Karl Douglass: A Hall of Fame love of the game

January 11, 2014 

My dad grew up loving baseball. Give him a little time and he will gleefully tell you how he used empty fertilizer bags to make baseballs so he and his brothers could play on the farm. Give him a little more time and he will proudly tell you about he's days as a left-handed pitching ace at Tuskegee.

After his days in the Army, my dad became a baseball coach at Chavala. A few more years after that, he had a son. Like father, like son; I grew up loving baseball, too.

We were huge fans of the Braves, thanks to WTBS, and watched them every chance we got. We watched together on April 8, 1974 when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's home run record. We watched Gene Garber put an end to Pete Rose's hitting streak on August 1, 1978. We talked baseball around the house all the time, so it only made sense that when I reached that certain age, I started playing Little League baseball.

Our neighborhood was assigned to Peach Little League. I reminisce a little every time I pass Wilkinson Field. I remember Steve McLendon being the first guy I knew who could throw a curve ball and Benji Watson being the only left-handed guy on our team. I remember Johnny Vann being bigger and throwing the ball harder than I believed humanly possible. And of course, I remember Frank Thomas.

If you had told me Frank would be a superstar in the majors when we were in Little League, I would have believed you. I believed that just about everybody in our league would make it to the Bigs when I was 12. But even back then, Frank was a different kind of ball player.

His physical ability was obvious. What people didn't see was the way his mind worked. He always seemed to know what pitch was coming next or which guys really could turn a double play. He knew when to swing for the fence and when to just try to get on base. Frank was a true student of the game.

I had only one opportunity to play on the same team as Frank while we were at Peach. It was a local summer tournament and our team was not the heavy favorite. We did pretty well, though, and a lot of that had to do with Frank's play on the field and his leadership in the dugout. That was the last time Frank Thomas and I were anywhere close to playing baseball at the same level.

I haven't played organized baseball with Frank since that summer tournament back in the 80s, but I never stopped being amazed by his talent. When he went to the White Sox, my dad and I traded WTBS for WGN so we could spend time together watching the guy from the neighborhood put on a show. When they announced he would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer alongside two Braves legends, it was almost more than I could stand.

So, if my dad and I are out of pocket the last week in July, look for us in Cooperstown. I can't think of any other place that two Braves baseball-loving Peach League alumni would rather be.

Karl Douglass, Columbus native and resident, is a frequent commenter on local, state and federal politics. Follow him on Twitter@KarlDouglass or facebook.com/karldouglass.

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