Winchester’s Own, Spottswood Poles

Spottswood Poles was one of the greatest Negro League players, and he was born just a few miles from where I write this, in Winchester, Virginia.

Please enjoy the twelth installment of Off the Beaten Basepaths:

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The Spirit of the Man

One week ago this evening (August 12, 2019) I attended “Mo’s 10th Inning,” which was the posthumous party Mo Weber threw for his friends, complete with endless trays of shrimp and an open bar. Laughter erupted constantly in various corners of the room. Photos and mementoes of Mo’s seven-decade coaching career evoked smiles and memories.

The only thing Mo loved more than baseball was his family. The thing is, if you ever met Mo, you were immediately part of his family. He had this great ability to not only connect with people, but to connect those he met to each other.

That night, Martha and I sat with Tom and Tina Carr, down from upstate New York, specifically to attend this 10th Inning. Mo had hired Tom 30 years ago to coach the New Market Rebels who play in Virginia’s Valley Baseball League. As Tom explained, Mo became something of a father to him—and clearly something of a father-in-law to Tina. Tom had read Safe at Home: A Season in the Valley, and he and I had exchanged e-mails, but this was our first in-person encounter. Had you dropped in on the conversation, you might have thought that the four of us had known one another for all of those 30 years. Later in the evening, Tom introduced me to Will Gangwer of New Market. The Gangwers were Tom’s host family when he was coaching and Will was about nine years old. Will is now a second-generation host family. Will had read Safe at Home, too, and enjoyed it so much that he was moved to present to me a print of Rebel Park that his wife, Keisha, had drawn. I had seen the same print prominently displayed in Mo’s home. Tom was clutching one, too.

All evening, I had the sensation that I would look up and see Mo at the bar or at the other end of the buffet line or telling someone the story behind one of those photos. Then it struck me: Maynard G. “Mo” Weber may have died, but he didn’t leave us. That would be impossible, because he was there, within us. The love and respect that he had for his fellow passengers on this Journey was so great that Mo was still connecting people even after he had reached his Destination.

***

I often stop by Rebel Park on my way through New Market to walk the warning track and listen to the silence. I see in my mind’s eye boys I wrote about and boys who played there; and in this sacred space they remain boys forever. And next time I’m there, and I pass that part of the outfield fence on which Mo Weber’s retired jersey is painted, I’m sure that the emotion will be strong. It won’t be sadness, however, but rather profound gratitude that through Fate or Fortune, I can say that Mo Weber was my friend.

Mo and McKinnon Langston, 2009

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Why Are There Ohio Road Signs in Virginia?

We have all had those moments when we’re driving, in which we forget where we’re going; or our minds are wandering, and we merrily motor along on our way to work; only it’s Saturday and we meant to head to the grocery store, which, of course, is in the opposite direction. I thought I was having one of those moments when I passed the sign that appears in the photo. Clearly, I had not been daydreaming for so long that I drove right past the grocery store all the way to Ohio, had I? Couldn’t be because the entrance to our community of Snowden Bridge is clearly visible in the background. In fact, I noticed four or five of these signs in the area, and indeed, our local SR 661, a.k.a. “Red Bud Road” will be closed for repairs until early August. All of which begs the question as to why Virginia is using Ohio road signs.

Did Ohio order 10 SR 661 signs only to have the Acme Company read the order as 100? I say the “Acme Company” because Amazon doesn’t carry them (I checked), and if dynamite and anvils and such supplies can be ordered from Acme, then it stands to reason that they would have road signs, too. In fact, I’m pretty sure the Road Runner has a number of Acme road signs in storage for any “need-to-detour-Wile E. Coyote” emergencies.

