Tag Archives: Farrell Owens

New Friends, Old Friends, and Ballpark Notes

SD OutsideApril 17, 2015 will always be a special memory for me; so many great things happened that day. Some were expected, many were not, but with the opening of First Tennessee Park near the site of the Sulphur Dell ballpark all were a dream come true.

Here are a few observations, special memories, and special people who were there. I’ll remember these for a long time:

  • Carol Yochem, president, Middle Tennessee Region, First Tennessee Bank. We were able to speak for a few minutes before the ribbon cutting. It was our second meeting; the first was at the unveiling of the new ballpark concept. Carol, thank you for your kind words in person and in your Tennessee Voices column of Friday’s Tennessean, and thank you for being the driving force behind our beautiful new ballpark.
  • My wife Sheila, my son Chris and grandson Brody, my father Virgil and brother Jim. We were able to attend Opening Day together. These are the special people in my life who have supported my research and writing for many years. Thanks for being there to share wonderful memories.
  • Dave Ammenheuser, Tennessean Sports Columnist. We were able to hear stories from Nashville Vols Buddy Gilbert, Larry Taylor, Roy Pardue, and Bobby Durnbaugh. Wasn’t that one of the best baseball moments? You are a true professional, but your recent friendship means more than a walk off grand slam homer over the Sulphur Dell right-field fence.
  • Farrell Owens, Andy Lane, and Eddie Dempsey. Friends extraordinaire, it was great to relive stories of baseball history with you while we were navigating the new ballpark.
  • Toby Compton. You have become the reliable face of the Nashville Sports Authority. Your ability to alleviate concerns for building costs and traffic issues has been top-notch.
  • Ushers and operations staff at First Tennessee Park. When the ushers wipe the seats off before letting fans sit in them, that’s a professional service that was missed at Greer Stadium. Food and beverage service? You bet it was.
  • Thomas Trotter and the grounds crew. These guys do not get enough accolades. Yes, it was a new field, but Thomas and his team were able to perfect it for their specifications. It was perfect.
  • Media coverage. The number of reporters and cameras along “media row” on the third base concourse gave credence to the importance of this historic event.
  • Families and friends of Nashville Vols players Bobby Durnbaugh, Larry Taylor, Buddy Gilbert, and Roy Pardue. Getting these guys to the ballpark to share their stories are nearly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. How great was it to see these Sulphur Dell idols together?
  • Sulphur Dell marquee. Not the original but a great testament to what once was, no doubt. Just thinking about the memories that are stirred by seeing this iconic marker. Wow.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

 

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This Ballpark Belongs to Us

1stTnParkToday marks a new day in the calendar of Nashville baseball history. Future timelines might read something like this:

April 17, 2015 – Nashville’s new ballpark, First Tennessee Park, opens in the vicinity of beloved Sulphur Dell. It marks the traditional locale of the city’s baseball history beginning in the 1860s through amateur and professional teams until 1963

Finally.

Junie McBride used to tell stories about growing up around Sulphur Dell. He was proud of having been able to warm up Hall of Famer Honus Wagner in the 20s when Pittsburgh came to town for an exhibition game heading north after spring training.

He joked and laughed about sneaking into Sulphur Dell through an ice chute as a youngster long before the ball park was turned around in the opposite direction following the 1926 season. He not only spoke of seeing games at Sulphur Dell and Greer Stadium, he hoped to live to see a new Nashville ballpark.

Negro Leaguer Butch McCord loved to tell his baseball stories, to relate what he experienced and how The Game impacted his life, expressing the pains and joys of baseball but then moving away from the bitterness it brought to him. The ballparks he played in were not always places of baseball glory.

He wanted to see a new ballpark for Nashville, too.

My dad Virgil Nipper gave a history lesson about Sulphur Dell seated next to me on an airplane as we returned from our first visit to Wrigley Field in 2002. The conversation sparked my interest in studying and writing about it. A website, a book, a blog and a renewed interest in the history of Nashville baseball were the result.

To Junie, Butch, and dad: I am grateful for your stories. Thank you.

There are two others who are owed a debt of gratitude.

A fan of baseball as well as being mayor of Nashville, Karl Dean has heard stories such as those told to me. Placing the city in a prominent position in the world of minor league baseball was a hard road, as the idea of a new ballpark has gone through a political process that seemed endless.

