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The intent of the Wilson Hot Stove League is to touch proverbial base and support all levels of baseball in the Wilson County area.
Then, at each annual banquet, representatives from the various organizations and/or teams speak briefly about their situation the past year.
Tuesday night’s banquet audience in the Recreation Park Community Center heard about the plight of Barton College baseball for the first time in a few years.
New head coach Jim Chester addressed the turnout and receiving the Hot Stove’s Willis Hackney Memorial Award was former head coach Josh Simmons.
Chester promised an exciting brand of NCAA Division II Conference Carolinas baseball and declared: “I am excited for the chance to develop players on and off the field.”
Chester noted he has been located in Wilson for approximately five weeks and his family joined him some two weeks ago.
“I am happy to call Wilson home,” he remarked.
Simmons, Chester’s predecessor, resigned after six seasons as head coach to accept a position with the Wilson Parks and Recreation Department. Simmons also served as former head coach Todd Wilkinson’s assistant for four seasons.
Simmons directed the Bulldogs to a program-best 31 victories in 2016 and his players distinguished themselves in the classroom.
During Simmons’ tenure, the Bulldogs drew positive attention for their community services and also help with the Hot Stove banquet every year. Simmons emphasized community involvement.
He also drew acclaim as the No. 1 individual responsible for the maintenance of Barton’s outdoor athletic facilities.
Nixon Field, home of Barton baseball, certainly ranks as a premier conference facility and is a welcomed venue for community teams.
David Lawrence of the Carolina Mudcats in the high Class A Carolina League informed the crowd 100-percent ownership of the team now belongs to the Milwaukee Brewers, the parent club. Steve Bryant was the former owner.
The Mudcats, said Lawrence, will host the 2018 Carolina League All-Star Game on June 19 in Zebulon’s Five County Stadium.
In reflecting on 2017, the Mudcats spokesman reported the 73 wins were the most since 2008 and added the goal is to “continue to grow in 2018.”
Bob Walston, athletic officer for the Wilson American Legion Post 13 team, pointed out 2017 marked the 50th continuous year for Legion baseball in Wilson.
“Hopefully, it will continue for 50 more,” he said.
Walston closed by asking for a show of hands of those who played Legion baseball. The response was substantial.
President Greg Suire expressed confidence Wilson Tobs fans will not experience the miseries of 2017. He pledged a much more competitive team in 2018.
Opening night is May 27.
HOT STOVE CASUALTY
Bob Harris, the long-time voice of Duke University basketball and football — and now retired, traveled to Wilson for Tuesday night’s banquet.
But for the first time in years, Harris was not a banquet participant.
Upon attempting to enter the Recreation Park Community Center, Harris tripped, fell and suffered facial cuts. He received medical attention and decided to return home.
For years, the crowd has counted upon Harris to present some of the Hot Stove’s annual awards.
The day after his mishap, Harris informed the Wilson Hot Stove’s Kent Montgomery he was doing well and assured Montgomery he will be back in Wilson at Wedgewood Public Golf Course for the North Carolina Baseball Museum Celebrity Golf Tournament in May.
LINES OF THE NIGHT
Barton’s Chester became an immediate hit with his listeners with his parting comments.
He congratulated the Little League World Series runner-up from Greenville and the North Carolina Little League Ages 7-8 state champions from Wilson.
He jokingly offered Greenville players “full scholarships” and the Wilson state champs “half scholarships.”
However, Chester assured adequate development over a period of time would lead to “full scholarship” possibilities for the 7-8 year-olds.
Wilson County Youth Athletic Association Director Mickey Davis was called upon to speak about Babe Ruth baseball in Wilson County.
After momentary silence, master of ceremonies Alton Britt realized Davis was not in attendance.
Commented Britt: “Babe Ruth baseball is doing well but Mickey’s not here.”
Britt also praised the Greenville team that finished second in the USA division and fourth overall in the Little League World Series for “capturing the hearts and minds of the people in eastern North Carolina.”
IN THE CROWD
The entourage for highly regarded left-handed pitcher MacKenzie Gore of Whiteville included East Carolina head coach Cliff Godwin.
Godwin recruited the Whiteville High star, but Gore decided to sign a lucrative deal with the San Diego Padres of the National League.
However, Evan Gore, MacKenzie’s father, explained Godwin has become a close friend of the family.
Also present were sports legends and North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame members James “Rabbit” Fulghum, George Whitfield and Paul Gay.
The high school head coaching ranks were represented by Hunt’s Jon Smith, Fike’s Buck Edmundson and recently retired Charles B. Aycock’s Charles Davis.
HOLT’S DAYS AS AN A
Jim Holt of Graham, who played nine major league seasons with the Minnesota Twins and Oakland A’s, has been regular fixture at Hot Stove banquets over the past few years. Holt was a solid player, mostly in a reserve role, in his career, compiling a .265 batting average. He led the American League in pinch-hit at-bats with 43 in 1975 and his 10 pinch hits tied for the league lead.
He played in three AL Championship Series (Minnesota, 1970; Oakland, 1974, ‘75) and was a member of the A’s World Series champion team in 1974. Arguably, Holt’s greatest career moment came in the ‘74 Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers when he came up to the plate as a pinch hitter in the sixth inning of Game 4 with the bases loaded and the score tied 2-2.
“No pressure,” said Montgomery, as he read Holt’s career accomplishments to the audience at the banquet.
Holt delivered a two-run single, the centerpiece of a four-run outburst in the inning by the A’s, who went on to win the game 5-2 and the series in five games.
Holt played just parts of three seasons with the A’s but it was enough to get a taste of what it was like playing for then owner Charlie Finley, one of the most well-known, if not notorious, baseball owners in the 1970s. In the tradition of baseball showmen, Finley promoted the idea of changing the color of baseballs to orange in order to be more easily seen at night. He paid his Oakland players to grow mustaches (Holt said he never had one) and called his team, “The Swingin’ A’s,” and changed their uniform colors to bright green and gold.
“He’s one that wanted to be the one that runs the club,” Holt said of Finley. “The manager just has a name but he runs the club, even if he has to run it by telephone.
“If you went to the field and played for him, you played hard. That was it. He just that type of guy.”
As far as playing alongside Hall-of-Fame and sometimes controversial outfielder Reggie Jackson, Holt just smiled and said, “Remember, there’s no “I” in team. That’s all I’ll say about that!”
Obviously, Greenville Rose High head baseball coach Ron Vincent stands for much, much more than four state championships and a state-record 907 wins in 47 seasons.
Vincent was proclaimed the recipient of the Wilson Hot Stove’s Clyde King Memorial Excellence in Coaching distinction and Princie Evans, King’s daughter, praised Vincent as “exemplifying the best of what a coach should be.”
Continued Evans: “His success on the field is not foremost. He is a fine man and a superb molder of children; his importance cannot be overstated. His impact will be felt for generations to come.”
What motivates Vincent, who began his career at Farmville Central and has functioned as Rose’s head coach since 1974? Evans supplied the answer in quoting Vincent.
“How much more fun can you have than coming out here every day and doing something (the players) absolutely love?” she reasoned.