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Spring 2017

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Friday, March 10, 2017 Goldsboro News-Argus — 9 Continued from 6 chance any given night to com- pete. That's a blessing." Further, they've exercised due diligence. The winter season brought grinding workouts, heavy days of long toss and individualized regimens designed with two objectives in mind — staying in form and not losing sight of one's place in what promises to be a standing-room-only Eagle bullpen. "It's not easy," King said of his staff 's work to remain highly organized. "The more (pitching) you have, the more difficult it is to get the work in (for all the players)… and we're a small 1-A school, so our guys play multiple sports — most of our pitchers actual- ly played basketball." To combat the delayed start, the Eagles moved quickly into group work, rotations and real- time fire, hoping to identify the arms that will lead the non-con- ference charge, as well as those who will filter to other roles. "The past couple of weeks have been devoted to getting as many live looks as we can," King explained. "We've done intersquad scrimmages, we went to scrimmage Southern Wayne and got some good work in there… it's just about maintaining our pen — going group by group." And managing standouts, of which there are a few. "Peacock is one," King said. "He throws the ball hard, upper eighties with move- ment… he threw well all sum- mer, and has thrown well so far… And Kolby Harris — he'll be another one in that starting role for us." As well he should be. The junior righty is absolute- ly flush with potential, as evi- denced by his 3-1 record and 2.72:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio a season ago. A wind up and throw-by-you type, Harris should figure prominently in Rosewood's day-to-day opera- tions — especially when con- ference play arrives. Rounding out early-season matters for the Eagles will likely be senior Bradley, a righthander with above-aver- age game hat and enough off- speed curvature to make opposing batters draw crop cir- cles in the box. What Rosewood becomes, however, will be decided by its bullpen — all the King's men, if you will — and how quickly it can adjust to a new stan- dard of measurement. Thus far, the coach insists, there's not been much chatter — as in pitch count, pitch- schmount. "They haven't expressed a whole lot of concern about it," the skipper said of his troops, which includes Derek Neal behind the plate. "They just want to play, to get out there compete… obvi- ously, everybody wants to get up there, but we can't go but one at the time — and they understand that." Call Continued from 2 ed a buzz around his name — when challenged by the Peach. Leading 1-0 and with Cobb on first base, Detroit right- fielder Sam Crawford eased into the box. Four times an AL Most Valuable Player recipi- ent, the quick-twitching slug- ger found a Weldon Wyckoff mistake to his liking and made his patented, trunk-snapping turn toward the baseball. In a blink, Crawford's shell was glancing through the heat above Navin Park — and run- ning underneath it, gauging its flight and space by the pitch of his peanut gallery was Thompson, a fleet-footed 21- year old who had already lived a lifetime. • Goldsboro, 1910. Now a junior at Goldsboro High School, Thompson spent the majority of his summer nights, along with Odd Fellows chum Preston Thomas, in a place most boys their age only dreamt of entering — the girls' dormitory. The Jacobi Memorial Build- ing, a state-of-the-times struc- ture complete with swanky parlors and indoor facilities, was finished earlier in the year and prompted many a gaze from curious onlookers. Including, it seems, look-ins from a Peeping Tom. After several reports sur- faced of a face appearing in some of the first-floor windows at night, the duo formed their own security outfit — going so far as to persuade Jacobi's attending matron to allow them use of an unloaded shot- gun on their nightly detail. "We took one room in which there was a bed and we took turns of watching and sleep- ing," Thomas wrote in 1972. "After we had been on duty a night or so, some time after midnight, Shag (Thompson) was sprawled across the bed asleep while the writer (Thomas) kept his eyes on the window. Suddenly, there appeared a face…" Under a bright moon, the two gave chase, looking first in a hedgerow before rifling the nearby chicken pen and grape arbor. With no results and frustration quickly settling in, the boys spotted the perp near what is now east Ash Street — where they hastily put their prop-gun to the ultimate test. "After detaining him a few minutes and giving him the 3rd-degree in questioning," Thomas reported, "we let him pass on toward town with the dire warning that if his face appeared again at night at a window, we should fire right through it… after another night or so we returned