His vision for a ballpark was kick started when he responded to Nashville Sounds owner Frank Ward’s statement to him on Opening Day at Greer Stadium in 2013, “Let’s go build a ballpark at Sulphur Dell.

It took only a few words from Dean. “Let’s do it.

Frank Ward purchased the Nashville ball club in 2009. Herschel Greer Stadium was its home; the ballpark was outdated, rusty, and confined. A new place for his ball club was in order. Four years later he said those words to the mayor and the commitment was off and running.

Mayor Dean and Frank, thank you. My Nashville cap is off to you both, as by working together the ball began to roll towards the completion of the ballpark the citizens and fans deserve.

Today it will be known as the finest minor league ballpark in the land. That’s quite an accomplishment.

In attending tonight’s first game my thoughts will be about so many things. My dad. Junie McBride. Nashville Vols manager Larry Gilbert and Vols owner Fay Murray. Negro Leaguers Jim Zapp, Turkey Stearnes. Jim Gilliam. Larry Schmittou and Farrell Owens and the original owners from the Sounds. Nashville Elite Giants teams. Butch McCord. The Nashville Old Timers. Radio broadcaster Larry Munson. Sports writers Grantland Rice, Fred Russell, and George Leonard. Bat boys and scoreboard operators.

Former Vols Larry Taylor, Roy Pardue, Buddy Gilbert, and Bobby Durnbaugh will be attending, too. It must be a special night for them.

Sadly, Junie McBride and Butch McCord did not live to see this day. But I will take a look around more than once and observe those who are celebrating the most.

The fans.

We waited a long time for this. We hoped and prayed for this. We looked over the plans, attended meetings, heard the gossip, wondered when, watched the camera, and even held our breath. Through it all, we never gave up.

Frank Ward and Mayor Dean, for all you have done you deserve our thanks. You can claim this ballpark as part of your legacy.

But this ballpark is ours. And we are going to enjoy this for a long, long time.

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Farrell Owens: Nashville’s Baseball Celebrant

Tonight the final game of baseball at Nashville’s Herschel Greer Stadium will be played. Fortunate to have seen Don Mattingly, Steve “Bye-Bye” Balboni, Otis Nixon, Jack Armstrong, Prince Fielder and so many others, I would have a hard time recalling a favorite moment.

It is not hard to remember who I shared those memories with: my dad, my sons and other members of my family. I am grateful for “Baseball talk” memories with Vic Coode, Butch McCord, and members of the Sounds staff, too.

But I would be greatly remiss if I did not thank a very special friend, Farrell Owens. One only has to mention “Nashville Sounds” and immediately Farrell’s name is thought of. As the first general manager of the Nashville Sounds, his ability to tell first-hand accounts of baseball in Music City are resources for sports talk show hosts, to sports writers, and to me.

Farrell Owens, Rickwood 2013A man whose life is rooted in the local sandlots, Farrell Owens fondly relates a gesture from his father which begins his baseball story, “In the summer of ’56, my dad bought me a first baseman’s mitt at Friedman’s on Charlotte Avenue after I did not make the team I had tried out for.  It was my first year to try to play organized amateur baseball and I was really down.”

“That new mitt really picked me up.  I played all summer in the neighborhood with that glove”, says Farrell.

Farrell’s playing career began in Junior Knothole baseball playing for the West Side Parts team as a twelve-year-old in the summer of 1957.  The next year, his team was Holder-Northern Lumber Company in the Senior Knothole League.  In 1959 he played for them again, and in 1960 the team was sponsored by Pettus-Owen-Wood Funeral Home.

He did not play the next summer of 1961.  As a sixteen-year-old he had been a member of the Cohn High School team, but he chose to help his father coach the Cohn Men’s Club team in Senior Knothole ball.  That team won the city’s league championship.

However, he played for two teams during the summer of 1962 at the age of seventeen: for Green Hills Merchants in the Larry Gilbert League and for Post 5 in American Legion ball.   Farrell was selected as a Gilbert League All Star in 1963; the All Star game was played at Sulphur Dell.  At the age of 19 he played for the Lipscomb College entry in the City League.

While at Cohn, Farrell was named to the first team of Nashville’s All-City baseball team.  Upon graduation in 1963, he went to Lipscomb to play baseball, becoming a starter on the 1964 team but transferred to Austin Peay in the fall.

Realizing he had made a mistake in transferring, Farrell made the move back to Lipscomb with the blessing of legendary head baseball coach Ken Dugan who told Farrell, “I would be happy to have you back”.

