Summer of ’82 like Field of Dreams
Published 10:38 am Thursday, July 14, 2022
By Brian Pitts
Part VIII in a series on the 40-year anniversary of the 1982 Mocksville Legion baseball team.
Either team could have won Game 1 at Newman Park. Mocksville should have won Game 2 at Rich Park.
Alas, it wasn’t to be. Top-seeded Rowan County had just enough oomph both times to put No. 2 Mocksville behind the eight ball in the best-of-seven series for the Southern Division championship.
The sixth inning of Game 1 saw the wildest ejection in Mocksville history – Jeff Burton’s heave-the-ball-over-the-trees outburst – as Rowan extended a 2-1 lead to 4-1. Coach Ron Morgan wanted to file a protest for the balk on Burton, but “I was told what the ump calls is final,” Morgan said last week.
When the smoke cleared from that bedlam, Mocksville clawed back. The seventh and eighth innings went smoothly for reliever John Johnson, and the offense rallied against Rowan ace Tim Kirk.
In the seventh, Johnson’s double scored Randy Taylor. In the ninth, Taylor doubled and came around on Mike Wilcox’s single, pulling the visitors within one. Another big hit, though, wasn’t in fate’s cards. Shortstop Kris Huffman started a game-ending double play to seal Rowan’s 4-3 win. Mocksville’s big sticks were Taylor (3 for 5, two runs), Wilcox (2-5) and Burton (2-3). Steve Hardister (1-3), Todd Cassidy (1-4), Johnson (1-2) and Rusty Daniel (1-1) had one hit apiece.
“Hey, that was a good ballgame tonight,” Morgan told the Salisbury Post. “The people got their money’s worth.”
Mocksville caught a break from Mother Nature in Game 2. Rowan’s Dean Corbitt and Albert Morgan smashed back-to-back homers in the top of the fifth to turn a 3-3 tie into a 7-3 lead. With Tim Wyrick, who was 6-0 with five complete games, on the hill, Rowan was sitting pretty.
But the top of the fifth was played in a steady shower and the storm unloaded in the bottom of the fifth. When Hardister flew out to left, Rowan was two outs from making it an official game. With two strikes on Wilcox, Rowan was a strike away. That’s when the game was halted.
“It’s too bad we didn’t have another 30 seconds,” Rowan coach Joe Ferebee told the Post.
Game 2 started over the next night. Mocksville seemed destined to tie the series when built a 6-1 lead against Rowan’s undefeated pitcher, Terry Goodman (5-0). But Post 174 left Rich Park with an excruciating 7-6 loss in 10 innings.
Barry Whitlock cranked his first homer, a two-run shot, to give Mocksville the 6-1 lead in the third. It was still 6-1 after the fifth.
Mocksville was a lock until it botched a likely double-play ball in the top of the eighth. After it dropped a throw, Todd Hoffner and Goodman knocked in runs to close the gap to 6-4.
Rowan pulled off an improbable rally in the ninth. Corbitt tripled, but Mocksville was up two with two outs. Hoffner kept Rowan alive with an RBI single. Huffman walked to put runners at first and second, but the next batter was Goodman, who wasn’t much of a threat at the plate. Ferebee didn’t summon a pinch hitter because he had no one on the bench hitting over .200. With Mocksville one strike from victory, Goodman singled to make it 6-6.
“Don’t think (a pinch hitter) didn’t go through my mind,” Ferebee said. “But I didn’t have another pitcher that I had any more faith in.”
“When I got up to bat (against reliever Burton, who was working on one day’s rest), I was so nervous,” Goodman said. “But (Burton) put a fastball right over the plate and I just swung.”
Goodman retired Mocksville 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth. In the 10th, a Kirk single was misplayed in the outfield and he raced all the way to third. He scored on a Corbitt hit as Rowan took the 7-6 lead.
Mocksville made noise in its half of the 10th. Daniel led off with a single. Scott Vogler executed a sac bunt, but Daniel got greedy and was thrown out at third. That out loomed large when Whitlock followed with a single. A groundout ended a game that included a power outage and the ejection of two Rowan players. Another Rowan player had to leave after the ninth to report to a third-shift job.
