THE IDLE AMERICAN: Roll call, 60 years later

It would be daunting for researchers half his age, but it didn’t stop Dr. Ray Van Cleef from reconnecting with his baseball players from six decades ago.

The longtime Texas community college administrator couldn’t resist trying. Late in 2022, the search began.

At age 94, he employed the usual communications efforts—some of them dead ends—to reach Sul Ross State University baseball players he coached in Alpine, TX, from 1958-1964. …

Relying on email, letters, phones and word of mouth, he wanted to reconnect with the 75 athletes he coached. For many, he could find no contact information. A few are deceased, and some simply failed to answer his appeals.

Fifteen responded, however, providing information about their lives, careers and offspring.

“I’m extremely proud of these men, all of whom have contributed positively to society, most of them in leadership positions,” Dr. Van Cleef said. “Though they played sports at a small college, they’ve given much to make a better world.” …

One reason for his determination to identify and showcase his athletes is that he was discouraged by some educators during his junior high years, called “too short,” and even worse.

One even tried to talk him out of taking college preparatory classes.

A coach, however, was an encourager. Perhaps he was most responsible for Van Cleef’s attending Rutgers University, where he played on the baseball team that participated in the College World Series and was named the most valuable player. …

He wants this column to spotlight the athletes, however, not him. It was he, though, who spent countless weeks, even months, collecting data. (I was honored to help get his booklet into final form, and it should be noted that the respondents are joyous that they now have ways to contact their old coach and each other.)

Nutshell wrap-up: Mike Compton, Billy Carthel, Jerry Tyson, Gregg Slape, Wilbur Huckle and Jerry Tyson played professional baseball. Buddy Antwine, brothers Robert and Frank Bice, Leldon Hensley, Ronnie Stephens and Marshall Bise were educators/coaches. Tom Cunningham was in pharmacy; Fred Davis, a State District Judge, and Daryle Gibbens, state insurance executive.

Four are members of the Sul Ross Hall of Honor, including Compton, Slape, Davis and Hudson. Hudson, the first three-sport letterman, was the Lobos’ football quarterback, baseball second-baseman and one season was national basketball free throw leader, hitting 90.1%. …

Judge Davis might well have considered comedy, what with his experiences on the bench. Among his memories are excuses prospective jurors have used to avoid serving. One stands out. The prospect said he wouldn’t be able to serve, since his wife would be “conceiving a baby that day.”

“Don’t you mean delivering?” Davis countered.

The plea continued. “Either way, I need to be present.” Not sure if this worked. …

Space prohibits deserved attention to all respondents, but some details must be included. Frank Bice, accomplished life insurance executive and speaker, first coached. His boys’ basketball teams averaged 27 wins annually for a decade. Compton—who spent his baseball career with the Philadelphia Phillies—developed an English as a Second Language Program that was eventually expanded for all Latin American players. Carthel provided the greatest individual sports moment for me when I was Sports Information Director at Sul Ross.

I was thrilled when the Lobos had jumped to a big lead over the University of Arizona Wildcats in Tucson. Not surprisingly, the Cats whittled away at the deficit, and in the bottom of the ninth were trailing 11-10, with bases loaded and nobody out.

Frustrated that all pitchers had been used, Van Cleef asked if any of the other players had ever pitched. Third-baseman Carthel—responding that he had pitched in Little League—took over, striking out two and getting an infield pop-up to end the game and preserve the win. Days prior to the publication of Van Cleef’s booklet, Carthel was claimed by COPD. He was 79.