Travelling with the Team

1960s era motel

Way, way back in the 1960s I worked for my high school newspaper. Among other things, I covered the school baseball team. It was fun, but fairly thankless.

I’ve written about this team occasionally. It was, as a rule, pretty awful. In an eight team conference it generally finished somewhere in the middle of the pack. So I would attend the home games, keep score, and write-up a tale about the latest loss. For away games, I had to check with the coach the next day, because the school didn’t send a reporter with the baseball team when it travelled. The football team, on the other hand, had a guy who went to both home and away games and travelled with the team on the same bus (actually the football team took about 3 busses because of the size of the team and the amount of equipment). The basketball team got the same treatment as the baseball team.

But finally in my Junior year the school found a baseball savior. His name was Harper (I’ve done a couple of stories involving him) and he had a curve that fell off the table and a fastball that he could blow through a brick wall. I don’t recall his record, but he was something like 10-0 and the rest of the staff did just well enough to get the team to a conference championship. Harper had moved in from Kansas and I became one of his buddies so I was able to get inside information on the team that made my stories better (OK, this is high school, not the Denver Post).

Well, no one quite knew what to do with a championship. We’d never won one before. The state of Texas had a state championship and all the conference champions got to participate. First, you had to win a regional of four teams, then all the regional champs (I think there were eight) went to the state tournament with the winner becoming the toast of Texas High School baseball (such as it was). When the football team played, there was a big “pep rally” with bands and cheerleaders and a lot of “rah-rah” stuff. For us, we got to leave without a crowd to send us off.

So the team got on a bus and headed south to the regional tournament. In a fit of hubris they decided to request the school paper send along a reporter (that would be me) to cover the games (it was double elimination, so you were guaranteed two games). It was also the only time I got to travel with the team.

We took one bus (there were about 15 guys on the team) with the entire team, the head coach (the assistant coach drove and carried the equipment in his car), and me on the bus. We ended up with a bit of a problem. The team had an odd number of guys plus two coaches, so one of the players would get a room to himself. As the star, Harper got the single and insisted I bunk in with him. That meant that we had a chance to talk a lot of baseball, a lot of school stuff, much of which revolved around girls.

It was one of those 1960s motels that had two stories strung out in front of a parking lot with the vending machines in a breeze way that was in the middle of the row of rooms and an office at one end. There was a restaurant that shared the same parking lot, but wasn’t officially attached to the hotel. The picture above isn’t the same one we stayed in, but it looks enough like it for you to get the idea.

The room was pretty standard, a couple of beds, a mirrored dresser with a few drawers, a round table with two chairs, and two tables set one beside each bed with a lamp on each and a Gideon Bible in one of the drawers. The bathroom had a simple sink, a tub/shower combination, a toilet, a mirror, and a couple of towels that had seen better days. I have no idea how much the rooms cost because the school paid for them. We got there in the evening and the tournament started the next day.

Harper drew game one, a morning game, and we beat the other team. I don’t remember the score, but I do remember that he gave up only one run. Everyone went a little nuts. No one could ever remember our team winning a state tournament game ever. The coach was going crazy, the few fans in the stands (the parents of a handful of the players) were going crazy, I was bouncing up and down on the bleachers, Harper was taking it in stride.

The problem was that if you pitched in a game, the state rules required you get 36 hours off before you could pitch again. You could play, you just couldn’t pitch (Harper went to second base in the next game) and the next game was an evening game against the other winning team.

Of course we lost. I don’t recall it being particularly close. That meant we went to the losers bracket where we played the survivor of the other losers bracket game. The problem was that it was a morning game the next day. That meant our ace couldn’t pitch game three (if we won, he could pitch game four, which was the evening game).

You know where this is going, don’t you? We got clobbered in game three and thus finished 1-2 for the tournament and third overall. The school had paid for that night so we stayed and watched the evening game. The team that was undefeated went on to win it and won the tournament. They later went out early at the state level.

Mostly the team was upset, but Harper took it well. He’d done all he could and told me he didn’t feel bad. What else could he do? It was to be his last game. He got a scholarship offer to one of the schools in Texas, but went back to Kansas to go into pre-law. The rest of the team cried a lot, I cried a little.

The next morning we packed up, got back on the bus, and headed home. It wasn’t as joyous a group as when we left, but the funeral atmosphere had worn off by then. We got back in the afternoon. There was no crowd to applaud us when we arrived. Harper had a car; I didn’t. He drove me home.

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6 Responses to “Travelling with the Team”

  1. glenrussellslater Says:

    As far as you know, did any organizations send any scouts to watch this Harper guy? What high school did you attend and in what city? In what year did this occur?

    Glen

    • verdun2 Says:

      Harper got scouted, got a scholarship offer from one of the colleges in Texas (I forget which), but wanted to be a lawyer, so turned it down. Last I heard (and that’s been 20 years) he was a lawyer somewhere in Kansas. Nobody else was worth scouting.
      v

  2. glenrussellslater Says:

    That’s a Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge in the picture. Which brings me to comment that I sure wish there were Howard Johnson’s restaurants, still. I used to love their all-you-can-eat clams thing that they had once a week, and their food was affordable and with a nice atmosphere. I can’t figure out what went wrong. I worked in one of the last Howard Johnson’s restaurant as a dishwasher back in 1992 or so, in Kingston, New York. But I just looked it up, and evidently, there were more left. I just read an article telling that there’s one Howard Johnson’s restaurant now- In Lake George, New York. Sad.

    Glen

  3. wkkortas Says:

    Damn fine storytelling.

  4. Precious Sanders Says:

    Sounds like that would’ve been a fun gig. Too bad you didn’t have anything more exciting to report on back then, but it does make for a fun story now.

  5. Jackie, The Baseball Bloggess Says:

    I loved this memory!

    I was happy to discover how quickly young teams rebound from loss. When the Univ. of Virginia baseball team lost a heartbreaker vs Vanderbilt in 2014, I joined a couple other fans in welcoming them back to Charlottesville. We fans were devastated and thought we *had* to be there to console the team in their deepest sorrow. The 24 hours must have done them good … as they were riding the bus from the airport back to their home field where we were waiting, the starting 2nd baseman tweeted … “Oh Chipotle! How we’ve missed you!” We realized at that moment that we, the fans, were grieving far more than the team. They just wanted dinner. 🙂

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