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Coach Huffman was quite a character

Bob Ely, standing in a high school dugout, once played American Legion baseball in the early 1960s.  (Jesse Tinsley)
Bob Ely, standing in a high school dugout, once played American Legion baseball in the early 1960s. (Jesse Tinsley)

Back in the mid-60s (1963-64), I played for the legendary George Huffman. George was a really good coach, but he was even more fun to be around.

Here’s a few stories that I can recall (memory gets foggy; we tend to “remember” differently with age).

•George smoked a pipe, which caused a couple of problems. He even occasionally smoked in the dugout. Once, he got mad at the umpire and threw his pipe. Naturally, it smashed into a hundred pieces. We’re sitting in the dugout with our heads down, trying not to break out laughing, which would have really incited him. Another time, one of his twins, Ronnie or Donnie, stepped on his pipe and broke it. George was apoplectic, but the kid lived.

•We were at the state tournament in Lewiston, all lined up on the third-base line, getting introduced, when Scrappy Curtis, the umpire out of Lewiston, came strolling by. We didn’t know George and Scrappy were old friends, so we were a little concerned when George started whistling “Three Blind Mice” really loudly. I think even Scrappy was laughing.

•We had a young man named Al Bauernfeind on the team. Al wasn’t too good, and George was going to tell him we didn’t need him. Al rode to Bonners Ferry with George and pretty much kept him in stitches the whole way. When we got back to town, George told Al he’d keep him on the team, just for laughs. By the way, Al also rode with Charlie Nipp to Spokane one game, and so convincingly mimicked a police siren that Charlie pulled over.

•Terry Taylor played most of one summer with a bright yellow stain on his jersey. It seems we had stopped to eat, somewhere in the Silver Valley. Terry was turned around talking to someone, when Bob Rarick, who was sitting across from him, called his name. Terry turned around, and Bob pounded on a mustard squeeze bottle that he had laid on its side. A shot of mustard nailed Terry just about in the heart, and the stain never came out.

•On a personal note, George taught me to go back after fly balls by putting me in right field at Person Field, then hitting balls over my head. I had to turn, and without looking, run to where I thought the ball would land. I had a couple land between my feet (never did get hit, which was a miracle), but I did learn. My first year, George was pitching batting practice when I let two or three pitches go by that were pretty good. George threw the next two or three pitches at my head, then growled “get in there and hit the damned thing.” I did as I was told.

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