With the start of baseball season upon us, my mind takes me back occasionally to my younger days when my love of the game allowed me to do much more than change the channel from one game to another with my remote. I actually played baseball. I was never a great athlete; not even a good one I suppose. But I was good enough to play some baseball as a youngster. I played Little League, Babe Ruth League, and American Legion baseball. Among my teammates at one time or another was current TSSAA administrator Gene Meneese, who was a star at Vanderbilt and later played several years of professional baseball, mostly at the AAA level. I once had two hits against future Major League pitcher Wayne Garland. My most memorable accomplishments however, came in my backyard.
I once held the record for most home runs in a single season of “Home Run Wiffle Ball.” I’m sure you all know what wiffle ball or whiffle ball is. It’s that little hard, plastic ball you hit with a hard, plastic bat. After a few games, the ball would crack and you could still get a few more times at bat with it, if you wrapped it in duct tape. You could do the same thing if you had a crack or a split in your bat. I once created a super bat, when I taped the crack near the top of the bat, then cut off the handle, stuck an old broom handle up inside the bat, then wrapped tape all around the handle. You talk about some tape measure home runs. That bat lasted me three whole seasons .
When we had several kids, (boys and girls) we would actually play real baseball with bases and three outs per side. When there was just two or three of us, we would play “Home Run.” Each player would get three outs, but any ball hit was an out, unless it was a home run. At my house on Brooks Ave. in Madison, Tennessee, the home run line was the lower electrical line running alongside the street. As we got better and bigger, we would occasionally hit a home run or two over the line, across the street, and over a wire fence into a field where my neighbor raised turkeys. (You wouldn’t want to climb over the fence to retrieve the ball, when the turkeys were loose and on that end of the field. They were more than just mean; they were evil.) Every now and then you could find a rotten turkey egg to throw at your friends, but when it busted, it stunk up the entire neighborhood with one of the most putrid smells ever. It was so bad, your game had to be suspended for at least an hour.
My best season produced 650 home runs. I held the record for just one year however, as one of the neighbor kids hit 807 the next year; though I still believe to this day he cheated. Some of the games would last until dark, when the only reason we would stop playing would be the inability to see the electrical wire home run line. The longer we played the game, the more creative we became. It would no longer be Randy versus Gilbert, or Randy versus Larry. It would be the Yankees versus the Cardinals or Braves versus the Dodgers. You would go through an entire lineup, batting left-handed when a lefty came up, or switching to the right side, when a right handed hitter appeared.
I hope that kids today will have similar experiences and memories of baseball or any other sport. It was more than just a lot of fun; it helped make me what I am today.
Randy Smith has been covering sports in Tennessee for the last 43 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has continued his broadcasting career as a free-lance play-by-play announcer. He is also an author and is a media concepts teacher at Brainerd High School in Chattanooga. He is also the Head Softball Coach at Brainerd. Randy Smith's career has included a 17-year stint as scoreboard host and pre-game talk show host on the widely regarded "Vol Network". He has also done play by play of more than 500 college football, basketball, baseball and softball games on ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports, CSS and Tennessee Pay Per View telecasts. He was selected as "Tennessee's Best Sports Talk Show Host" in 1998 by the Associated Press. He has won other major awards including, "Best Sports Story" in Tennessee and his "Friday Night Football" shows on WRCB-TV twice won "Best Sports Talk Show In Tennessee" awards. He has also been the host of "Inside Lee University Basketball" on CSS for the past 11 years. He was the first television broadcaster to ever be elected to the "Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame", in 2003. Randy and his wife, Shelia, reside in Hixson. They have two married children (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith). They also have three grandchildren (Coleman, Boone, and DellaMae).