For the record, Ohio does have an SR 661, a 22.22 mile stretch of road that begins just south of Granville, and runs due north until it dead ends at SR 13 just south of Mt. Vernon. Generally, speaking this is between Columbus and Cleveland. Maybe 10 was the minimum order—one sign every 2.2 miles seems excessive to me in the first place, so it’s possible that Ohio got on a group chat, and let all her buddy states know that if anyone had a State Road 661, and needed a few signs, they had some extras that they could sell at a clearance price:

“That’s right, Virginia, they’re on clearance. . . . Oh, you know some are dinged, some are scratched. . . . All of ‘em have the outline of Ohio painted on them. . . .”

“We’ll take five!”

Could anyone in VDOT verify this conversation or otherwise explain why we have Ohio road signs in Virginia? I’d just like to know.

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R.I.P. Mo Weber

Last Friday, I received news that my baseball mentor and good friend, Mo Weber had died. Mo lived a good long life, having just turned 96 on June 24th of this year. I wrote about him in three different books, and I’m sure that he would laugh and say, “You better write about me now, too.”

I first met Mo over 15 years ago when he was a coach for the New Market Rebels of the Valley Baseball League. I interviewed him for the first time in November of 2008. We met for lunch and when we left, the restaurant staff was setting up for dinner. As it turned out, he became an entire chapter in Safe at Home: A Season in the Valley.

Mo always had a quip or a story, and it was often the same story, but that was one of the many characteristics that made Maynard G. Weber so lovable.

Mo was a character.

He taught me so much about the game that I love. Me, and about a million other people. We spoke the language of baseball, and one of my great pleasures in life has been sitting right behind home plate on some warm, lazy night in New Market with Mo, who is studying the action on the field the way an art critic might view a painting. That’s not surprising as his father was Max Weber, to whom the New York Times referred as “the dean of modern art in this country.”

Mo is silent as the pitcher comes set and sneaks a peek at the runner on first. The pitcher looks once, twice, then fires homeward as the runner takes off for second.

“Catcher has slow feet,” says Mo as the runner slides in safely. Classic Mo. (If the catcher doesn’t set his feet quickly, he can’t throw quickly enough to catch an average runner, must less a speedster, even if he has a strong arm. It is a compliment to think that Mo knows I’ll understand the meaning of his comment.)

Mo, himself, was as quick as they come. Quick with a laugh, quick to exhibit kindness, quick to take an interest in anyone who showed love for the game.

My friend is gone, but he is not lost as some people like to say. He contributed so much knowledge and joy and love to this world, and nothing in the Universe has more permanence than those elements.

I had the honor of writing the inscription for his plaque which hangs on the wall of the Rebel Park concession stand. It was placed there in 2015 when Mo’s Rebel uniform number, #1, was retired. I think it is a fitting epitaph:

 

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Huntingburg, Indiana Is a Championship Town

We Americans currently focus on our divisions so much that we are blind to the good that people do for one another.

By way of illustration, I give you the Dubois County Bombers of Huntingburg, Indiana.

The Bombers are one of eight teams playing in the Ohio Valley League, a summer college baseball league just like the Valley Baseball League here in the Shenandoah from where I write. Al and I attended one of their games back in 2016, and produced an Off the Beaten Basepaths video on the team and their ballpark, League Stadium, which was used extensively in the filming of the movie, A League of Their Own.

Mike Uebelhor, a managing partner of the Bombers, and his wife Mary, whose lack of an official title belies the many responsibilities that she is asked to fulfill, “spearhead” the Dubois County Leukemia Association, which Mike founded years ago. For five years now, they have asked their players, as well as their vendors—young ladies who don the uniforms of the Rockford Peaches—to sign up for the Be the Match bone marrow registry. Twenty-four did so last Wednesday.

“We’ve had matches from some of our other drives, but have not yet had a match from a Bombers drive,” said Mary via Instant Messenger. “Once you are in the registry, you stay there, so there’s still plenty of time for any of them to be called. It’s sooooo exciting for us when we hear that one of our registrants is a match for someone!”

Mary, who has been on the registry for 25 years herself has never been called, but added, “What a cool thing to be able to save someone’s life – or at least give them a chance!”