Dugan was a mentor to Farrell.  “While at Lipscomb, he was certainly the most influential on me, ahead of his time as a baseball coach. I took pride in learning as much as I could from him and used his techniques and management in my own coaching career.”

In 1966 Lipscomb won the District championship, the first school team to qualify for the Regional tournament.  Farrell was center fielder on that team.  As a senior in 1968 Farrell gained national notoriety by pulling an unassisted double play as an outfielder against arch-rival Belmont.

In 1992 Farrell was inducted into the Lipscomb University Athletic Hall of Fame.

During his college career, Farrell played during the summer for the Coursey’s BBQ team in the Tri-State League.  The team competed as a member of the 19-and-over Stan Musial Division, a part of the American Amateur Baseball Congress (AABC).

Coursey’s qualified for the Stan Musial World Series in Battle Creek, Michigan.  The team won one and lost two in the tournament and Farrell led the tournament with a .397 average.

By 1969 Farrell was coaching high school baseball and continuing to play in sandlot baseball in the Tri-State League but this time for a new team, Tennessee Pride Eggs, sponsored by the company’s owner, Herman Bullock.  Farrell was Tri-State League Player of the Year in 1969, batting .456.  His last year to play was 1972.

He began to manage the Haury & Smith Construction team in 1973 and led the team to the state championship in Knoxville.  Farrell relates the story:

“One of the happiest moments of my baseball life happened to me when I was a 29-year-old manager for Haury & Smith.  We were playing the Knoxville team in their hometown Bill Meyer Stadium for the Stan Musial state championship.”

“The score was tied 0-0 after nine innings, but we scored two runs in the top of the tenth inning.  In the bottom of the tenth, with men on first and third and no outs, pitcher Butch Stinson gets the next hitter to fly out to the outfield.  The runner on third scores, but the runner on first is held.”

“After the next batter strikes out, a ball is sharply-hit to shortstop Ricky Wheeler who throws to Donnie Polk, covering second base for the final out.  Butch had pitched a 10-inning complete game, and we won the State Championship 2-1!”

“I can remember us celebrating at the Andrew Johnson Hotel after the game and I was so happy I yelled out, ‘Bingo!  One for the roses!’”

In 1974 the team won the league title once again but lost in the Stan Musial state tournament in Memphis.

In 1975 and 1976 Haury & Smith played in the National Baseball Congress (NBC) World Series in Wichita, Kansas after winning the state and regional tournaments.  Mike Wright, Steve Burger, and Jerry Bell were members of that team.

It was in the fall of 1976 when Larry Schmittou called upon Farrell to begin organizing what would become the Nashville Sounds professional minor league team.

In 1977 while at Pearl High School where he had become head baseball coach in 1972, Farrell wrote an article on base running that was published in the prestigious “Athletic Journal”. That year Farrell was inducted into the Nashville Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame by the Nashville Old Timers Baseball Association and he helped to establish a new amateur league in Nashville, the Kerby Farrell League.

Leaving teaching and coaching in 1978 to help found the Nashville Sounds, he served as Vice President and General Manager for five years.  The new venture became a member of the Southern League (AA) and an affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds.  At one time Farrell owned a part of four minor league teams.

In 1989 Farrell began an amateur baseball newspaper, “The Sandlotter”, covering play in the Greater Nashville Amateur Baseball Association (GNABA).  No longer a publication, his venture became an internet source in 1997 and is now accessed online atwww.sandlotter.com.  It covers the SANDLOTT Mid-State League.

A lifelong Nashvillian, Farrell became a baseball player, coach, instructor, mentor, teacher, and former professional baseball executive.  He served as president of the Nashville Old Timers during 1987-1988 and continues to serve on the board of directors and executive committee.

His life has impacted many other players and friends.  His counsel continues to guide and mold lives today as an authority on Nashville’s baseball history.

“I have learned that there is a romantic aspect to teaching and talking about baseball.  Everyone lends an ear to it”, he says.

Farrell has two daughters, Paige and Ashley, and one granddaughter Charlotte who was born in February of 2012.

Thank you Farrell, for telling me those stories, for reliving your past, for sharing your treasures of baseball, not only with me but with so many others. You have always been giving of what you know, your wealth of knowledge. It has been a great run at Greer, but we want to know more.

See you at the new ballpark.

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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