Whitlock (3-5, two RBIs), Wilcox (3-5) and John “Boomer” Bivins (2-5) led the offense. Hardister (1-4), Taylor (1-6), Burton (1-4), Cassidy (1-5) and Daniel (1-1) helped the 13-hit attack.
“Rowan was saying: ‘Here, Mocksville, we’re giving you this game,’” Morgan said. “Instead, we said: ‘That’s OK, you take it. We don’t want it.’”
Mocksville laid an egg in Game 3 at Newman Park. Rowan’s Donny Spainhour allowed one baserunner through six innings, threw 63 of 88 pitches for strikes and finished with a five-hitter as Rowan cruised 7-3 for a 3-0 series lead.
Wilcox and Burton both went 2 for 4, but Mocksville committed four errors and allowed four unearned runs. Taylor (1-4) had the only other hit.
“That (squandered 6-1 lead in Game 2) sorta killed everybody’s morale,” Hardister said. “It was a down feeling coming in.”
With Mocksville wounded and gasping for air, Wilcox was a one-man wrecking machine in Game 4 at Rich Park. He carried his team in a 14-9 barnburner in front of “the largest home crowd of the year,” according to the Enterprise.
Before we get to Wilcox’s exploits, let’s talk about the pitching matchup. It was a major paper mismatch. Wyrick was 6-0 for Rowan. By contrast, Mocksville’s staff was all but spent. Whitlock, who had thrown 2/3 of an inning all season, got the ball as Cassidy moved from left field to shortstop.
In the top of the first, Rowan took full advantage, taking a 3-0 lead. But look at Mocksville’s reply in the bottom of the first: Cassidy belted his first homer of the summer and Mocksville exploded for six runs.
In the top of the third, a lengthy 11-minute argument ensued between Ferebee and umpires Steve Welborne, Harold Moore and Pat Kelly. Ferebee was ultimately tossed and had to watch the rest of the game from a lawn chair outside the fence. Since Rowan athletic officer Bill Leonard was also thrown out, Rowan was coached the rest of the way by backup catcher Tony Myers, who took over the third-base coaching box, and Kirk, who handled the pitchers.
Back in the top of the first, Rowan would have scored more than three if it weren’t for Wilcox’s cannon arm in center field. He threw out Kirk at the plate. Wilcox was only getting started.
With no outs in the sixth, Myers waved Kirk around third on a single to center by Joe Clark. Holy schmoly, Wilcox gunned Kirk again with a strike to catcher Kenny Riddle. On the next pitch, Corbitt blasted a two-run homer to right-center to end the night for Johnson, who gave Mocksville 4.2 innings of middle relief. But thanks to Wilcox’s arm, Corbitt’s shot tied the game at 8 instead of putting Rowan ahead.
“Tim Kirk was on third base (in the first) and they hit a deep fly ball – I mean to the fence in center field,” K. Riddle said. “Wilcox caught it, took one step, threw a bullet and I had the ball waiting on him. A one-hopper from the fence. (Kirk) tried to pull my glove off. It was awesome.”
In the sixth, Wyrick walked a Mocksville batter before Hardister reached with a bunt hit. That set the stage for Wilcox, who slammed a three-run homer to right-center to put Mocksville in front 11-8.
In the seventh, K. Riddle scored on a wild pitch before Wilcox smacked a two-run double to make it 14-8. Dan Riddle, who missed the first two games with a virus, threw the last 3.2 innings to get the win.
“We could easily be up 3-1 (in the series) now,” Morgan said. “But that doesn’t count. I tell you, though, we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think we could win it.”
Mocksville finally got over the hump. The ringleaders were Whitlock (3 for 6) and Wilcox, who went 2 for 4 with a bases-loaded walk, a double, a homer and six RBIs. Throw in his defense and you just can’t do more than that. Mocksville got one hit from Taylor (1-5), Hardister (1-2, three runs), Burton (1-4, two RBIs), Bivins (1-4), Cassidy (1-4, two RBIs) and Johnson (1-3).
