The Times West Virginian

Sports

May 17, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: Opportunity to see birth of greatness

MORGANTOWN — Sometimes things happen and the significance of them isn’t fully grasped immediately. So it is with the approval of the TIFF financing for a baseball stadium just off I-79 here in Morgantown.

Obviously, this a boon for the West Virginia University baseball program of Randy Mazey, which gains instant creditability. Almost as obviously the community will benefit by having a first-class facility available for its American Legion program.

And, of course, a minor league franchise out of the New York-Penn League will provide a summertime diversion unlike any other that could be brought to town.

But, along with that entertainment, comes a bonus that is not quite as obvious on the surface but can best be illustrated by the story we are about to relate, one from another West Virginia town in another era, but one that almost surely will be lived out again in our city.

Once upon a time Williamson had a low-classification minor league team affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals. A young player from one of the bordering mill towns in Pennsylvania wanted to try his hand at professional baseball, even though his father preferred he head into the mills and earn an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.

That he hadn’t finished his high school eligibility mattered not, it being common practice in the day to keep professional contracts secret when signed prior to graduation, and this contract was signed two months before his 17th birthday.

In truth, he actually led his prep basketball team into the high school playoffs after having signed a professional contract.

The teenaged pitcher went off to begin his quest for a baseball career with the Williamson Colts, a lost soul really both on and off the field.

As you may expect, this high school lad suffered from homesickness and certainly, on the $65-a-month salary a young player in a rookie league these many years ago made, he couldn’t buy happiness beyond a bologna sandwich.

The performance that rookie year was neither encouraging nor discouraging; going 6-6 with a 4.66 earned run average to go with a .258 batting average did little more than earn him an invitation back the following season.

Now out of high school, his homesickness behind him, he returned to Williamson to display far more promise. A 9-2 record along with a 4.30 ERA screamed for him to be moved along, but the good citizens of Williamson saw something more, for as he improved as a pitcher, his batting average out of that odd, cork-screw stance that later as he made it to the major leagues would be described as looking like “a kid peeking around a corner to see if a cop was coming” improved to hearty .352.

Long forgotten was the basketball interest Pitt had shown in him, for baseball was his game, and now there were thoughts he could become quite good at it.

The next year, now becoming a prospect, our player left West Virginia to play at Daytona Beach, where he came across Dickey Kerr, the honest pitcher from the 1919 Black Sox World Series who won both games 3 and 6 while his teammates were throwing the series.

He bonded with Kerr, actually moved in with him and his wife, and Kerr was there when the young pitcher blew out is throwing shoulder, consoling him and convincing him he could become a hitting star.

And that is what Stan “The Man” Musial did,

Before it was over, Musial repaid Kerr by buying him and his wife, with whom he lived, a house and by naming his first son Richard after Dickie Kerr.

As for the people of Williamson, W.Va., they too were given a gift, the gift of seeing the birth of a Hall of Fame player, a gift that now will be there for the people of this area.

Day in, day out they will be able to see the kids come through, just as they did 75 years ago with Stan Musial and watch and wonder which one will become a star.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter at bhertzel.

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