No corporate spectacles, no pink baseball bats, no calling attention to how woke our brand is. Just this “cool thing” that a bunch of people in Dubois County, Indiana, and their baseball team do that could, you know, maybe help somebody someday.

Such championship towns cover the map of the United States, and such heroes are everywhere. Thank you, Bombers for reminding us of that.

League Stadium, Huntingburg, IN. For the record, the Bombers won the OVL playoffs in 2015 & 2017.

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Vulgar Dancing at the Virginia Military Institute

One’s imagination is stirred considerably by a fascinating clip from the “Out of the Past” section of the July 1, 2019 Winchester Star, which relates the story of the Virginia Military Institute’s final ball in 1919. It seems that on June 25 of that year, “some of the alumni and several unidentified girls” did the Shimmy, in spite of the fact that “the authorities of the institute had given warning earlier in the evening that the introduction of such dances would cause the immediate closing of the [dance] hall.” Apparently, “the ‘Shimmy’ and cheek dances,” had been “denounced as vulgar and impossible of being made fit for polite society by the International Association of Dancing Masters.”

Well, as one may imagine, any young man, be he an officer and a gentleman or not, is going to attempt to do something which his elders deem “impossible of being made fit for polite society,” especially when it can be done with “unidentified girls.” According to the Star, “when the ‘Shimmy’ dance was well under way Colonel Purdie, the commandant, ordered the orchestra to play ‘Home Sweet Home,’ during the rendition of which, the hall was cleared and the ball ended.”

The Shimmy was only two years old in 1919, and its popularity increased dramatically that same year with the publication of the song, “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate,” a title which is such a delicious mixture of words; words almost as tasty as, “impossible of being made fit for polite society.” Anyway, the Shimmy became a favorite dance of Flappers in the 1920s, though still considered vulgar, and it was banned in many dance halls. What we now think of as “the Shimmy” or “shimmying” is just how they thought of it, too, or as Wikipedia describes it, “the body is held still, except for the shoulders, which are quickly alternated back and forth.” These words do not do the actual movement justice, of course, especially if performed by one who is blessed by nature with rhythm and with a physique most suitable for shimmying.

So, if you want to shimmy like your sister Kate, who “shimmies like a jelly on a plate,” I urge you to watch the instructional video by clicking here. It will show you that the dance began as something akin to a cheek-to-cheek seizure, but quickly evolved into what we think of today. And if I had a time machine, I would set it for Lexington, Virginia, the evening of June 25, 1919 in order to see something like the following:

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Dress Barn Sent Out to Pasture

I can’t believe that it took this long for Dress Barn to go out of business, a move that was announced the week of May 19th. I mean, was there a worse name in all of retail than Dress Barn?

Dress Emporium—fancy.

Dress Collection—solid.

Dress Store—boring, but accurate.

Dress Barn?

I would love to have been in the board room when Dress Barn was being named. What were they thinking? It must have been some man who said, “Our research department feels that a bovine reference will really moooove the ladies to graze—I mean shop—in our stores. Can anyone think of a name that will make women feel like heifers?”

“Stockyard of Dresses?”

“No . . .”

“Dress Pasture?”

“No . . .”

“How about Dress Barn?”

“Perfect.”

Whenever I walked by, I always expected a sales girl to be standing at the door with a cattle prod going, “Move it along, Bossy, the sales are in the back.”

“Lumber on back to our leisure wear, ladies!”

I wonder how they missed the tagline, It’ll behoove you to shop at Dress Barn? . . .

Anyway, it had to be a man who came up with the name, because women are word sensitive: Command the language and you command the ladies. Clearly, Victoria’s Secret, for example, was named by a woman, and not by whoever came up with Dress Barn; otherwise it would have been called Grandma’s Underwear Barn.

By the way, if anyone out there knows the guy—and it was a guy—who named a line of J. C. Penny’s clothing Sag Harbor, please pass along this post.

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