Chick King got me in the game in 1963
 

 

 

                                                       

 BY   KESLEY COLBERT

Chick King peered out of the home dugout with an eye toward the darkening sky.

Without looking at our assistant coach, he declared for everyone’s benefit, “Fitz, it looks like about a fifteen minute rain.”

Chick King could preach, teach, light a fire under you, console, listen (which most grown-ups don’t get), kid you a little, set that jaw and narrow those eyes, if the situation demanded, or throw that big arm over your shoulder and love you to death. Part of his greatness was that he knew exactly when to do which.

Folks, it’s raining cats and dogs! It’s pouring down. I mean the heavens have opened up and are unloading on us. I hadn’t even bothered to put my cleats on. Danny Hosford whispers to no one in particular, “Is he kidding us?” At 15, I couldn’t even spell meteorologist, but I knew this ball game was rained out.

“Look,” Chick’s voice rose in expectation, “at those birds flying over the field. The rain is about over.”

I couldn’t figure if he was being overly optimistic, wishing, hoping or praying. Martin Paschall leaned over to me and correctly surmised, “The birds are flying to get out of the way of the tornado!”

Much to Chick’s disgust, the game had to be called. But the delay gave him time to remind us that “Me and Fitz built these dugouts,” as he patted the concrete blocks with pride. “You couldn’t drive a Number Nine Sherman Tank through these walls.” He reminded us again about how great the game of baseball was. How blessed we were to be a part of it. He seized the opportunity to share some advice on girls, life, marriage, God, money, work, character, integrity and proper decorum for “his” players. He got the most out of a rain delay of anyone I’ve ever known ...

Chick King was an amazing man. He spent 11 years in professional baseball. He played with Al Kaline and Stan Musial. He played against the likes of Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams. He could preach, teach, light a fire under you, console, listen (which most grown-ups don’t get), kid you a little, set that jaw and narrow those eyes, if the situation demanded, or throw that big arm over your shoulder and love you to death. Part of his greatness was that he knew exactly when to do which.

It was my first year playing for the Paris American Legion Team. And I wasn’t worried about the rain-out. We played seven to nine games a week! I’m not kidding. Chick would schedule a game each day and doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday.

It cost me a girlfriend. We lived in McKenzie and to this day, Billie Jean believes I had a girlfriend in Paris. “The New York Yankees don’t play that much baseball!” was the last thing she ever said to me. Chick’s reasoning on this was, as with everything he said, pretty sound, “Men,” he would lecture us on the bus, after a tough loss or before a big game, “you don’t get any practice days in life.”

I pretended, as a middle-aged teen, to be cocksure, rock steady and all grown up. The truth is, I was fraught with doubts and fears. I wasn’t sure I could play with these guys. I wasn’t sure I belonged. I wasn’t sure of anything, if the truth was known. It was a big step to hitchhike the 20 miles from our little town to the big City of Paris. Chick pulled me aside that first week after I had struck out twice and threw a ball 10 feet over our third baseman’s leaping grasp. I was ready to give up. “Kes,” he said so calmly and assuringly, “you’re trying too hard. You can play this game. God has given you a great feel for it. Slow down a little. You are going to be my catcher for the next three years. And you’re going to be a good one!”

On the first pitch I saw the next night in Union City, I hit a bullet off the left center field wall. If Chick thought I could do it, I knew I could.

I loved Chick King. No one ever touched my life in quite the way he did. He was relentless. And he didn’t nudge me along gently — he picked me up and threw me in the right direction! He was selling hope and optimism and “can do” to scores of young men way before they were writing books about it.

The phone call came late Tuesday night, July 10. Chick passed away peacefully just a few months shy of his 82nd birthday. I immediately thought of a ballgame in Hopkinsville, Ky. It was a Fourth of July doubleheader, naturally. Hopkinsville had this huge left-hander and Chick said, “Keep it inside on him. Don’t let him extend his arms.”

I set up 6 inches inside and Deake Bradley threw it right to the mitt. The big guy drew his arms in, turned on it and hit it over the fence, across the street and into a Texaco station parking lot. Chick got all over me! He’s yelling at me from the dugout. He’s motioning inside, like “I told you to keep it inside!” He was so mad at me!

On the bus ride home, I pointed out that the pitch WAS six inches inside, I didn’t throw it — I didn’t even get to catch it; I was a mere spectator to the whole event! Chick and I shared laughs over that pitch for the next 45 years.

The tears were still rolling down my face as I left early Wednesday, July 11, for the 600-mile drive to Paris. Heroes are hard to give up at any age. Every ballgame, lecture, pep talk and “do the right thing” speech flooded my memory.

I tried to tell him once how much he meant to me, but he just waved it off as nothing. The man who preached the funeral said Chick could be “loving” and “crusty”. He left out a whole lot in between!

Several people were astonished that I had driven such a distance to pay my respects — listen, they had no idea how far Chick has carried me.

KESLEY COLBERT is a McKenzie native who now writes a column for The Star in Port St. Joe, Fla. He played for Chick King on his American Legion team in Paris from 1963 to ’65. To email Kesley
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Reprinted from the Paris Post-Intelligencer
Paris, Tennessee
August 13, 2012 ~ Used by Permission

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LINKS  TO  OTHER  CHICK  KING  PAGES:

Obituary 

Recognition (1)
Recognition (2)

Recognition (3)
Recognition (4)

 

 

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