BY JOE B. COATES
The Copiah County Courier 9-10 year old baseball team has been practicing to get ready for Opening Day in Wesson this Saturday. Dang near after every practice, when Grayson (9) and I get in my truck to head the 2 ½ miles back to the house, he asks me to tell him a story of when I played baseball “when I was little.”
Ohhh, the stories we’ve been through. The journey back in time for me is incredible. My brother John and I, and just about every other boy our age from the time we were 7 and 8 on up to age 14, ate summer baseball up like it was our last meal before we went to the chair. The season always seemed like it would never get started for us and then ended way too early. I’m 43, and I still miss putting on those black Adidas cleats, the white pants with the red and blue piping and the matching jersey and cap, getting ready for a game by throwing the ball in my glove over and over and over.
One particular story that I told him after practice on Monday evening took place in Wesson between our Hazlehurst All-Stars (the Good Guys) and the Wesson All-Stars (the Bad Guys) in 1983. Both teams were stacked with 11-12 year old talent. Wesson had big Scott Jerome–who, at about 6’ tall as an 11 year old, seemed to throw about 100 MPH– as one of their pitchers. Scott Ashley pitched and played short-stop. Hazlehurst had the Coates boys, Roger Hunkapillar–who could place pitches better than any other 12 year-old I’ve seen since–Greg Johnson, Paul Lewis and a plethora of talented 11 year olds.
Wesson and Hazlehurst were bitter enemies in all-stars back then, at least while we were in little league, probably because we played each other for the county tournament title every year for 3 years. Over the years, many of us who competed against each other became friends. So, I still remind them of this from time to time.
Hazlehurst had swept through to the championship game of the county tournament, which was played in Wesson that year, with a 2-1 win over Wesson and a 9-5 win over Crystal Springs. Wesson had played through the losers bracket and came into the title game having to beat Hazlehurst twice to win the title.
The Good Guys had a big first inning that sealed the fate of the title and left no doubt who the champion was. I don’t remember how many runs we scored, just that we scored a bunch.
We had loaded up the bases, and I was on second. Richie Tayler, who was 11 at the time, came to the plate. Richie had some power and later became a fairly good golfer. He used his golfing skills and swung at a pitch that was sinking on its way to plate, connecting with the fat part of his black Easton bat and sent the ball over the centerfield fence for a grand slam. BOOM! We were in front 4-0 with no outs.
That play was significant, and without it what followed could not have been accomplished.
The next batter, Tony Barnett, crushed a solo shot over the left field fence for his first home run. He was followed by Casey Granger, who sent one over the right field fence for his first home run. Back-to-back-to-back homers. First time that many of the parents and fans attending the game had ever seen 3 home runs in a row, and was the only time I’d ever been a part of it.
The Good Guys won the game 14-4 and took home the county tournament title for the third year in a row, by the way. The story in the paper said that next week said that the “game would be one people would talk about for years to come. . .”. As much time as I’ve spent working on our special issue for Wesson’s 150th anniversary celebration that publishes in April, a couple of folks have mentioned that that story should be included.
Perhaps it will be. But, having it to tell to Grayson is priceless.