When someone writes to me to tell about their connection to Sulphur Dell or to share a memory or two, I am honored. Often the memories are described in only a few words in an email.
Every once in a while I have received a handwritten letter. One of the most descriptive ones came from Irene Speece Thoren some years ago. I was so moved by her memory, I gave her a call and we had a delightful discussion about her life and the years that her father spent playing for the Nashville Vols.
Byron Speece was one of the stalwarts of the Vols pitching staff in the 1930s. His won-lost record was 95 – 60 and he pitched in 217 games and 1159 innings. His daughter Irene shared very special memories about her father’s Nashville playing days.
“I remember when my Dad played with the Vols in Nashville, I was in the 4th grade in 1932. We usually went to school in West Baden Springs, Indiana and then traveled down to Nashville for the summer. We did this every year up through 1937.
“We enjoyed going to the home games. Mother would take us out of school early so we could get to the game a little before batting practice ended. We were allowed to have one ten-cent concession per game. Usually we chose popcorn. We would bet that this would be a ball, a strike, a hit, a grounder, a fly ball, a home run, etc. We passed the popcorn back and forth during the game. I remember the concession man who sold hot dogs walking through the stands singing, “Red hots, red hots, they’re already ready and they’re all red hot, with a pickle in the middle and an onion on top, red hots, red hots.” We got one of those to eat about once per week. I have such fond memories of Sulphur Dell and the baseball games there.
“There was one ball game we played with the New Orleans team. They had a catcher named Charles P. George. He slid into second base on a hit and spiked the second baseman. Later in the game one of our players slid into home and spiked him at the plate. Nothing was done by the umpires for this. Seemed fair to them, I expect.
“Some of the players I remember were Hank Leiber and Phil Wintraub who went up to the major leagues from Nashville. Hank Leiber was so young and good looking. I, of course, thought he was wonderful. I heard that a number of years later he was hit in the head while at bat. It caused major problems for him. The baseball league set up an apartment for him in the Los Angeles area with a valet to care for him for the rest of his life. I don’t know if that is true or not but hope it was so. That was before batting helmets were invented.
“Others were manager Lance Richbourg, Bill Rodda, shortstop Ray Starr, pitcher James Brillheart, and others I forget today but will remember tomorrow.”
Irene Speece Thoren passed away on March 3, 2013.