I thoroughly enjoyed the “Old Diz” Americana musical as presented by Ben “Cooter” Jones and company at The Theatre at Little Washington Nov. 17. When I was growing up in Tennessee in the 1950s, I had only one diversion from playing baseball, fishing, and farm work on Saturday afternoons – namely, watching Dizzy Dean (“Old Diz”) and Pee Wee Reese telecast the Falstaff Beer Baseball Game of the Week. Ben Jones captured the essence of Dizzy and much more, in an exceptional stage performance replete with colorful monologues, narration and down-to-earth music.
I commend “Cooter” for his casual style of legendary baseball name-dropping (e.g. Enos “Country” Slaughter, “Pepper” Martin, and Pie Traynor), and recounting of the 1930s dustbowl era – not even Ben Jones or I were around that far back. Ben really made the times come alive! Hopefully, he will be able to repeat his stellar performance in such baseball venues as St. Louis, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Detroit, and perhaps Washington, D.C., given the 2012 Nats renaissance.
When I was 13 years old in 1954 I prayed, closed my eyes, swung a baseball bat and got a clean, line-drive single off of lefthander Claude “Mudcat” Ostean, who later pitched for the Reds, Senators and Dodgers. This may well have been one of the top 10 accomplishments of my life because hitting a baseball solidly is not an easy task! My dad, who was a very good baseball player, would stand behind the screen and fill me that I should be able to hit Mudcat’s curve ball without any problem. Mudcat’s curve dropped off the table like a bent fishhook, similar to Dizzy’s curve ball to lefthanders of the ’30s. Mudcat won 196 games in the big leagues, including an All-Star Game and game three of the 1965 World Series. At that time, he was pitching in a rotation that included Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Don Sutton of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Pretty good company for a middle Tennessee pitcher who struck me out almost every time that I faced him. This is my highly personalized and only connection to big-league baseball, and I thank “Cooter” for bringing back pleasant memories of my lifelong passion for baseball stories and personalities.
If “Old Diz” were alive, he would probably say: “Couldn’t done much better myself, partner!”
Joel C. Tate