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Legion ball shaped their lives

Sun., July 11, 2010

From left, Andy, Ron and Sally Jackson are shown  in front of the backstop in their back yard where Ron's teams used to practice. (J. BART RAYNIAK)
From left, Andy, Ron and Sally Jackson are shown in front of the backstop in their back yard where Ron's teams used to practice. (J. BART RAYNIAK)

Boy, do we have the memories from American Legion baseball.

My husband, Ron Jackson, coached Legion ball from 1960 to 1984. Those were 24 years of great kids and great baseball.

Funny stories? You bet. I’ll tell a couple on Ron. We were out of town for playoffs and Ron always did the bed checks. Well, in one room the boys were playing cards but there was a suspicious glass of liquid in the middle of the table and so Ron took a sip.

You guessed it. It was the snuff spitting cup. George Huffman, Ron’s assistant coach, said somehow Ron never changed expressions, but he set a record exiting the room.

Another time the team was playing out of town. From all his years in pro ball, Ron was never shy about pointing out to an umpire that he should have been a butcher instead of an umpire. Well, Ron was nose to nose with an umpire and the ump put his hands on Ron’s arms to get a word in edgewise. Later Ron said his big mistake was pushing the umpire’s hands down because no one bothered to tell him that the ump’s father was a professional boxer who had shown his sons the skills of the trade. Needless to say, Ron wore sunglasses for two weeks to cover up two beautiful world-class shiners.

Our favorite out-of-town practice games were the Sunday doubleheaders in the Palouse farm country. The home team moms would put on a big picnic after the games and all the families would get together. Oh, those fabulous homemade pies!

Besides great baseball and many winning seasons, there were always plenty of laughs in the dugout as the players struggled to out-do one another with the wisecracks on the bench. Some of those players could put standup comics to shame.

Many of Ron’s Legion players went on to play college ball. Casey Parsons and Gary Martz were two of the boys who went on to play pro ball. Ron Spellecy is still in the Mariners organization (director of team travel). Harry Amend, Terry Irwin, Stan Chalich, John Seefried, Larry Kimmel and Bill Knudsen were some of the many that became successful coaches.

When Ron coached there were no salaries for coaches, it was all volunteer. In fact, many coaches would dig into their own pockets to help players or the program. Vern Blair, Ernie Pupo and Joe Everson were some of the long-serving coaches. Barstone Fuel, Appleway Chevrolet, American Italian, Kimmel, Simchuk and Cal Smith sports equipment stores were long-time sponsors.

And who can forget the long-serving umpires? Hank Weaver, George Chalich, Bill Via, Ken Pelo, Bruce Campbell, Johnny Cosseta, Nate Hair and Dan Mueller were just a few of the men behind the mask. Some you loved to see walk on the field and others you hoped for a quick rainout.

For many years, American Legion baseball was played under the lights at Underhill Park. Then the Shadle Park field was upgraded for Legion games. During these years, Al Jackson, the Legion baseball commissioner, supervised every game, every night of the summer for more than 30 years. He volunteered his services for the love of the game and the kids.

In the ’70s, four of our sons – Rick, Mick, Tim and Andrew – played Legion ball. There were lots of ups and downs at the home depending on the outcome of the games.

Ron still remembers every great play, every missed sign, every great pitching performance, every game when the pitchers couldn’t get the ball over the plate, every squeeze play that meant a game-winning run, and every squeeze play that was botched.

But to him, the best memories are of all the players over the years. Many of the players are still his good friends. He was able to watch them go from teenagers to manhood to AARP membership.

So thanks for the memories American Legion baseball. It was a great 24 years.

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