BY KESLEY COLBERT
Chick King peered out of the home dugout with an eye toward the
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
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
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
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
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
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