“I remember Mike playing a very shallow center field,” D. Riddle said. “When you look out there, you think: ‘Man, you’re going to get burned.’ But he’s daring you to hit it over his head, and he knows he can get to the fence. It was fun to watch him play.”
Mocksville was running on empty in Game 5 at Newman Park – it fell behind Kirk and Rowan 6-1 and Burton was pitching with a sore shoulder – but its heart was still pumping in the ninth and it would not go down without a fight. But Rowan proved to be a dead end for Mocksville, which fell short 6-4 and lost the series four games to one.
Mocksville scratched in the second, but Rowan took full control in the bottom half. Corbitt hit his second homer in as many nights as Rowan roared to a 5-1 lead. A double by Brent Barker chased Burton, who was relieved by Johnson.
Despite working 4.2 innings the night before, Johnson pitched splendidly, allowing one run in six innings. The damage, though, had been done.
Mocksville did make it a fight to the finish by parlaying two singles, a double, a walk and a sac fly into three ninth-inning runs. There was one out when Whitlock came to the plate. Ferebee visited the mound before the Whitlock-Kirk matchup.
“He asked me how I felt,” Kirk said. “I just told him I was mad at myself. He told me to settle down and bow my neck.”
Whitlock hit the first pitch on the screws … but right to shortstop Huffman. Taylor flew out to center to end the game.
“The next batter was Taylor, and since he’s lefthanded, I had the advantage,” the lefthanded Kirk said. “I knew I had to get Taylor because Hardister was on deck and Wilcox was after him.”
“Getting Whitlock helped matters,” Ferebee said. “Any of those next three after Taylor (Hardister, Wilcox and Burton) have the ability to plant one.”
Whitlock (2-5) and Bivins (2-4) had two hits each. Burton (1-3), Cassidy (1-1, two RBIs) and K. Riddle (1-4) had one. But Kirk held on to run his record to 8-0, and Rowan (27-6) notched its 13th come-from-behind win.
“Hey, we got beat by a good ballclub,” Morgan said. “Rowan’s got good kids. I wish ‘em luck. We’re not ashamed to get beat by them.”
Nobody wanted it to end, but Mocksville (16-13) rode the 1982 ride as far as it would go. Rowan would lose to Asheboro in the Area III title series and finish 30-10.
The first Mocksville boys of summer in 20 years made people fall in love with Legion, they captured the imagination of kids all over the county and the players, who are pushing 60 now, are thankful they had the opportunity to take part. They also set up a fascinating future – Mocksville had one losing season in its first 13 years.
“Ron was a different kind of guy,” Cassidy said of the coach. “He knew a lot about baseball. He was a lot of fun for sure, and he taught us a lot.”
“Legion brings more interest from your surrounding area,” D. Riddle said. “When they go off to all these places and play in massive tournaments, it’s just a factory. It’s hard to build relationships and things like that. Then somebody gets mad and they start a new team and half the team goes over there. The baseball scene has gotten crazy.”
“The men on that committee that put it all together, they did a fantastic job,” Hardister said.
“I was a little snotty nosed bat boy, and those guys were so cool to me,” Matt Marion said. “They were a huge impact on my life.”
“They were like major leaguers to us,” said Charlie Crenshaw, who attended 1982 games regularly at age 9.
“I think it had been a forgotten thing in Davie County about what that team meant to the community,” Bivins said. “And it was still big for years. That was the thing to do back then.”
Cassidy put everything in perspective.
“The whole summer was like the Field of Dreams,” Cassidy said. “Every game we had, the park was flooded with people like we’d never seen before. And from Day One, it was first class. Everything was first class. When we walked out for the first practice, we had batting practice with brand new baseballs. They weren’t baseballs with the covers coming off; they were all brand new baseballs. Brand new Green Easton bats. Brand new uniforms. I’ll never forget the night they handed us the jackets. They were like the Dodgers jackets – shiny material. They let us keep those jackets that year, and I still have mine hanging in the closet. Yeah, we were the shizzle. We felt like it and our fans put us on a pedestal that summer.”