Baseball Notes

Old stories flow at baseball clinic

January 24, 2014 

I spent some time earlier this month at the annual Narron Family Baseball Camp for seventh graders at Smithfield-Selma High School. The event, run by Smithfield resident and Milwaukee Brewers hitting coach Johnny Narron and his brother, Jerry, the Milwaukee bench coach, is for seventh graders who are getting ready for their first year of school baseball and tryouts for those teams.

There’s always a large amount of area professional baseball talent on hand, spending their time on a volunteer basis, and this year was no different. Attendance was down from last year, but with temperatures in the low 30s for the event that wasn’t a surprise.

Of course, there were baseball stories aplenty told as well.

Jerry Narron, who caught for the Yankees in the late 1970s, recalled a visit from Yankees owner George Steinbrenner when he was playing with a New York farm club in Tampa Bay in 1975.

Steinbrenner, then a relatively new owner, was in town to visit with the team. Narron said it was probably one of the first times Yankee players heard a variation of Steinbrenner’s famous “pride and tradition” speech.

But “The Boss” as he’d come to be known took offense to the uniforms Narron and his teammates were playing in. They were old hand me down flannel jerseys that the big league club had worn in the 1960s.

“He thought we were sloppy dressers, but it was all we had,” Narron recalled.

The next day Tampa played in Winter Haven. When they arrived at the ballpark they found brand new uniforms waiting in their lockers, courtesy of Steinbrenner.

Remember, this was the mid-70s, long before next day air shipments became commonplace and ordering baseball uniforms for a team was as simple as a few clicks on a sports clothing website.

“That told me a lot about Mr. Steinbrenner,” Jerry Narron said. “How much he cared about all his players and his commitment to being a first-class organization. I was a Steinbrenner guy from that day forward.”

Rooster Narron, a former minor league catcher, talked about the idea of ending collisions at home plate between catchers and players running home. Instead of giving the old school baseball side of the argument, he said he could understand the push.

“Man, I got beat to hell back there so I can see it,” Rooster Narron said of the potential rule change. “They got rid of tumble rolls breaking up double plays at second base because of injuries. … But it’s still a man’s game. I’ll be interested to see what they decide.”

Trojans to honor Stevie Ray: South Johnston will pay tribute to one of its former players on March 12 when the Trojans host West Johnston at Bruce Coats Field. The South baseball program will honor the late Steven “Stevie Ray” Johnson before the varsity baseball game at 7 p.m. that night.

Johnson, a 2008 graduate of South who went on to play in college, died last July 4 after being struck in the head and knocked into the water during an altercation in Morehead City.

Sands update: Former Smithfield-Selma High standout Jerry Sands is likely to begin his 2014 baseball season with the Durham Bulls after he cleared waivers when the Tampa Bay Rays designated him for assignment last week.

The procedural move is required for teams wanting to move players from their 40-man Major League roster to the minor league system. If another team had placed a claim on Sands he would have been assigned to that team’s major league roster. As it is, the Rays were able to send him to the Durham Bulls roster.

Sands could still make the Rays’ roster out of spring training, but for now he’s a Bull.

The Bulls open their season on April 3 in Durham against Gwinnett (Ga.) Braves.

Best: 919-524-8895 or cbest@newsobserver.com; Twitter: @dclaybest

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