Tag Archives: Jim Nipper

Baseball Brotherhood

DadBoSkipOur family has always loved baseball. Our dad, Virgil Nipper, was always at the ballpark playing, coaching, or watching; one or all of us were usually with him. Mom said that when he was playing City League ball she was either at Shelby, Centennial, or Morgan Park watching him play nearly every Saturday and Sunday.

Mom didn’t stand a chance of not enjoying baseball. If she didn’t love baseball when she and dad met, she learned to love it. I understand dad was pretty good and was bound and determined to teach his boys how to play.

My brother Jim (“Jimbo”, to me, mostly shortened to just “Bo”) and I were taught everything there was to know about The Game: how to throw, certainly, and how to hit. I wasn’t that great at either one, but Jim had a strong arm and always could knock the ball out of the park. My shortcomings (“weak arm, average hitter” is bound to have been written on some scout’s notes) are blamed on my being left-handed.

Ahem.

Besides, I wore glasses. No, wait. Come to think of it, my brother did too, so I can’t use that excuse. He was just better.

There’s something else Bo is better at, too. He is pastor of Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Johnson City, Tennessee and a blessing to not only his parishioners but to his family as well.

Have a theological question around the dinner table? For over thirty years discussions about religion have often been intermingled with baseball and other sports.

I admire his perception about life’s experiences; always have, always will. I suppose he enjoys our chats about baseball, too, and I am grateful that we have a relationship beyond those subjects.

A few weeks ago I came across a bat that was autographed by our grandfather, Jack Waddell, who was a sporting goods sales rep and another great influence on our lives. I posted an image of the bat on various social media outlets, and a few days later Jim sent me one of his unique perspectives of our lives at the ballpark.

To explain the setting for the content of his letter: Dad was one of the organizers of the Little League park that was built at the entrance to Shelby Park and sponsored by the Downtown Optimist Club back in the early 1960s. It was another time when our family was at the ballpark; not necessarily playing, but being there while dad and other Optimist Club members were installing fences, sowing grass seed, setting up irrigation, and building a concession stand.

We played there, too, and after our Little League days Dad coached both of us in amateur ball in games all around Nashville. Shelby Park, right next to the Cumberland River, was our “home” park. I’m sure there is still a bit of Nipper DNA in the dirt there.

Bo remembers many things much better than I do (remember, I’m left handed) and his letter helped me to recall an earlier, more peaceful time. I hope it does the same for you:

“I looked at the bat you had on Facebook, and, for the first time in many years, I really missed baseball…..

“Not baseball as it is today, but, as it was….

“Simpler.  No frills, just right…..

“Just dust and dirt and grass and heat on hazy Saturday mornings; and the lights at night time, with the bugs climbing up into the light, ascending then descending in an awkward, erratic way – like they don’t really know where to go, but didn’t ever want to leave.  The humid air from the Cumberland, made homers die and liners float, the sound of the bat connecting with that ball was a sound that still rings in the heart of my ears. The hard run to first, or, the slide into second, and a fresh dirt stain to match the one of grass I received robbing a kid of his double in his first at bat. The next time he stood in the box he gave me a stare of hate that only lasted until he swung a third strike and twisted and fell trying to kill that ol’ horsehide. Even his own teammates laughed him down from his anger, to where even he had to smile underneath that helmet that had slid down over his slightly freckled face, a toothy grin – wiped quickly away so as to not admit defeat or so that his daddy wouldn’t swat him once he got home.

“Those real dugouts, with steps down into that dirt, not like other ones just built in top of the ground.  Those dungeony, clammy holes in the ground, where we sat on benches of wood, splinters and all, telling jokes and losing interest when the team was out on the field, waking up from our stupor when a foul ball would rake across the screen of our dugout. Then – we ‘d sit up straight and acted like we had good sense and cared about what just happened!

“We were the coolest in our button-up uniforms and tight-hosed socks, with tightly tied shoelaces so that there weren’t any trips stretching a single into something else.

“The smell of those concessions: hotdogs, popcorn, the sound of the ice shaver making snow cones, and of course, the Double Bubble, gum that ended stuck to a Momma’s shoe more than staying in our mouths.  “Atta boy, Joe!” we’d yell as our buddy sliced a hit to right field-yelling as loud as we could, but, with such exuberance – We’d lose that gum, somewhere between the bleachers and the concession stand. Watch your step, especially on a hot Saturday morning, a gooey surprise that can only be removed with some ice and a used Popsicle stick….

