Jared Lankford: Take time to listen and read the signs

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

I love history. If I see a historical marker on the side of the road, on a town square or on the side of a building, I have to stop and read what it says.

I have developed a great appreciation for things that happened before my arrival on this Earth, and I always excelled in my history classes in school.

It was not that long ago, I was helping a neighbor clear out a fence row. He told me stories about how all the area communities had baseball teams.

He said on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, people would flood area parks to enjoy watching a game of baseball.

We have papers at the Times office that tell of games played by the Monett Midgets in the early 1900s and the Monett Red Birds in the 1920s and 1930s. The articles mention what great crowds supported the local teams.

These baseball tales are not new to me, nor do I ever get tired of hearing them.

Growing up, my grandfather, Dick Baggerly, used to tell me of his playing days. Grandpa Dick was the player-manager of the Redings Mill Cardinals.

He was a solid pitcher, according to my grandmother. He was not a hard thrower, but his pitches had great movement with pinpoint accuracy.

My grandpa said he named his fastball "Gopher," as it would either "go-fer" a strike or "go-fer" a long ways off a bat.

He was good enough that the Chicago Cubs offered him a minor league contract, but he decided to keep his job at Eagle Pitcher because it paid more.

During his time with the Cardinals, he played against and even managed Clete and Ken Boyer. Ken starred for the St. Louis Cardinals and Clete for the New York Yankees. Both were from the tiny town of Alba.

He said he pitched against Mickey Mantle, but I'm sure many grandfathers that played back then pitched against Mantle.

I heard tales of how the umpires for some of his games were sometimes chosen on the basis of who looked like an honest face in the crowd.

My grandma Bonnie kept

the official score book.

She told the story of nearly getting tossed from a game for arguing balls and strikes.

Two days later, the same umpire that threatened to toss her knocked unsuspectingly on her door in an attempt to sell a vacuum. When she opened the door, he never said a word, lowered his head and moved on to the next house.

Every community had a baseball team, even if they did not have a proper or ideally serviceable field.

On one barnstorming trip, the Cardinals found themselves playing in a cow pasture that had to be cleared of some "steaming piles." The left field fence consisted of a rope in front of corn and the right field fence was the side of a hog pen.

The right field foul pole was an apple tree that was used to help feed the hogs and family.

In the late innings of a game played on that field, the Cardinals led 1-0.

With a runner on second, a "go-fer" pitch was laced to the corner of the hog pen. As the right fielder charged the ball, one of the farmer's hogs burrowed under the fence, grabbed the ball and proceeded to eat the cover.

Both team benches cleared. Half of the players were rolling on the ground laughing, and the other half were chasing the half-crazed swine in right field.

After the fracas subsided and the bacon-bearing animal was corralled, both coaches assembled around the umpire for his ruling.

According to my grandpa, the official said that there was only one proper call and ruled it to be an inside-the-pork home run.

It was the only game my grandpa finished under protest.

My grandfather is gone now, but I have these stories to remember his baseball legacy.

There is an old saying that you never know what you had until it is gone.

I would love to hear him explain to me one more time about the secret to throwing a good curve being the ability to whip the ball.

That is why I always stop to read those markers. Without them, the stories and legacies of those who have gone on before will be forgotten.

Jared Lankford is the sports editor of The Monett Times. He may be reached atsports@monett-times.com, or at 417-235-3135.

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