Boys of Summer: 1962 team visits history
By Chip Byrne and Beth Byrne-Crutchfield
The following article is written as a tribute to the director and coaches of the Brewton Middle League of 1962 who made possible the Brewton Middle League’s trip to the Middle League World Series in California that year. Four men — League Director Jennings Warren, Head Coach Gene Overstreet, Assistant Coaches Robert Young and Charlie Welch — took time out from their jobs to travel to California and create long lasting memories for 14 boys from Brewton.
It was a hot, sticky day in 1962 when the Brewton Area Middle League baseball team embarked on the journey of a lifetime. Thirteen boys between the ages of 13 and 15, one batboy and four grown men were leaving the beaches of Burnt Corn Creek and heading to sunny California. They were scheduled to play in the Middle League World Series, and boy, were they excited.
The night before their departure, four of the 13 team members — Jim Hayes, Chip Byrne, Butch Stokes (a.k.a. the tobacco chewing catcher) and Donnie Turner spent the night at the home of league director for the Brewton Area Middle League, Jennings Warren. They were each anxious and a little nervous about the upcoming trip, and they wanted to get an early start the next day.
Once they were all packed, the four boys and Mr. and Mrs. Warren piled into the black non air-conditioned, six-cylinder automatic transmission 1959 Ford Galaxy. They were soon joined by three other vehicles driven by Head Coach Gene Overstreet and Assistant Coaches Robert Young and Charlie Welch. These men were accompanied by the remaining Middle League team members Ronnie Overstreet, Freddie Downing, Meredith Hall, Dicky Rogers, Jerry Hawsey, Bob Watson, Sam Schad, Tyson Boozer, Charles Coleman and batboy Bubba Young. And, they were off.
It was mid-August, and according to those making the trip, it was hot. Somewhere along the way, mostly likely Louisiana or Texas, Warren decided to stop and pick up a cooler or ‘swamp cooler’. The addition of this contraption made the travelers much more comfortable as they continued their trek to what was even then known as ‘another world.’ Of course, the addition of the device did create another issue when the boys began arguing over who would actually get to sit closest to the contraption, but as boys do, they managed to settle the disagreement amongst themselves and the trip resumed.
Along the way, the team made several stops. They topped in Texas at Petrified Forest National Park, they saw the giant Meteor Crater, made a stop at the Hoover Dam, spent the night in Flagstaff, Ariz., and they even made a trip to the Grand Canyon. The boys were already experiencing a bit of culture shock when they stopped in Texas and discovered that canned drinks actually cost 75 cents. In Alabama, a canned drink only cost around 35 cents in 1962.
A little farther down the road they were met with another shock when they actually had to pay for water. Of course, water was plentiful back home in Brewton, but out west, water was hard to come by, so if you wanted it you had to pay for it. Of all the signs and sounds of their journey, perhaps the most awesome sight was the glow of Las Vegas at night. According to one team member, you could actually see the city lights from over 30 miles away. There were so many landmarks and such different landscapes to see in one trip, things that most of these boys had never before had an opportunity to see.
Of course, many trips are accompanied by some sense of angst, and this trip was no different. That 1959 Ford, along with the rest of the caravan, struggled terribly across the Rocky Mountains. The engine almost seemed to slow to a craw at times and to group of young men not used to traveling through the mountains, this experience proved a little disconcerting. But, eventually they made it to the top of those mountains and they all breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Where the desert had been hot during the daylight hours and surprisingly cold at night, California just seemed hot and big. And, wow, talk about a culture shock. The boys saw buildings the size of whole city blocks in both California and Las Vegas. These buildings were actually individual stores that were a far cry from the stores in Mobile and Pensacola that the boys were used to visiting.
In addition to the enormity of the architecture, California had many other attributes that were much different than small town Alabama. First and foremost, there were no grits to be found. Like a scene straight out of “My Cousin Vinny,” a waiter actually asked on of the tables of boys, “What’s a grit?” It was a small disappointment that the boys were unable to find this one tiny reminder of the comforts of home after having wandered through the desert for the past five days.
The group stayed in Englewood, Calif., a suburb of Hollywood. Their hotel was located directly across from the Hollywood Racetrack. From the windows of their hotel rooms they could see people scampering to and fro in many different styles of dress. To these boys, California really did seem like an entirely different country. Men and women donned a much more liberal style of clothing than they were used to seeing. Perhaps most memorable, though, were the mini dresses. This trip to California was the first time several of the boys had actually seen girls wearing such short dresses up close and personal.
None of the group really knew what to expect from the Middle League World Series, as prior to this group’s participation in Middle League Baseball, all local youth baseball teams in the Brewton area were locally run and organized. No other league in Brewton had ever been associated with a national organization. Jennings Warren discovered the Middle League through his correspondence with Bill Ellis, the director of the Middle League in California. Later, with the help of Ellis, Warren began the Middle League of Brewton. The Middle League of Brewton was the only Middle League anywhere else in the United States outside of California.
When the time came for the Brewton Area Middle League to perform in their first game of the series, the stands filled up quickly. There were more people in attendance than usual in the year 1962, because the people in California were anxious to get a glimpse of the country boys from Alabama, the boys that had traveled hundreds of miles for the chance to compete. The park where the series took place was amazing to the Brewton boys. The park contained several separate playing fields that allowed two or three games to be played simultaneously, rather than one game at a time like back home.
Brewton’s own Bob Watson scored the very first run in the very first game. He later said that after that run, his thoughts were of how easy that win was going to be. Bob and the rest of the boys soon found out that that game and the next would be anything but easy. The baby-faced boys from Brewton lost both baseball games 11-1. They soon discovered they were no match for the stubble-chinned teenagers in California.
Despite the twin losses, however, the boys were all able to bring back priceless memories from the West. Along with the chance to ply in the Middle League World Series, they were also afforded the opportunity to attend two Major League baseball games and one NFL game. They witnessed the Los Angeles Angels battle the Chicago White Sox and they saw the Angels play the New York Yankees. They saw Yogi Berra hit a homerun, which was quite a treat, and they actually got to go out onto the field with the Angels and toss the baseball with them during pre-game warm-ups. But, one of the biggest treats came when the boys were able to spend time with Bubba Marriott of the New York Giants.
Bubba Marriott, a native of Foley, played college football at Troy University. He was the first football player ever drafted in the NFL from Troy. Prior to his move to New York for summer workouts, however, he taught school and coached in Brewton. As a result, he formed friendships with many of the members of the Brewton Middle League baseball team. As a token of those friendships, Bubba arranged for the entire Middle League team to attend an NFL exhibition game between the New York Giants and Los Angeles Rams. Bubba also arranged to have breakfast with the boys. Most would agree that the time spent with Bubba was a real treat.
So, despite the losses and despite the punishing heat of mid-August 1962, each of the members f the Brewton Middle League baseball team are likely to tell you they had a blast, and without a doubt, each and every one of them remain grateful to the four men in charge of that wondrous journey.