IRH - Years of the Tiger

This section is to honor the works of Russ Lancaster who started the “I Remember Hamlet” web site years ago. Without his pioneering the web at that time we might not have gathered all these memories of our Hamlet, NC. We thank you Russ for what you started in 1996, may you Rest in Peace. Russ was kind enough to let me download his web site before he took it down. Thank you Russ.

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David
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IRH - Years of the Tiger

Postby David » Mon May 7, 2018, 7:58 pm

Years of the Tiger
1954 & 1975
by Russ Lancaster
Baseball has always held a special place in the Lancaster family and has always been a part of summer in Hamlet. There were two years that were extra special to me and both dealt with special teams known as the Tigers. The years were 1954 and 1975, 21 years apart, yet much the same.
In 1954, Little League baseball was organized in Hamlet by Nelson White. His efforts would have an impact for years to come. That was also the year my Dad, Jack Lancaster organized Pony League baseball. He too would have a part in making Hamlet the baseball powerhouse it became and still is many years after his death. You can read more about them in my memory "The Old Ball Park".
1954 was also a year of fear. Polio was rampant in the South as well as the rest of the nation and parents and kids alike were frightened. Not a good year to start organized baseball when just one case of the dreaded disease could quickly spread throughout the entire team, even the whole town. But, both leagues were started anyway.
I was 12 years old at the time and eligible to play in the new Little League but thought myself not talented enough to play. Sandlot baseball was all I had ever played and these guys were talking real rules, umpires, uniforms, fans and stuff. I was also undersized and self conscience so I didn't try out.
There were 4 teams, Phillies, Yankees, Cubs and Tigers that first year and the season would be split in half with the first half winner meeting the second half winner in what we in Hamlet called the Little League "World Series", a seven game set to determine the best team.
The Yankees had won the first half quite easily and two days before the second half was to begin, my Dad volunteered my services to coach Brack Ward of the Tigers who had finished in last place. He broke the news to me just after I had eaten a big piece of watermelon and told me the coach would be by to take me to practice shortly. My Dad always thought I was better than I was.
When we got to practice, I was given my opportunity at shortstop and really stunk the place up. Every grounder hit my way either went through my legs or was bobbled. I was then moved to the dreaded right field position (the graveyard of kids baseball), but given a starting position even though I didn't deserve it.
Out of luck or desperation, I learned how to play the position and how to hit and became good enough for Jack Porter, coach of the Yankees, to protest my age. He wasted his time as I was within age limits.
We won the second half of the season in a Cinderella fashion and were placed in the 7 game "World Series" against the first half champion Yankees. As game time for the first game approached, my stomach was full of butterflies and I begged out of the lineup. By the second game, I found myself out there again and played horribly. By the third game, I was OK again and we ended up winning Hamlet's first "World Series".
We felt special, kids like Billy Gill, Billy Horne and myself. Thanks to people like Nelson White and Brack Ward, we were given the chance to pioneer baseball in our little town.
Little did I know at the time that I would repay those men at a later time in the best way possible, as a coach of another team called the Tigers in another of those special championship years.
Twenty one years later, in 1975, I got my chance to coach, along with Sidney McInnis, a Bronco League team known as the 7-Up Tigers. I was probably chosen because of my Dad's reputation as a coach and baseball expert but I did have expertise in strategy while Sidney had a talent for picking the best players available. We ended up with a very special group of boys.
Our team consisted of Sandy Robinson, Robbie Lancaster (my son), Paul McInnis, Mark Bullard, Geoff Whitfield (the high school coach's son), Larry Tunstall, Larry Hairfield, Jamie Frady, Kim Caulk, Tommy Britt, Jeff Long, Ben Walters, Rocky Walters, Clark McInnis and Sandy Copeland.
We practiced daily, at Sidney's urging, and it paid off. We stressed mental awareness as much as physical preparation and those young men listened and learned and executed nearly to perfection.
Kim Caulk was as perfect a pitcher as you could ask for even though Tommy Britt was usually given top billing. Tommy was also a great pitcher but his athletic abilities enabled him to play any position well. Jeff Long, the biggest kid in the league, was our catcher. He was not to thrilled to begin with as he had never caught before but we understood that position would be the most important on our team. It was, it made a difference and we were good.
We had a glorious summer winning 15 games while losing only 2 and breezing to the Bronco League championship. The two losses were both by 1 run. The first loss came at the hand of the VFW Senators when we juggled our lineup badly and despite a 4 hitter by Tommy Britt, came up on the short end of a 1 - 0 score. These two teams played errorless ball that day and it was a game to remember.
Our only other loss that year came at the hand of the Yankees. It too was a special game. Trailing 7 -5 in the bottom of the 7th inning, Tommy Britt slammed a 2 run homer for our team to send the game into extra innings. A two out 10th inning single by Ricky Parks sealed our doom that day. It was the last game we would lose.
We won the regular season championship in a 13-1 rout of the Phillies and then breezed through the championship tournament. Sidney McInnis was named manager of the year, myself coach of the year and four of our boys, Jeff Long, Tommy Britt, Ben Walters and Kim Caulk made the all-star team to represent Hamlet in the national Bronco League championships.
Those two special years, 1954 and 1975 will always be dear to me. The year of learning and the year of teaching. The year of receiving from my Dad, and the year of giving back what I had learned to my Son.
Hamlet has been recognized many times with numerous American Legion state baseball championships. It all began in 1954 with people like Jack Lancaster, Nelson White, Tyree Brown, Brack Ward and Jack Porter. It was carried on by the likes of Pete Howe, Red Arnold, Tommy Smart, and George Whitfield. There are many others that contributed, but years have clouded my memory. Baseball will always be special in Hamlet thanks to those who had the foresight and gave of their time.
Yes, I remember those men, those games....and, I remember Hamlet.