“Those were the days of no worries, when we only went to show up and swing a bat, or, shag some flies. And we were always up for it – come heck or high water, come bright sultry sun or a downpour of rain. We stood willing and ready. Glove in hand, or, sometimes hanging from the barrel of that wooden bat–draped across our shoulder.  Drooping pants, disheveled shirts, hot woolen clothes with the name of some school or market in script across our chests. Sweating even before the game begins, only because a touch of wool acts that way.

“Yep, those were the days, simpler days. A time gone past. I welcome them back, only I can’t run any longer or even swing a mean bat without aggravating my rotator cuff or twist a knee or back muscle…

“They were heavenly, those days, but we didn’t know it. But we do now, and sadly, it is too late.

“Heaven can wait. We’ll find it again. I know we will, with legs that can fly, like wings on our heels, swift and true again. It will come, and I can’t wait; but wait I must.

“And patiently I will…

“Peace in this world can’t be any sweeter than the good ol’ days of baseball.

“Love, Bo”

Thank you brother. I love you too. Peace be with you.

© Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Filed under History, Opinion

Listening In With Butch and Me

After developing http://www.sulphurdell.com 13 years ago I was invited to participate in a panel discussion at the Metro Archives in Green Hills, “Play Ball: A Look at Nashville Baseball“. Others on the panel included former Negro Leaguers Jim Zapp, Sydney Bunch, and Butch McCord along with former Nashville Vols Larry Taylor, Roy Pardue and a few others. After some discussion visitors were able to ask questions and casually view the exhibit of photographs, documents, and information on display.

The discussion helped to kick off renewed interest in the history of Nashville’s illustrious baseball past including Sulphur Dell. I will always be grateful for Metro Archives director Ken Fieth for his direction, and archivists Debie Oeser Cox and Linda Center, both since retired, for their assistance in making the event happen.

My father Virgil and I had become members of the Nashville Old Timers Baseball Association about that time, and Butch McCord was a member of the organization, too. Butch and I seemed to hit it off at the Archives and our relationship grew at Old Timers board meetings and events.

ButchMcCordI was invited to his home where I met his lovely wife, Christine, and on that first visit he told story after story, shared his books and newspaper clippings about the Negro Leagues, and told about what Jackie Robinson did for the African-American community. Subsequent visits to his home brought more stories, more books, and more clippings, and more Jackie Robinson.

On returning from a trip I took to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City he told me how proud he was that I took an interest in Negro League history. I told him it began with him.

Often during the baseball season he would call me on Saturday mornings and we would continue our discussions. A Nashville Sounds season ticket holder, Butch would always mention something over the phone that had happened at a Sounds’ game during the week.

Butch loved to talk about the past, but his love of baseball allowed him to continue his interest in his hometown Nashville club.

If the Sounds had played an away game on Friday night, the first thing he would say when I answered my phone was, “Did you listen to the game last night?”

Saying I had, we would discuss the game; if I hadn’t we would still discuss the game, as Butch wanted to tell about it and use it as a lesson about baseball. That’s the kind of fan he was.

Listening to baseball broadcasts was something my dad, my brother Jim and I shared over the years. Television had pushed me  away from that, but Butch helped bring me back to it.

I listen to the radio every chance I get, and tonight as the Nashville Sounds new season kicks off in Colorado Springs, I get another chance to hear my hometown Nashville club’s game. I’m anxious to know more about this club, the new players, and the new West Coast affiliation with the Oakland Athletics.

Nashville Sounds games are broadcast live in Middle Tennessee on 102.5 The Game (WPRT-FM) and online at http://www.thegamenashville.com/.

Won’t you join me as I “root, root, root for the home team” by listening to Sounds play-by-play announcer Jeff Hem’s broadcast of our favorite club? Game time is 7:35 P.M.

Butch passed away on January 27, 2011. I’ll be listening and thinking of him a little bit, knowing he’d be proud of me.

He’d be proud of you, too. Won’t you join us?

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Filed under Biography, Current, History, Negro League