Tag Archives: Lipscomb University

Nashville Football, Hockey, now Soccer: Could Baseball be next?

Wednesday’s announcement of Nashville being awarded a Major League Soccer franchise brings new excitement to Music City’s sports scene. Everyone seems to have jumped on board, from Mayor Megan Barry, to the Metro Council, and soccer fans across the mid-state. Even the Tennessee Titans, Nashville Predators, and Nashville Sounds are okay with it, according to Tennessean sports writer Mike Organ who has written about their approval:  Titans, Sounds react to city landing MLS franchise[1]

The pro football and pro soccer seasons will not overlap very much, so there’s no surprise the Titans welcomed the new entry. The MLS stadium to be built at the Fairgrounds will only hold 27,000, and there is no fear that soccer would ever outdraw football.

Soccer is no match for the professional hockey experience in Nashville.

Nashville Sounds approval goes hand in hand with the announcement, as the ball club will be hosting a United States League soccer franchise that may fill the desire of fans before the MLS team begins play. The Nashville Soccer Club will play 18 home games at the Sounds home ballpark in a schedule that will run March through October.

There was a day when a new sports franchise would not have been welcomed the same way.

Larry Schmittou

Thirty-eight years ago, when Nashville was mentioned as a potential city in the fledgling World League of American Football, there was one team owner who was clearly against the idea: Nashville Sounds owner Larry Schmittou. The WLAF was an NFL-backed venture, envisioned as a developmental league for professional football; in fact, the league did commence play in 1991 with six teams in the United States, three in Europe, and one in Canada.

Nashville Sounds baseball was the only game in town. Schmittou’s disdain for any notion of Nashville becoming a team in the new league was clearly exhibited in a June 30, 1989 article by Tennessean sports writer Tom Wood: Schmittou hopes WLAF steers clear of city.[2]

At a recent Golden Bison event at Lipscomb University, Tom related a story about his 1989 happenstance meeting of Schmittou in the Greer Stadium elevator, how he and the team owner discussed the WLAF. Yesterday I asked Tom if he would refresh me with what he said at Lipscomb.

“I asked Larry just off-handedly what he thought about the WLAF coming to Nashville, and he forcefully said he would do everything in his power to prevent it from happening, that it was competition he didn’t need, etc.,” said Tom. “Recognizing it would be a great story, I asked him if he’d say that on the record and he said “yes”. I got out my tape recorder and we repeated the conversation. He could’ve declined but he clearly wanted the story out there. I don’t think he realized the negative reaction it would generate; I sure didn’t.”[3]

The Sounds president tied his dislike of any pro sport coming to the city on the hope he had for major league baseball to come to Nashville, but made it clear that his opinions were not personal, strictly business in the Tennessean article.

“I don’t have any control over it but I definitely think it would hurt the chances of major league baseball coming to this city.

“Baseball is the No. 1 priority to our investors and myself,” Schmittou said. “We have spent $10 million on our stadium over the last decade at no taxpayers’ expense. I don’t believe anybody else should get a break we’re not getting.

“Or how about in April when they’re playing a home game and we’re opening our season. My guess is we’ll be the ones to suffer.”

Clearly, Nashville in 1989 was a far different city than the one in the second decade of the 21st Century. It stands to reason that investors of a sports team nearly 40 years ago would protect their capital outlay and cost of running the team, but the economic climate today is bright for the future of soccer in a diverse Nashville.

Money will be being spent on a stadium location that will create additional havoc to a weak transportation system with no short-term solution, but with a fan base with dollars already being spent to attend music venues, honky tonks, and conventions.

“But there are only so many dollars to spend on all these sporting events,” Larry told me today, “and the first ones to be hurt by soccer are the Sounds. When I told Tom Wood what I did about the WLAF, it was more about setting the tone in defense of what we had going; but, we could not have kept it out. Especially if someone was going to put money behind it and if the city wanted it to happen.”[4]

I have said before that we won’t see MLB in Nashville anytime soon.[5] Larry agrees.

“I’m not sure even our grandchildren will see it,” he said.[6]

One day, Nashville is going to be on Major League Baseball’s radar, if it isn’t already. Perhaps it’s a little closer all the time, and the soccer franchise announcement may have helped. We know Nashville’s vibrant opportunities were used in presentations before MLS powers.

But soon the Titans are going to ask for a new stadium to rival Atlanta, Santa Clara, and Los Angeles, just watch. When they do, it will be given it to them. They have been good for the growth of the city, and I doubt anyone wants to see them move someplace like Oakland when the Raiders move to Las Vegas.

