Columns/Opinion, John Samsell

Baseball a long-time favorite

Baseball a long-time favorite
I don’t know why, but during my years at Morgantown High, the school had no baseball teams.
Our adventures among the nation’s favorite pass-time came in the old tank field with one boy’s baseball. If he had to leave, the ball went with him. Our games had rules we made up to fit the conditions, mostly between oil tank “fire banks.”
The field was narrow and the bigger guys were limited to two-base hits if the ball was hit over a fire bank. Although I am left-handed, I couldn’t hit one over the fire banks until the season’s end, and our last game followed my two homers.
There were numerous bushes with thorns through which we spent much time looking for lost baseballs. I remember one time a rabbit jumped out of the bushes. But we found the ball. If a ball was lost, our game was ended.
Our friendship didn’t end, though. After games we would gather on a sidewalk near a store and discuss various topics and have a bottle of pop. Nehi orange and root beer were favorites.
In the early days baseball was a summertime must around the county and particularly at coal mine ballfields.
One particular game is fixed in my mind. It was played at the then-fairly new City Park in what is now White Park. A team of coal miners played the semi-pro Fairmont Pirates. The latter was managed by local auto repair and tire store owner Jack Hines, who wore hand-me-down Pirate uniforms.
In that game the miners, with Gene Hegner pitching, won the game 1-0 on a triple to center field by Hegner. Hines had the lone Fairmont hit, a single. Hegner was said to have major league stuff as a pitcher, and once threw batting practice for Cleveland. His major league chances were said to have ended when he stepped in a hole in a coal mine company ballfield.
Men’s teams for years played special games during Memorial Day at City Park. They were well-attended, and were fun to watch.
Although their seasons have always been shortened, WVU has generally had good teams.
Their home games have been played on various fields. For years the team played on the Old Athletic Field. Balls would be hit to a hillside below the women’s dormitory or near the former Armory.
Their home field has been moved to three other sites since then. The latest is Monongalia County Ballpark near University Town Centre. Earliest games for the Mountaineers were in 1899. They won all but two games in 1901. From 1899-1901 they scheduled 43 games.
Although MHS didn’t field baseball teams in the early 1950s, there were ;American Legion Post 2 teams each summer. If fact local Legion teams have won championships, even before local high schools played regularly scheduled games.
There also have been Little League and Pony League teams from time to time.
Volunteer members of the 1st Ward Improvement Association worked to build a youth league field. George Ogden, local barber, was treasurer. He provided money for an aluminum bleacher that was placed outside center field of the Little League field in White Park.
The bleacher had names of some contributors etched on it. A strait-line windstorm blew over a huge tree that crushed the bleacher beyond repair. Part of the fencing also was damaged.
There were also other Little League fields, in Marilla Park, Suncrest Park, Wes-Mon Park among others.
Yep, the area has had baseball as a favorite pass-time, except at MHS in the older days.