Logan County has produced a multitude of interesting people over the many decades of its existence. From the Hatfield clan of the 1800s to legendary sheriff Don Chafin to “America’s Got Talent” winner Landau Eugene Murphy, the county has propagated many outstanding people — Major League Baseball players, NFL football stars, highly successful business people, musicians, and even a few Hollywood movie actors.
I will now officially go on record and predict the next Loganite to make Logan County proud on the national level is none other than an outstanding teenage musician whose name is Brayden Williamson. This Mud Fork “kid” can pick a banjo as well as Earl Scruggs, can make a guitar put a smile on any face, and can sing with the best of them — from country to religious music. With the great attitude he possesses, when he makes it “big time,” just remember, I told you so.
It’s ironic that I should mention the name of this young man because when I sat down to write this column, Brayden was not the subject on my mind. But, as we all should know, “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”
You see, it is now the time of year that I once looked forward to in more ways than one. The beauty of springtime also meant to this long ago teenager — who, unlike young Brayden, couldn’t pick anything but his nose — that it was time to dig out the old softball glove and get ready to play some ball.
With not even any Little League experience, this sandlot junkie loved the game of baseball and when I was selected to participate as the youngest member of the West Virginia Cable softball team in the Logan Men’s Softball League, I felt like I had made it to the major leagues. I mean, heck, I was a teammate of Larry Lodato, sports editor of The Logan Banner; Alex Nagy, state wrestling champion; and some fellow who would many years later become a Logan county legend. Most people recognize him now as Logan County Assessor Glen “Hound Dog” Adkins.
The irony of this story is that the manager of the team was a fellow named John McCloud, a co-worker with Adkins at the Peach Creek railroad yard. John lived at Verdunville (Hedgeview), his coal camp house facing a straight stretch of roadway where Don Chafin killed a man in cold blood before he ever became sheriff. Chafin was, of course, acquitted when two eyewitnesses could not be located at the time of the trial.
Nonetheless, you should know that John McCloud was the grandfather of a fellow previously mentioned — Brayden Williamson.
John would at least twice a week drive a couple of miles up the road from his home to retrieve me from the railroad tracks where I would be patiently awaiting his arrival. Holding a worn baseball glove and wearing a bright red and white jersey, it was always a thrill for me to see John’s vehicle round the curve just below the Verdunville post office.
John became almost like a second father to me, always paying my part of tournament entry fees, buying me sodas, and providing our team with new softballs. A few years later, I advanced to another team whose player/manager also became a father-figure, but as I had by then turned 18, Jim Evans — the manager of our Chafin Coal team — provided me with more than soda pop, particularly, following a tough-fought victory. Jim lived and breathed the game of softball, and it became contagious for me to listen to his wisdom. For me, softball was more than just a game. In yet another ironic twist, the owner of Chafin Coal Company was John Chafin, son of the infamous sheriff.
The reason I write today, however, is not because of me, John McCloud, Jim Evans, or even Brayden Williamson.
Admittedly, there are many interesting and even comical softball tales I could relate from my over 30 years of playing and managing softball (my encounter with a female midget in Parkersburg immediately comes to mind), but I shall hold those yarns for another time.
Today, just about a week away from his untimely death, I wish to honor one of the finest softball players who ever stepped onto any ballfield that displayed a home plate — Bob Meade.
Bob passed last week, I’m told, from a massive heart attack while already a patient at a Pikeville, Kentucky, hospital. He had been suffering from various physical ailments for several years. However, his spirit remained the same during the entire ordeal.
Whether it was pitching a softball, umpiring, coaching girls softball, refereeing Independent League basketball games, or organizing a tournament or a sports league, Bob Meade was a familiar site at most athletic facilities and fields in Logan County.
I can still visualize Bob with his arms crossed coaching at third base, chewing tobacco spit surrounding the coaching box where he stood.
Bob Meade was what we like to refer to as a “Whitman Creeker.” He lived only a couple of miles from what was the Whitman softball field, which long ago was the home field of Logan High School baseball teams. He was nearly an everyday site at that field during spring and summer.
At first glance, one would not think of the beer-gutted, knuckleball pitching Bob Meade to be a wondrous athlete. To the best of my knowledge, Bob never even drank beer or any alcohol, but I’d swear at times his cackling from the dugout would make opponents think they were competing against a drunkard. I guess you could say that he knew how to keep a team “loose.”
There were many times I pitted my knuckleball against his in league and tournament competition, but we remained friends both on and off the field. Although we rarely played on the same team, I remember when we were teammates participating in a tournament somewhere in Kentucky.
It was a miserable morning to be playing softball, that’s for sure. It was raining and the field was soaked. It was one of those games where you didn’t particularly care if you won or if you lost, especially playing on foreign turf, so to speak.
Anyway, it was the bottom of the final inning and with two men already out and our “all-star” squad trailing by one run with a player on base, I was looking forward to just heading back to Logan County. On this miserable foggy and wet day, Bob Meade (who I thought wanted to go home, too) hit a rain-soaked softball 20 yards over the left-fielders head and lugged it out for an inside the park home run. To use Bob’s own words, “he cow-tailed it.”
Now, to present a twist to this story, allow me to quote the most famous circuit judge in Logan County history, a man who never minced words when it came to his media opinions on just about anything in society, which today he could never do because of likely ethics complaints filed against him by some shadowy adversary.
Nevertheless, in one of his tirades while addressing a grand jury, Judge C.C. Chambers, known by some people as “Alimony Slim,” in 1963 said, “Playgrounds and athletics won’t solve the problem of juvenile delinquency because those who are in trouble care very little about these things. The best cure for crime is swift and just punishment.” Lack of training in the home, said Chambers, “is the cause of most juvenile delinquency.”
With all due respect, your honor, just two years earlier the Logan County Grade School basketball champions of the 1960-61 season partially consisted of a Whitman Grade School runt named Bob Meade. Would you like to know who another one of those “juvenile delinquents” happened to be? How about Meade’s longtime friend and fellow teammate, Don Browning — as in Browning’s Jewelers of Logan.
The fact is, those grade school leagues, men’s and women’s softball leagues, and independent basketball leagues throughout Logan County actually helped to prevent delinquencies at all ages. It’s sad that this drug-infested county allowed such athletic endeavors to simply disappear.
Rest in peace, Bob Meade. You are at the top of the list, as both a player and coach, in my Logan County Softball Hall of Fame.