RURAL KNOTHOLE BASEBALL COMES TO CAMPBELL COUNTY It was the Spring of 1958. Bright and early on a Saturday morning in April, hundreds upon hundreds of young kids (all boys) assembled in the parking lot of the old Campbell County High School on U.S. 27 in Alexandria. Thus was born the Campbell County Rural Knothole Baseball League. There were many adults responsible for the formation of the league. Among them was Ray Nelson from the Camp Springs community who was a major factor in forming the league and was involved for many years to follow.
The up and coming stars were first grouped, more realistically herded, by age. My initial attempt was to stay with kids that I already knew from St. Joseph School in Camp Springs. That was only mildly successful. Some kids from my school were with me from the start but were soon led randomly into other groups. Nothing has ever reminded me more of this chaotic event than my first few days in the army. In both cases I had signed up for something and trusted God with the rest.
Each group of kids was assigned a manager. Mine, fortunately, was Earl Chalk from Alexandria. He was a great all round person who sincerely cared about the kids. Never could I have imagined that 14 years later I would work side by side with my first knothole manager at Newport National Bank.
One of the first assignments on that little league organizational day was to get the paperwork completed. Quite simple. A 3-part perforated contract. Each part said basically the same thing; one was to be signed by parents, one by the manager and one copy to the league with each player’s name on it. Every potential player who showed that day was accepted regardless of size, shape or ability. This was a fair way to start the organization, too bad that in succeeding years in some instances the selection of players and team assignments turned into something else. As we progressed in age and advanced in talent, some managers/parents/team sponsors began to view winning as the priority, thus little league recruiting began.
Team sponsors paid for t-shirts and caps for all players and basic equipment (bats, balls, catcher’s equipment). My first sponsor was V.F.W. 3205 (Veterans of Foreign Wars in Alexandria, still in existence today) for the three years when I was in Class C (age 9-11). I soon discovered that the acronym V.F.W. meant something else to opposing team players. Unfortunate for our team, it was “Very Fat Women”. Extremely simplistic but directed. My first public encounter with what later became labeled “bullying”. Oh well, each of those first three years we won the majority of our games despite being “fat women”. Fortunately when I entered Class B I played for a new sponsor.
Those early years of playing organized baseball were terrific and comprised some of the best memories of my life. There was a routine to the league. Practice one evening per week and play all games on Saturday. Early on the practices and majority of games were on the two fields behind the old Campbell County High School.
The fields were located between the football field and the McCormick Vocational School which at that time had not yet been built. I labeled them as baseball fields but they were nothing more than a backstop with a wide-open field of play. The backstop on the field near the vocational school was nothing more than chainlink fencing attached to used utility poles planted into the ground. The second field’s backstop had a deluxe look to it. It was also chainlink fencing but it was attached to vertical steel posts. The backstops were no more than 15 feet left to right and about 10 feet tall. Much of the game time was spent with fans chasing overthrown balls and wild pitches.
Dugouts or so-called dugouts consisted of a single 2 x 12 resting on concrete blocks for us to sit on. The idea of players even sitting was out of the question. We were all too keyed-up to sit except for some of the players who did not realize they were on a team or at a game and did not care!