with the arm I had!
I came up firing - Lynn Brandon, our all-American third baseman was late moving to cover third, I double clutched, tried to take a little off my throw and time it so the ball would arrive at the base at the same time.
I threw it about twenty feet over his head into left field. The go ahead run scored.
He was the all-star player who had just finished his freshman year at Western Kentucky. I was the first year rookie. The team didnt say nothing, but I got the looks.
And I am sitting in the corner of the dugout three innings later feeling lost, out of place, and in over my head when Chick appeared beside me. He quietly said, "Lynn was late covering, wasnt he?"
"Coach I cant make that bad a throw, Im sorry, maybe I should-"
He eased up to move toward the third base coaching box, paused right above me and said, "Listen if you play one more game for me, or every game for the next three years, and a runner takes off - you turn that son-of-a-gun loose, you let me worry about whos covering!"
I had found a friend for life!
And run across the smartest baseball man I would ever know.
He didnt yell "my grandmother could have caught that one" as a ball bounced between your legs. He got a glove and showed you the proper way to stop it. He didnt say "come on youve got to hit that pitch."
He taught you how to place the bat in your fingers. How to line up the knuckles. The importance of the hips. The correct way to throw the top hand. How to follow the curve ball and take it into right!
In three years and about a hundred and fifty games he never said one discouraging word to me. He was always positive, upbeat and encouraging.
If I screwed up something unmercifully and cost us a run - or a game - hed wait till we were on the bus, quietly move back to where I was sitting, pat me on the shoulder and say, " You had a couple of other options...."
Chick didnt bring up his baseball past. But he patiently answered my questions about Stan Musial, Ted Williams and Mickey Mantel and Al Kaline and Rocky Calavito... and believe me, I had some questions.
He was an amazing man. He had played baseball for money. He had seen the dark, business side of the game. No telling how many thousands of games he had suited up for - and yet, he still had the desire, energy, knowledge and "caring" to help a struggling sixteen year old find himself amid the daunts and curves that both baseball and life offered up!
He taught me how to honor and respect the game. But his teachings went much deeper than "just Baseball." He presented life on a broader spectrum.
He gently prodded me toward higher goals. He wouldnt let me settle for second best. I have tried for the last forty years to live up to the high expectations he had for me.
He gave me his time. And his undivided attention. I cherished every moment.
I could never have imagined on that faithful summer day in 1963 as I approached the "big guy" to ask for a tryout what a wonderful "gift" was about to be handed me. I havent seen or heard from Chick in years, but hardly a day goes by that I dont think of our time together... something he said or showed me or explained.
And I have spent a great deal of my lifetime passing along the things I learned from him.
I loved, admired and respected Chick King from the very beginning.
I love and appreciate him even more today.
Reprinted from the newspaper, The Star, Port St.
Joe, Florida - January 17, 2002 Edition.
© Used by permission (April 3, 2002) - The Star retains full rights.
Kelsey Colbert, a McKenzie, Tennessee native, wrote this article
about Charles 'Chick' King,
Paris-Henry County Sports Hall of Fame Member. Chick excelled in every sport he attempted but awesome
comes to mind when his football and baseball playing is remembered.
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