freddie hassler
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Re: IRH - Years of the Tiger

Postby freddie hassler » Sun May 13, 2018, 11:57 pm

I also played Little League with the Yankees coached by Jack Porter for 2 years, my first year, we had players like Bill Harris at Shortstop, Jackie Booker at 3rd Franklin Porter at Catcher Jules at 1st.baseRichard Brown Outfield myself also played the outfield Bubba Walker I don't remember where he played my first year, but was moved to Catcher the 2nd. year after Franklin aged out We also lost Bill, Jackie, and Jules can't remember who started at 1st 2nd or 3rd, but Richard was in center field myself in Left, Right ? After the game got going he would take me and Richard out and let other outfielders play moving me to Short or 3rd. base and Richard would sit out the rest of the game and let me use his fine glove to play the infield, since a hard grounder would turn my glove (Western Auto)inside out. After my 2nd. year I aged out, but didn't move to Pony League, since I didn't like how slow the game was standing in the hot sun waiting on a fly ball or in the infield waiting on a grounder or when it was our bat just sitting on the bench waiting for my time to bat. I had rather be at Boyd Lake Swimming and watching the Pretty Girls. Football was my sport, lots of Action the whole game you didn't get bored, while playing both way's
While in the USAF as a Fireman, after lunch at the Fire station we all went to our Dayroom to Watch some TV and the Cleveland Indians were playing someone and the men doing the play by play were talking about how great Bill Harris had been playing after being called up from the Minor's even telling he was from Hamlet, NC. and went to Wilmington, Jr. College(now UNC W ) after High School. I got to thinking, I'm going to tell the other firemen, that I played with Bill Harris when we both played with the Yankees without telling a lie This one guy stood up from NY City and said Hassler I've lived in New York my whole life and you nor Bill Harris have never played for the NY Yankees, so I told him I didn't say the N Y Yankees I just said Yankees its a Little League Team in Hamlet NC. and we both played on that team in the '50'sI know it was misleading, but not a lie, we all got a good laugh out of it anyway lol


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