leaguers relive big times
Bobby Price (left), Bill "Lefty" Cooke (center) and
talk batting stance and swing before. Behind them are Roger McKee
of Shelby (pitcher) and Earl Holder (the voice of the Twins, WNNC-AM).
The Reunion ceremony was held during Crawdads-Bombers game,
Saturday night [Aug. 30 2003]
JEFF WlLLHELM - STAFF PHOTO - Charlotte Observer
was the time Joe popped a fly straight up into the air,
darn near into the ionosphere, and instead of running it
out, he stood at home and leaned on the bat as if it were
a cane and marveled at his .achievement. Joe's wife,
sitting in the stands, had some advice: "Run, you
Joe eventually did. He would have been dead at first, but the infield let the ball drop. Safe.
This was in 1950, the year Joe Plick played first base for the Newton-Conover Twins, a long defunct minor league team that dissolved in 1962. The stadium they played in is gone, replaced by an apartment complex, and many of the former players aren't around anymore.
But about 30 are, and on Saturday, 12 of them gathered at a Newton restaurant for a reunion organized by Don Barker, a local amateur historian and photographer who's researched the team for about a year. After the reunion, the gang headed to L.P. Frans Stadium to watch the Hickory Crawdads, who honored the Twins before their game against the Capital City Bombers.
The guys who showed up are in their 70s and 80s. They live all over the place: Hendersonville, Columbia, Detroit. But they came.
"It's just wonderful. I couldn't wait to get here," said Bobby Price, 75, a Columbia resident who played second base from 1948-50. "I haven't seen some of these guys in 55 years."
The room was a swirl of white hair, smiles and handshakes. "Hey, how're you?" former pitcher Bill Cooke greeted Plick, shaking his hand. "Retirement treating you good?"
"You haven't changed at all" exclaimed 73-year-old George DePillo as he approached 80-year-old Don Stafford. "Aw, this was the best hitter in the league! I always thought you'd make it to the bigs with the bat you had!"
Not many Twins did. "We were all professional ballplayers," DePillo said. "Our hope was to make it to the big leagues."
But most were like Plick, who shuffled around assorted minor leagues in the '40s and '50s spending one spring training camp with the Philadelphia Phillies - and made one stop in Newton. The 80-year-old eventually settled in Hendersonville, where he enjoyed his greatest success in the minors and went on to work as a welder.
signed with Philadelphia, I went something like 7 for
10" in spring training, Plick said. "And this
other fellow playing ahead of me couldn't hit and
couldn't field, but his uncle was a scout. See, in the
old days, you had to know somebody."
Nowadays, Pllck's wife Earlene -who met Joe in 1949 as a nurse at an Asheville hospital, where Joe was sent after he broke his leg in a game - has custody of most of her husband's memories. Joe's in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. Earlene had to remind her husband of his 18-inning, no-error game with the Twins in 1950.
"The memories are so great," she said. "The year he played for Newton was our honeymoon year. We were young, we had a brand-new convertible, we were beautiful, and we had the world by the teeth.
"Joe, he couldn't wait to come down here and see some of the guys, 'cause we haven't really kept in touch."
The game just about everybody remembers: Lincolnton, 1948, in the old Newton municipal stadium. The Twins almost never beat Lincolnton, and this night, they were down 10-5 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
Price doubled, driving in a run. A base hit drove in two more runs. Stafford came up with a chance to tie the game with a homer- and walked. Up came player,manager Eddie Yount.
On a 2-1 count, he went wide. "There's a drive! The ball game is over! The ball game is over!" screamed announcer Earl Holder, calling the game on WNNC-AM radio, which fished the tape out of its archives for Barker. "Ladies and gentlemen, the people in this ballpark are simply going wild!"
Price, Stafford and Holder, sitting at their tables Saturday, listened intently and beamed, remembering their parts in the rally and the late Yount. Later, Stafford wandered over to the black-andwhite pictures on easels in the room: Plick scowling at the camera in his batting stance; Cooke grinning in his pitching motion; himself.
"Good days," Stafford mumbled. "Good days."
Reunion attendees pictured here are (front row, L to R)
Bill Cooke, Bobby Price, Joe Plick, George DePillo and
(Back row) Roger McKee, Charles Cline, Don Stafford, Jack Williams, Hom (John) Isaac, Charlie Bost and Floyd Laney.
Among those honored during the Hickory Crawdads game are: (L-R) the George DePillo family of Clarkson, Michigan and Charles and Cattie Cline of Newton, NC, seated in the best seats in the house
Thanks to Don Barker and the Charlotte Observer for these memories
BY GREG LACOUR - Staff Writer, Charlotte
(828) 324-0055; email@example.com
FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME
END (c) DON BARKER 2003
Derick S. Hartshorn - (C) 2006