to our rooms in the main building, and there were no more reports of a face seen at a window." This account, written from memory by Thomas six decades later and bolstered by Odd Fellows records which have since gone missing, stands alone in Wayne County as one of the few bits of first- person insight as to life on the property during Thompson's stay. What is not available for dis- pute, however, is the village-to- raise-them-all spirit that was necessary to care for the chil- dren's needs — something Thompson, it seems, whole- heartedly embraced. • The orphan played Craw- ford's blast with fundamental precision. After slowing his torrent of speed, Thompson gathered his physical wits in ready position — as if he knew. Leaning all the while on first base was Cobb — a man blessed with Model-T quick- ness and all the base-running graces of a knife fight — eager to tag, test and tumble the scab from down south who looked more rube than ready. His ambition, however, was a mistake. Thompson's haul was in let- ter-perfect form, and the four- seam zip-line he gassed to Eddie Collins at second base bested the Peach by a handful of labored footsteps. Greetings from Dixie, Thompson thought. "It was a long drive and I went back and got it," Shag recalled in a 1984 card collector's interview, "I knew what Cobb was up to, and the minute I caught it he tagged up and tried to take second… I threw him out by four or five feet." But what happened next — a tete-a-tete with Cobb as the teams exchanged fields — he could have never in his life anticipated. "As he came out to center field," Thompson noted, "he patted me on the shoulder and said, 'that's the way to keep your head up, youngster...' that made me feel good, there." And likely inspired, as evi- denced by his at-bats in the top half of the second and eighth innings — both of which proved crucial to the game's outcome. Facing Cavet with no outs just minutes after peeling the Peach, the fill-in 6-holer roped a blast to right field, scoring John "Stuffy" McInnis and giv- ing the Mackmen a 2-1 advan- tage. But he was far from done. Following a colossal shot by Philadelphia's Home Run Baker in the fourth and a glancing, two-RBI single by Cobb in the sixth, matters were deadlocked at four apiece as the innings and heat dwindled. And Thompson delivered again, this time piercing a two-out loner that plated Collins and finished Detroit. The performance impressed even Batchelor. "With all due respect to Home Run Baker," Batchlelor opined on June 9, "the real honors of this game go to one Thompson… this youth, who is so small that he is almost com- pletely extinguished by one of those Gyp the Blood caps Con- nie makes his men wear, hit in two of the five runs, including the one that decided the issue… as a debutante, he made as big a hit as anybody who has been seen here in a long time." And the outing — a start-to- finish, both sides-of-the-circus display of raw talent — per- haps qualified as Thompson's finest hour in professional baseball, which included stints with nearly a dozen minor league outfits and one forget- table appearance at that year's World's Series. • Eddie Murphy, the part-time outfielder, was drunk. So too was the power-hitting Baker and utility knife Rube Oldring, in addition to many on the Philadelphia roster. Favored by many parties in- the-know to collect another World's Series title in 1914, the A's had just been summarily dusted by the Boston Braves, 4-0, ending Thompson's first stay in the bigs and turning his team of invincibles into a running national punchline. "You should have seen them," Thompson said of the post-series debacle. "We went back to the hotel (after the final game of the series) and then we all went out to some cocktail bars and everybody got drunk — I had never seen Eddie Murphy with a drink in his hand until that night, and he came into Back Bay Station about 12 o'clock and could hardly get on the train." The debauchery was quite a change for Thompson, who just four years earlier was ponder- ing college choices and walk- ing children to school in east Goldsboro. It was also a crush- ing blow for Mack, who was so enraged by his team's behavior — before, during and after the series — that he refused to ride in the same train car with them back to Philadelphia. "Connie told (Chief) Bender to go to New York and look over the Boston Braves," Thompson recalled of the series run-up. "They were a miracle club, came in and won the pennant on the last day and they were keyed up com- ing in." But Bender neglected his manager's directive. By his estimation, the Braves — who barn-stormed the New York Giants from 15 games back on July 4 to win the National League — were nothing more than a caucus of class D-Leaguers who didn't justify due diligence. "Before the series, we had a meeting and went over the dif- ferent players and Connie asked Bender to give us some insight on some of the