The only saving grace for baseball would be for a new football stadium to be built on the East Bank site where the metal recycling business is, then conform Nissan Stadium into a ballpark. It’s been done before; remember the Olympic Stadium in Atlanta which became Turner Field?

I will hold out for us becoming MLB-worthy if-and-when someone, or some group with lots of money, makes a presentation to MLB for a baseball franchise here. If Major League Soccer can come to Nashville, why not Major League Baseball?

I just know my grandchildren would love it.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

 

[1] Mike Organ, “Titans, Predators, Sounds react to city landing MLS franchise,” Tennessean, December 20, 2017, http://www.tennessean.com/story/sports/nashvillesc/2017/12/20/titans-sounds-react-city-landing-mls-franchise/969717001/ retrieved December 20, 2017

[2] Tom Wood, “Schmittou hopes WLAF steers clear of Nashville,” Nashville Tennessean, June 30, 1989, 23.

[3] Facebook message with Tom Wood, December 20, 2017

[4] Telephone conversation with Larry Schmittou, December 21, 2017

[5]MLB in Nashville? Nope,” https://262downright.com/2017/07/12/mlb-in-nashville-nope/, retrieved December 20, 2017.

[6] Schmittou.

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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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Supplying Mr. Banks (with caps)

A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to visit with “Mr. Cub”, Ernie Banks. Elected to Baseball’s legendary Hall of Fame in 1977 after 19 seasons with the Chicago Cubs, Banks was the keynote speaker at Lipscomb University’s 6th Annual “Evening of Excellence”, a fund-raising event that highlights the brilliant career of storied basketball coach Don Meyer.

At the VIP gathering before the event, I arrived early and the line had already begun to form to greet the hospitable and energetic Banks. Encouraged to “not ask for an autograph”, others were already asking so I unpackaged the Major League baseball I had brought along and stuck it in my pocket.

When it was my turn to shake Ernie’s hand, I noticed the cap he was wearing (something with “Ernie” emblazoned on it), introduced myself and he greeted me with, “What do you do?”

Banks1Not wanting to fail in getting his autograph on the ball, I quickly asked if he would mind signing a ball for me. He quickly took my ball and pen and now the ball he signed sits proudly among my meager collection.

“I am a sales rep for New Era Cap Company. We make the caps for the pros”, I replied.

“Could you make me a couple of caps?” he asked.

“I actually brought caps for you; may I give them to you? They’re Cubs caps”, I told him.

“Well, where are they? Sure you can give them to me. Go get them.”

I always take caps along to occasions such as this even if I don’t get an item signed. It was not my intention to commercialize the opportunity, either, but I do it as a way of saying “thanks” and am happy to be able to do so. Once I gave a Minnesota Twins cap to Harmon Killebrew at an event in Birmingham at the Barons ballpark at Hoover. The next day he wore it throwing out the first pitch at the Rickwood Classic where he was the guest of honor at the annual game played at the historic park.

After thanking Ernie (now we are on a first-name basis), I retrieved the caps, walked back over to where he was sitting, and placed the four caps in front of him where he could see. He was pretty busy, as by now the line had become much longer. After greeting a few more fans, he reached over and took the caps and tried each one on.

Larry Schmittou and Farrell Owens with Ernie Banks

Larry Schmittou and Farrell Owens with Ernie Banks

This is the one he chose. He wore it during the remainder of the meet-and-greet, and an hour later he walked out on stage with it on, too.

If one gets the opportunity to see and hear him speak, I would encourage you to be there. Ernie Banks is approachable, engaging, and tells memorable stories. I have a wonderful memory of meeting and hearing him.

But that’s not the end of the cap story.

The next day the Chicago Cubs celebrated the 100th Anniversary of Wrigley Field, the storied venue of one of Baseball’s most storied teams. Of course, all the greats were there, including Ernie Banks, in another New Era cap I had given him the day before.

USASTSI Image

USASTSI Image

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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R. A. Dickey’s Journeys

Today I was able to attend Lipscomb University’s “Forehand & Friends” event. Head baseball coach Jeff Forehand and the University hosts these events during the spring. Major Leaguer R. A. Dickey, a close personal friend of Forehand and 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner was coach Forehand’s special guest to kick off the new baseball season.

R.A.DickeyR. A. is a member of the Toronto Blue Jays after being traded from the New York Mets in the off-season after his magical season. He related the difference in pitching in the American League East which is loaded with hitting, compared to the National League East which is more pitcher-laden.

