Ball Park Frank

Front row left to right: Wayne McCombs, Sam Coward. Back row: Dr. Darryl “ballpark” Reed, Mark Haggard, Paul Pixley and Dave Wilber taken in 2009 in press box at Legendary Legion Field.

Pull out all the baseball clichés. The trio of men was a true triple play of talent. Call them a grand slam minus-one. They certainly loaded the bases and then touched ‘em all. The game on the diamond is noted for the pitcher-catcher battery, but here we had a three-man battery in a prominent role.

Our paths crossed for the first time in the spring of 2006. After an absence of 30 years I was back at Claremore’s Legion Field to cover a Zebra baseball game for Progress sports editor Terrell Lester.

There were a lot of changes to the former cow pasture-rodeo grounds with a wooden backstop that I was familiar with from the last visit. Now stood a beautiful facility considered among the top three high school fields in the state.

Gone was the old concession stand with a two-person overhead announcer’s booth-press box. The two-story concept remained the same but what a difference. The overhead press box was more spacious than many apartments.

This is where I first met “The Pix”, “Wilbur”, and “Ball Park Frank.”

In order they were the official scorebook keeper, announcer, and sound man.

In real life Paul Pixley owned a lumber company, Dave Wilbur was manager of a golf course, and Darryl Reed was a dentist.

Turn on the lights at Legendary Legion Field, however, and it was like the three became caped crusaders. They made the good product of high school baseball even better…and they did it by turning all the attention toward the field and the annual roster of players and coaches.

Home field in baseball is far more important than other sports. Even so rival teams enjoyed coming to Claremore. The trio up behind home plate was a key element for this. Opposing players from years before would come back and thank one or other for their memories playing days here.

I knew Paul as far back as high school and Dave briefly from girls’ softball when he coached and I umpired. Except playing on opposing church league softball teams, Frank and I were strangers. That didn’t last long.

Before even the line-ups were announced that 2006 day, I was welcomed and felt I had been missing something special by not being around these characters before.

If space allowed I could probably fill several more pages of the times that followed in the press box. The stories, the jokes, the baseball rule questions, New York Yankee praise (usually), OU and OSU rivalry, new eating places…the topics were endless.

My short time with them came toward the end. One by one, after many years together, the three gentlemen decided it was time to close the scorebook, turn off the microphone, and bring the music to an end. Each felt it was time to turn over the reins to new crews.

GETTING TO KNOW THE MUSIC MAN

I am thankful I was able to get to know all three before that happened. Dr. Darryl Reed drew the most new information. He was a man of many talents and held a vast knowledge of music from many styles. From his high school days he played the drums. His 1970 Zebra yearbook picture reveals he could have passed as a member of the Beach Boys.

He enjoyed performing magic tricks both in the press box and for his dental patients. A new joke always seemed to be on the tip of his tongue. Apparently he was a pretty good cook at home. He often had a new dish to talk about and there were few restaurants he hadn’t visited and could recite reviews on.

A 1970 Claremore graduate, he was a member of the first Zebra wrestling team and a two-year baseball letterman.

His ability on the sound system will remain legendary. For more than 16 years he was the “Minister of Music.” Before the game, between innings and batters, and following the final out, “Ball Park” had a perfect sound bit or complete song.

This created an atmosphere not found at any other high school or most minor league stadiums.

Together with “Pix” and “Wilbur” he would go over opposing line-ups and come up with a song to fix when a player came to bat. If an Alexander was a team member, get ready for ‘Alexander’s Rag Time Band’ or ‘Johnny Be Good’ for a John, Johnny, or Johnson. It was unbelievable how many different names he could match with songs?

Before the season opener each year Zebra players could pick out their own introduction. In their case it wasn’t always related to their name, just something that juiced them up.

If the opposing team was from the Tulsa area, they could always load up equipment following the final out listening to Bob Wills’ ‘Take Me Back to Tulsa.’

Who else could have taken a song from a Lee Marvin-Clint Eastwood Western and used it when a visiting coach stopped play to visit with his pitcher? The song was ‘There’s a Coach Coming In’, of course.

Another favorite for coaches deciding on player moves was ‘Stand by Your Man.” They didn’t always take Ball Park’s advice, sometimes to their regret.

Umpires didn’t escape notice. A close call going against the Zebras would usually draw the sound effect ‘…Whaat?’

A foul ball behind the first base fence to the east would be followed by the sound of China chimes…in regards to the Far East! Fouls elsewhere caused sound bit of breaking glass or the screech of brakes.

Regardless of the reason, the addition of the sound effects was enjoyed by players and fans alike.

News came this past week that “Ball Park Frank” died. Claremore high school baseball and softball players lost a true friend and supporter. Prayers go out to his loving family and friends.

Thank you for sharing him with all of us who was fortunate to know “Ball Park Frank.”

Larry Larkin is a columnist for the Claremore Progress.