I remember as a youngster spending hot summer afternoons standing alone in what we all referred to as “the bottom,” which is now where the Verdunville community playground is located at Mud Fork.
Although as the days cooled down, there was almost always baseball or softball games played there during late afternoons at the homemade field some referred to as simply “Stickweed Stadium.” On sultry days when the heat could be seen rising from the uncovered company store’s concrete porch, there was little action going on in the dusty coal camp of yesteryear. It was simply too hot for even the “Porch Sitters,” most of whom were likely at some water hole or swimming pool.
The field, which had absolutely zero grass and was formerly laden with rusty nails and pieces of glass leftover from former coal camp houses that had burned or been torn down, became a busy place with both guys and gals participating in competitive ball games that featured sizable painted rocks as first, second and third bases, as well as a homemade backstop.
But in the middle of a humid July or August day, the field stood empty and resembled pictures I had seen of what was said to be the moon’s surface — sandy in places, and rocky in other locations. Regardless, it was “our” field and for years the sounds of a ball leaving a wooden bat (the only bat we had and purchased at the dime Store in Logan for $3.87) could be heard most evenings throughout the Island Creek No. 16 coal company camp.
With not much else to do during summertime, I would make the short trek to “the bottom,” get my wooden stick I kept hidden in the same place daily, and walkout to what was considered centerfield. From there, I would bat rocks, striking them as both a right-hander and a left-hander.
I was an imaginary baseball player for several hours most days, sweat dripping into my eyes. I could hit Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, and Steve Carlton — yes, I batted against all of the greats. If hitting against Carlton or Koufax, I batted right-handed. Against Gibson and others I would bat left-handed.
There was plenty of flat rocks, referred to as “sail rocks,” that would really soar off the homemade bat that featured hundreds of marks from rock indentations made from prior at bats. The goal was to hit the “ball” over what we referred to as “the humps,” a six feet high and 100 foot long wall of dirt piled there years prior for unknown reasons. A ball (rock) that sailed over the wall was considered in my mind as a home run. Occasionally, when one sailed high and landed on the rooftop of my Aunt Lois Bowers’ house, well, that I proudly referred to as “hitting it out of the ballpark.”
The reason I write this today, is to emphasize the importance of what one could call day dreaming, aspiring, or just good ol’ fantasizing to become something a kid might desire to be for one reason or another — be it a major league ball player, ballet dancer, or even President of these Un-United States.
The bad news may be that I never made it to the major leagues, or even the minor leagues, but I did smack a Stickweed Stadium record amount of home runs in my imaginary games. Of course, I admit to having no other competitor.
Switching gears, so to speak, the fact is there have been many “dreamers” that left Logan County to fulfill their aspired objectives. Some never came back, while others, like Albert Maxwell Butcher did. All, however, always proudly referred to Logan County as their home.
During the past couple of weeks, regular readers of this column know I have spoken of two former pro football players who should be legends in Logan County because they already are considered as such at the places where they formerly performed. Of course, I’m speaking of Lionel Taylor and Charlie Cowan, both from Buffalo Creek near Man; both of whom were coached at Buffalo High School by Knutte Burroughs, who later coached at Holden Junior High after integration of the school system and after Buffalo High was closed.
Among the many, and I do mean many, other people who left Logan County to achieve some type of greatness — all of whom I intend to display in future stories — is the above mentioned Max Butcher. While the former major league baseball player lived and died at Man in Logan County, he was born and raised at Holden.
He, like Taylor and Cowan, as well as others yet to be named, fulfilled their dreams by making it to the highest professional ranks of each sport. However, there are still many other Loganites who have either been forgotten, or never fully realized by the people that live in or around the very county where the dreamers began.
For instance, I wonder how many people know about a former Logan High School basketball star in the early 1950s, who averaged 25 points per game for the Wildcats. Jack Wilson, who hails from Omar, went on to play basketball for the Church of God-sponsored school named Anderson University in Indiana (former home of the training camp of the Indianapolis Colts football team) and later coached 27 years of high school basketball in Florida, twice winning state championships.
Wilson, a center, set school records at Anderson University that still stand today. In addition, he was named MVP of the conference twice and earned all-conference honors three times (1956-1958).
As a Florida coach, his teams achieved an overall record of 585-179. His 1981 high school team at Clearwater, Florida, won the state championship with a sparkling 32-3 record.
Should you ever travel to Clearwater, you might visit the high school there where you can see the Jack L. Wilson Gymnasium commonly called “The House that Jack Built.” All this former Loganite did was win six regional titles, 13 district titles and 17 conference titles. He was also named Florida Coach of the Year twice and was one of eight finalists for national coach of the year in 1982.
Born in 1936, the former Loganite accomplished a great deal before dying at a young age of 51 in 1988.
There also are many non-athletes from Logan County whose accomplishments shall be revealed, but Max Butcher must be recognized today for making Loganites proud by playing major league baseball for 10 seasons: 1936-38 with the Brooklyn Dodgers; 1939 with the Philadelphia Phillies and from 1940-45 with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Butcher once led the major leagues in complete games one season and finished his career with 104 complete games, 14 shutouts, 9 saves, 485 strikeouts and a 3.73 earned run average. His overall record is a deceiving 95 wins and 106 losses. In 1944, with Pittsburgh, he pitched five shutouts.
Like Jack Wilson, Butcher died at a young age. He was 46 years old when he succumbed at Man in 1957 and was buried in Forrest Lawn Cemetery at Pecks Mill in Logan County.
It is clear to me that Max Butcher, like many former Loganites, was able to live a dream-come-true scenario. What bothers me is that the whole time I was daydreaming and hitting balls over that imaginary fence in “the bottom” off of such greats as Koufax, Don Drysdale and others, I had never even heard of Max Butcher, and that’s just a shame.
Like Lionel Taylor, Charlie Cowan, and various other former Loganites whose stories are yet to be told, Max Butcher’s accomplishments should have been known to me and others, which is why today I focus on making sure followers of this column know who these people were and, especially where they originated — good ol’ Logan County.
Between you, me, and the bedpost, I think I could have gotten ahold of one of Butcher’s fastballs and hit it on top of my Aunt Lois’ coal camp house.
That is, if I had only known who he was.