WILLIAMSON — Several ball players, who played in the old Coalfield Baseball League, relived many fond memories on Labor Day at a reunion held at the Williamson Fire Department over the weekend.
Former major league ballplayer Danny Godby of Chapmanville was the featured speaker for the reunion. Godby, a former high school coach in Logan County, and current county commissioner, talked about some of his best memories of his pro career.
Godby was signed by the Cincinnati Reds after he graduated and played college baseball at Bowling Green. The Chapmanville native talked about the long bus rides in the minor league circuit, reminiscent of the movie “Bull Durham.”
After reaching the Triple A level and going through spring training with the Big Red Machine, playing alongside players like Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez, Godby was traded to the Cardinals.
He met Stan Musial while in spring training with St. Louis. He said he talked to Musial about his days of playing for the Williamson Redbirds’ minor league team in the Tug Valley. Musial played his first two years of pro ball in the old Coalfield rookie league.
After a late season call –up with St. Louis, in Godby’s first official at bat with the Cardinals, he lined a single up the middle and eventually scored the winning run on a sacrifice fly in the 13th inning. That was one of his fondest memories.
Then he was traded to the Boston Red Sox, where he thought he might have a chance to break into the big leagues full-time. They sent him to their AAA club because they wanted to try out a couple of other rookies, Fred Lynn and Jim Rice. The other outfielder in the Boston lineup was another hall of famer, Carl Yastrzemski.
During his career Godby rubbed elbows with many legends of baseball. Names like Satchel Paige, Tim McCarver and many others came up during his presentation.
Injuries finally caught up with Godby and after a final year in Charleston. as a player/coach, he retired.
About 25 former players attended the reunion. Several fans and family members were also present.
Ken Hatfield of Johnstown, Ohio drove down to attend the reunion. He is the cousin of former Coalfield league pitcher Jack Hatfield-Smith, who went on to play in the majors with the Dodgers and the Braves. He shared several entertaining stories from his youth watching the Matewan-Red Jacket area team.
Amos and Jena Murphy of Edgarton were also in attendance. It is believed that Murphy, 91-years old, is the oldest living player and manager. He coached and played for the teams in the Majestic-Freeburn, Ky., area. His wife Jean was the scorekeeper for all of those years in the 1940s and 1950s. They were both presented with plaques for their achievements. Their sons also attended the reunion.
Jim Fairchild drove down from Clarksburg. He played for the old team sponsored by the N & W Fuel Depot. Fairchild remembered playing with Rocky Marciano. Marciano, who went on to become the heavyweight boxing champion of the world, came to the Tug Valley area as a young man to play baseball. His first love was baseball, but obviously when that career didn’t pan out, he changed sports.
Others who attended were Grant Borders and Bob Fannin who played on the Freeburn teams and Jim Whitt who played in the Red Jacket area. Bob Hatfield and Ireland Smith played for several teams. Willie Richmond of Beech Creek was an avid fan who attended and Charlie Burchett, a standout athlete of Kermit, also attended.
Tom Varney, who played for the Majestic and Blackberry teams with his brothers and father, organized the reunion. He served as master of ceremonies.
Varney talked about the team from Blackberry, Ky., that played in a tournament in Paintsville, Ky. Of course, the Pike County team was unknown, but made their mark winning the tourney and then going on to the state tournament. They finished as state runner-up five years in a row, according to Varney. Many times they played against pitchers like Woody Fryman, who went on to play in the majors.
Many old newspaper articles and photos were displayed for people to enjoy.
Williamson Mayor Darrin McCormick gave the welcoming address. Civic leader Mae Stallard gave the opening prayer.
Other awards were presented during the event. Barbara Van Zant accepted the award for her late husband Jim Van Zant, who played, coached and covered baseball as sports editor for the Williamson Daily News for many years.
Those who helped with the event hope that it will become an annual reunion and that more will attend in future years.
Ireland Smith closed the ceremony with prayer. But before that, he capped it off by saying “We were the boys of summer.”