The annual Tribune-Herald softball game has become a Fourth of July tradition that’s been in Waco almost as long as I have, and that’s pretty much an eternity.
It began in 1983 during my first full summer at the newspaper with a bunch of Trib sportswriters pitted against ex-Trib sportswriters. We all pretended to be bat-wielding ballplayers for a few hours and then went back to being pen-wielding journalists.
Now the game has morphed into a lot fewer and older sportswriters pretending to be ballplayers for a few hours who have recruited some actual athletes to make up for their many deficiencies.
Former major league pitcher Pat Zachry has played. So have former Baylor athletic director and baseball player Tom Stanton, and his nephew, Jimmy Stanton, who was so valuable that he once flew in for a game.
Other Trib softball game alumni include former Valley Mills baseball star Danny Vannatta and McLennan Community College baseball player Shawn Buhner, major leaguer Jay Buhner’s little brother.
Back when we were a lot younger, it was mostly Tribbers against ex-Tribbers. But as the years wore on and less real newspaper guys were available, we needed players to fill out the teams. A cynic might call them ringers, but why not try to find guys who could actually play?
Longtime Houston Chronicle sportswriter John McClain, who last worked at the Trib in 1976, has always been in charge of rounding up the ex-Tribbers’ team, and it’s amazing how great of a bond those guys have.
Lester Zedd is so dedicated to the game that he’s still playing after he broke both wrists 10 years ago when he overran home plate and slammed into the wall.
Waco Today editor Ken Sury rounds up the current Tribbers, which this year turned out to be one other guy. It wasn’t sports editor Brice Cherry, who was on a mission in Utah trying to convert Mormons to Baptists, which I’m pretty sure is harder than hitting a slow-pitch softball.
For the first time in about eight years, I wasn’t off in the mountains hiking somewhere, so I told Ken I would play. We obviously needed additional help, so Ken put on his recruiting hat.
From the moment I walked into Baylor’s Getterman Stadium on Saturday morning, I could see Ken recruited very well. Remarkably, most of our team had some connection to the Trib, which I will try to establish in the next few graphs.
There were ex-Trib sportswriters Jerry Hill, Brian Crownover and Phillip Ericksen. Now employed at McLennan Community College, Phillip worked in sports before moving over to news, where he did mostly sports-related Title IX stories after the Baylor scandal broke out.
Jerry, of course, was my colleague in the sports department for 25 years before he found a second career writing for the Baylor Bear Insider. More recently, he’s found a third career as a popular Twitter dancer following big Baylor wins.
Longtime Trib softball players haven’t forgotten how then-manager Jerry fired the whole team after the ex-Tribbers swept us in a doubleheader about 15 years ago. But he did thank us for coming.
We’ve forgiven Jerry since both of his sons are better softball players, and we really need them. Steven Hill can cover a lot of ground at shortstop, and both he and Jonathan can really hit.
They’ve both done some work for the Trib – Jonathan as a sports clerk and Steven taking Friday night high school scores – so they’re legitimate Tribbers in my book.
Crowny worked at the Trib for a few years while Erik Small was a former newsroom clerk. ESPN Central Texas broadcaster Paul Catalina doesn’t work for the Trib, but he interviews Brice weekly on “You Make the Call.”
Now let’s get to the heart of the order.
MCC women’s basketball coach Ricky Rhodes, a former minor league baseball player and college basketball player, is legit since he’s called in his game scores to the Trib. Maybe not the strongest connection to the Trib, but he’s played with us for so long that the ex-Tribbers expect to see him blasting bombs over the fence.
Ricky likes playing so much that he’s invited his little brother the last couple of years. Not only is it a nice brotherly gesture, Arthur Rhodes happened to pitch in the major leagues for 20 years before retiring after the 2011 season.
We’ve done so many articles on Arthur since he graduated from La Vega in 1988 that we consider him a special contributor to the Trib.
Jack Aydelotte is the son of longtime Trib photographer Rod Aydelotte. He’s playing baseball at Panhandle State, but just as importantly he’s a published Trib photographer since Rod gave him many opportunities to shoot during his youth.
Jack brought along his cousin, Alec Horvath, who was wearing a bunch of West Virginia University gear. That seemed a bit strange until I found out that he used to pitch for the Mountaineers. I’m not sure if he has any connection to the Trib, but I’ll be glad to give him any sports writing advice if he’s looking for a new career path.
Seeing the talent on board, I volunteered to sit the bench. Since everybody gets to hit, that was the best-case scenario for me since I wouldn’t have to show how drastically my fielding skills have deteriorated since I last played.
Boy, did we hit. Jack blasted a homer over the center-field fence in his first-at bat. Ricky and Alec looked like they were in a home run derby with Jack every time they stepped up to the plate.
Our guys could field too. One of the ex-Tribbers zinged a grounder to the right of Arthur at first base. He calmly snapped it up and took a couple of steps to the bag, to which I could only say “Wow, he’s still got it.”
With Steven Hill at shortstop and Jack at third, the ex-Tribbers couldn’t get much past the left side of our infield. After we jumped out to a big lead, they made a nice rally before we prevailed 10-9 in the first game.
Following that nine-inning opener, I wasn’t sure if the old guys could last seven innings in the second game. Fortunately we didn’t have to find out after we scored 27 runs in the first five innings.
Hitting was so contagious and the ex-Tribbers were so tired of trying to chase balls, even Jerry Hill and I were getting on base and scoring runs.
Since the score was so out of hand and it was getting hotter by the minute, both teams agreed to end the game after five innings unless the ex-Tribbers made a miraculous rally.
Trailing 27-4 with two outs in the bottom of the fifth, ESPN Central Texas broadcaster Q Myers stepped to the plate. With three homers already under his belt, he was hoping to go out on a good note, especially after some good natured (I think) verbal sparring with Jerry Hill most of the afternoon.
Since a couple of our players were out of commission, I volunteered to catch at the end since that’s where they usually stick the worst fielder. Q popped the ball behind the plate and it stuck in my bare right hand for the final out.
It was a lucky play, for sure. But it was a fun day. Ken called it the best team we’ve ever put on the field, and I can’t disagree.
Maybe I won’t wait another eight years before I play in my next Trib softball game, especially if Jack can bring a few more of his friends.