To further his career when it had stalled, R. A. decided to learn to throw a knuckleball  beginning in 2006, he spent the 2007 season with the Nashville Sounds when he was selected as the Pacific Coast League’s Pitcher of the Year. Moving up to the majors he was with the Mariners and Twins before being signed by the Mets.

His 2012 season was very special, but in 2013 he was given the American League’s Golden Glove Award for Pitching.

But that’s not all. R. A. tells his success stories along with his faith stories. He climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to bring attention to Bombay Teen Challenge that rescues young girls in Mumbai from abuse and exploitation. He has written a book about his life, “Wherever I Wind Up”, which includes a description of being sexually abused as a youngster.

Today he spoke of consistency in his “walk”, his spiritual journey through life guided by God. R. A. told his audience to “live life”; others are curious about how one goes about daily activities and when he is asked about his faith, he has an opening to nurture their own faith journey and minister to them.

“I had to re-invent myself when I decided to learn to throw a knuckleball”, he said. Mentors Phil Niekro, Charlie Hough, and Tim Wakefield helped guide him, but it was ultimately up to Dickey.

“But I get excited about learning.”

It is evident he gets excited about sharing his faith, too.

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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The Pride of Nashville: R.A.Dickey

R.A.

A product of Nashville’s Montgomery Bell Academy and the University of Tennessee, major league pitcher R. A. Dickey was the banquet speaker at the 69th annual Old Timers banquet in 2007 where he related his experiences on the field and called attention to his life’s faith journey.

“For me, it’s not about an All-America award or other accolades, it’s about my experiences,” said Dickey.  “Sometimes you are not as bad as you feel nor are you as good as you might think you are.  It is more important to have a purpose, be it in faith or in baseball, but in all things to have joy in it.

“I try to glean wisdom from a game and apply it to my life.”

R. A. was the 18th player taken in the 1996 draft, the first-round pick of the Texas Rangers, and was prepared to sign a contract with the team.  The signing was to have taken place before a Rangers home game in Arlington, Texas, where Dickey was set to throw out the first ball.

Just before finalizing the contract, his agent informed him that Rangers general manager Doug Melvin was backing off of the $900,000 signing bonus that had been agreed to.

During a routine physical examination it had been discovered that a tendon was missing in his throwing arm, and Melvin was not sure that he wanted to sign Dickey at all.  After being named Freshman of the Year by Baseball Digest during his first full season at the University of Tennessee and collecting a bronze medal at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, the news regarding his arm caught him off-guard.

Dickey’s choices were to return to the Knoxville and rejoin the baseball team or continue to pursue a professional career, but on the eve of stepping back on the UT campus he was told that the Rangers were still interested.  However, the signing bonus would be reduced to $75,000. Dickey signed with the Rangers on September 12 and his professional career began.

“One cannot predict what is going to happen.  Often we may need to make adjustments,” said Dickey.

Little did he know how many turns his career would take.

The 6’2″, 215-lb. right-hander spent time in the minor leagues with Oklahoma, Frisco, Charlotte, and Tulsa.  For 2007 he signed a AAA contract with the Milwaukee, where ironically Doug Melvin was the general manager. Dickey joined the Brewers affiliate Nashville Sounds and finished 13-6.

Having recently turned to mastering the knuckleball, Dickey told the banquet attendees, “Be ready to re-invent yourself.”

His knuckleball – combined with his persistence – worked. With the Seattle Mariners for 2008 and Minnesota Twins in 2009, R. A. signed with the New York Mets in 2010 and threw a one-hit shutout against the Philadelphia Phillies on August 13, 2010. His ERA for the season was 2.84. Agreeing to a two-year contract with the Mets beginning in 2011, his record 8-13 but his ERA was a respectable 3.28.

R. A. had a dream season in 2012, setting a New York Mets record for consecutive scoreless innings (44 1/3), led the National League in starts (33), innings pitched (233 2/3), and strikeouts (230). Named to the National League All Star team, he finished the year with a 2.73 ERA.

Named winner of the prestigious 2012 National League Cy Young Award, he became the first knuckleballer in the history of Major League Baseball to capture the award.

Dickey was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for the 2013 season where he finished 14-13 and won the pitcher’s American League Gold Glove Award.

R. A. will be speaking at Lipscomb University’s “Forehand & Friends” event Wednesday, January 8th at 11:30 in the Hall of Fame Room of Allen Arena.  Cost is $10 including lunch.  RSVP via email paul.nance@lipscomb.edu.

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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