hitters," Thompson recalled. "Bender said, 'Well, I just think they're a bunch of misfits, we won't have any trouble with them.'" He couldn't have been more wrong and, post-trouncing, the club's reception back home was icy. Few fans and media awaited their return, and the players walked in silence from North Philadelphia Station to Shibe Park to collect their series stipend of $2,216.34 — loser's wages. One player, however, made out slightly ahead of his good- timing, saturated peers. It was Thompson, the Odd Fellow from Goldsboro, who shrewdly turned his comped set of tickets into a $24 dollar boun- ty by selling them to an old buddy — one Tyrus Raymond Cobb of the Detroit Tigers. • April, 1982. He arrived one night at McCormick Field, home of the Asheville Tourists, much like he did that afternoon in Detroit seven decades earlier — without warning. And like his first trip to the show, when he hadn't two nickels to rub clean, he carried with him only the bare essen- tials — which, in retrospect, shouldn't have surprised Miles Wolff. Authenticity, after all, is the man's baseball niche. Over a celebrated 46-year stay in the game, Wolff has drafted high-school phenoms, hired Class A jokesters, breathed life back into tired left-handers and facilitated professional leagues across North America. Presently, he serves as commis- sioner of the Can- Am League . But he was wear- ing brass cuff links in 1982, as owner of both the Durham Bulls and Asheville Tourists — when he likely met the most unique figure of his young career. James Alfred "Shag" Thompson. "Here's this old man coming up," Wolff recalled of their initial meeting in the stands that day. "He had on an overcoat, and I wasn't sure what he was there for, and he pulls out this picture — and points, there I am — and it was, whoa… I'd like to talk a little more to you. " And talk they did. Over several hours that evening and again the follow- ing day, the two baseball heads leered through a scrapbook of the orphan's career, glossing its span from Goldsboro to Chapel Hill to Durham to Moline to Omaha to Greens- boro, where Thompson finally called it a day in 1925. Time to get on with real life, he figured. From there, he told Wolff, life bounced him around a bit, lead- ing to a series of jobs in the long shadow of Asheville prop- er. For a time, Thompson worked as the golf shop manag- er at Beaver Lake Golf Course, only to leave after a few years and pursue a track in sales. United States census records indicate Thompson worked for a building supply company when its data was collected in 1940 — a job that provided 40 hours a week and a salary of approximately $30,000 per year. The report also listed his brother, Bryant, as a member of the household, where he would remain until his passing on February 23, 1941, follow- ing a battle with lung cancer. Thompson's sister, Bertha, married Goldsboro druggist George Waters in February of 1914 and remained in Wayne County through the early 1930's, raising two daughters, Esther and Grace. Her life turned, however, fol- lowing a divorce in the late 1920's. She became somewhat of a mystery through her middle years, with very little known about her professional life, per- sonal relationships or domestic travels. She passed on May 23, 1965 in San Francisco, California. • James Alfred "Shag" Thomp- son — Odd Fellow turned peach-canner turned minor- league lifer — never discussed his challenged upbringing on the record. In fact, he conduct- ed just two known interviews about his career prior to his passing on January 7, 1990. In August of 1988, renowned columnist Jim Baker profiled him for a special section in the Asheville Citizen-Times, one in which Thompson spoke of many things baseball — from Cobb to Ruth to the larger- than-life Walter Johnson — but nothing at all personal. Some time earlier, he con- ducted a broad-based session with Norman Macht, noted baseball historian and author of what is widely considered to be the definitive work on the life of the man who drafted him in 1913 — Connie Mack. The tapes, housed in the DeGolyer Library at Southern Methodist University, offer perspective on most of his playing days and peers, but ultimately, no signifi- cant details of his formative years in Goldsboro. And that is what makes it difficult to draw any hard-and- fast, definitive conclusions about his early life — one that tasked him with a grave chal- lenge, but also the strength to manage it. When asked recently just how he would elect to recall "Shag," Wolff wasted not a stitched breath before deliver- ing his appraisal. "A gentleman," Wolff said. Shag Fans gather outside Shibe Park before the Philadelpia A's faced the Boston Braves in the 1914 World's Series. Photo/LIBRARY OF CONGRESS Photo/WAYNE COUNTY PUBLIC LIBRARY The Goldsboro High Class of 1911. Thompson is on the front row, holding the scroll.

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