Former Little League Baseball Coach Shares His Love of the Game
My recent article concerning a 1964 opening day program of Johnson City’s Little League Baseball sent to me by Doug Bernardi prompted a letter from Alf Taylor.
“Your recent article on the Johnson City Little League,” said Alf, ‘stirred some memories.’ I was involved in the early days in the formation and coaching of Little League baseball in Johnson City.
“I remember four teams and only one league the first year: Pet Dairy, Leon Ferenbach, Courtesy Motors and Hill-Summers Chevrolet. I coached Hill-Summers Styleliners. Coach Madison Brooks (former basketball coach at East Tennessee State University) coached the Pet Dairy Pets; Ben Pollack coached Leon Ferenbach.”
Taylor recalled playing games at Soldiers Home (later called Mountain Home and eventually the Veterans Administration). He indicated they rolled out and put a snow fence in the outfield and “stepped off”’ the bases.
According to Alf, “We had uniforms, which were pretty neat in those days since most of us had grown up playing ‘sand lot’ with ‘unies’ (uniforms). Parents of players were helpful back then and not critical of others. I was out of my league coaching against such fine athletes as Coach Madison Brooks and Coach Ben Pollack. Al Meade soon joined me in coaching and we had a great time.”
Taylor indicated that the most noteworthy things he remembered about the infant days of Little League were the individuals involved in the game: “John Gilligan umpired and he was great. Coach Brooks was not only a fine Christian example but also a fine athlete, as was Ben Pollack. During our first season, we ended up on top not because of my coaching ability but because we had Jimmy Edwards, a big left-handed pitcher.
“Some of the other players I remember on the Styleliners were Jimmy Conley, Bob Taylor and Larry Bain. Although Bain was only eight years old and so tiny his catcher’s equipment dragged the ground, he ‘caught’ Jimmy Edwards. Everyone else was afraid to ‘catch him’ because he threw so hard. The other teams were also fearful of Jimmy, which is why we won so many games.”
Alf recalled that sometimes after the team practiced in a muddy field, he hauled the players home sitting in the trunk of his car to keep them from tracking mud inside his vehicle. He said the boy’s parents did not seem to mind his doing that.
Alf gave honorable mention to several players that he referred to as “naturals”: “Ben Pollack came up with the Crigger brothers, Larry and Jerry. Those guys were born with a ball, bat and glove in their hands. They were not only good boys but so coachable and very disciplined. Coach Brooks had Johnnie Brooks, a natural athlete, and later on he acquired Wayne Miller and the Sanders brothers, Jim and Bob. Afterward, I coached Pat Wolfe who was the most perfect gentleman and a great athlete. His dad brought him from below Jonesborough to every game and practice.
“You article mentioned Wayne Burchfield. One day, while we were practicing out behind the power plant at ETSC (later ETSU), he showed up for practice. I picked up a glove and ball and invited Wayne to ‘throw a few’ with me.’ The first ball he threw nearly knocked me down. Wayne wasn’t as big as a peanut, but he threw the hardest I had ever seen for a little guy. He had one speed – fast and hard. I never made the mistake of ‘tossing’ with him again.”
Alf concluded his letter by hoping that other former Little League players and coaches would share their memories about the game as well. Please e-mail them to me and I will forward them to him.