There was a time when the Oil Creek valley was rife with skillful baseball players who played the game to win. Uncle Zeke reported the scores of games played by the Orlando nine. During the 1930’s, Orlando's fine baseball teams prevailed by double digit scores over teams from larger towns such as Burnsville, Gassaway, and towns in between.
As long as the trains were running with reasonable fares, travel by teams from out of the area to Orlando to play ball was fairly easy and convenient. In 1941, when the trains ceased stopping at Orlando and the roads around Orlando were in too poor condition to be relied upon, baseball moved elsewhere. Orlando's young men continued to play at Falls Mills, Burnsville, Hyre's Run.
by David Parmer
The heat of the day was over. Chores were done or forgotten. Plenty of daylight was left as a gaggle of boys took the field and began tossing a ball back and forth while another boy hit grounders to infielders who snapped up the horsehide ball and threw with precision to the first baseman across the diamond. A few people began assembling along the baselines from home base to first base and to third base and watched intently as a son, a nephew, or a brother demonstrated his skill with the baseball. The players in the field were keenly aware that they were being watched, hopefully by a favorite girl friend or a want-to-be girlfriend. Cigarettes and chews of tobacco filled the lips or jaws of many of the onlookers and some of the ball players. Women sat on the porch of the house in left field, shaded from the afternoon sun, mildly interested in the goings-on in the newly mowed hayfield. From atop the hill, above the railroad tracks, some small children stood on the bluff observing the movements of the young boys on the field below. The crack of the bat as the ball was struck reverberated in the narrow valley and punctuated the air around the children watching the preliminary practice before the game was to start. Earlier that day, the lithe young boys now demonstrating their skills with the ball had been milking cows, putting up haystacks, or hoeing corn. While the former activities were hard work, the present game was fun. It was an evening to enjoy. A tall lanky older man in dark trousers and a long sleeved white shirt moved quietly behind home base in the orderly confusion and in a loud baritone and easily heard voice yelled, “Let’ play ball.”
In the early 1900’s, cigarette companies promoted the sales of cigarettes by including baseball cards in the packages of cigarettes. These promotional items were sold in every country store in the country, including the Orlando general stores. Many Orlando boys took seriously the collecting of baseball cards, and of course, picked up the tobacco habit along with the prized baseball cards.
Orlando youth also took the game of baseball seriously and the Oil Creek valley seemed rife with skillful baseball players who played the game to win. Uncle Zeke gave some attention to the exploits of the Orlando boys in his Buzzardtown news columns. In his August 22, 1935 column of the Buzzardtown News, Uncle Zeke commented on the Orlando baseball nine:
[Virgil Riffle, manager of the Orlando team, was the son of Ebert Riffle and Tina (Scarff) Riffle. He married Edna Posey, daughter of Lloyd Posey and Mary Clark Posey.]
As long as the trains were running with reasonable fares, travel by teams from out of the area to Orlando to play ball on the local fields was fairly easy and convenient. However, the trains ceased stopping at Orlando in 1941 and the generally poor condition of the roads caused baseball to move elsewhere. .
John Allman, grandson of Gaver Allman, the long-time Orlando telegrapher and depot agent, who played on the Orlando team in the early 1950’s, recalls vividly “Popeye’s” attributes as a pitcher as well as his volatility. John recalls one game when a teammate committed an error at a crucial moment which upset “Popeye” to the extent that he walked off the field in disgust. An aging Claud Mick had to complete pitching the inning. John reported that Claud’s arm was sore for two weeks following the relief pitching stint.
Doris (Riffle) Snyder recalls that “Popeye” was notorious for losing his grip on the baseball bat during his vicious swings at the ball. Doris was sitting under a tree near home plate, watching a game in the late 1940’s at Orlando, with “Popeye” at the plate. “Popeye” took his usual trademark swing at a ball and lost his grip on the bat, which went flying, striking the tree just above Doris’ head. Doris remembers that the bat skinned the bark off the tree behind her.
Left: Doris Riffle.
John Gibson IV recalls that his father told him that “Popeye” drew the attention of a major league scout. With the scout present at a Saturday game, “Popeye” pitched an excellent game and a contract signing was nigh. Ill-advisedly, “Popeye” also decided to pitch on the following day. Again with the scout present, “Popeye’s” arm could not stand the strain and that day he suffered an arm injury which short-circuited “Popeye’s” dream of pitching in the big leagues.
The ruddy complexioned “Popeye” was a real lover of the game of baseball and is first mentioned of all Orlando area players by those interviewed by this writer for this story. “Popeye,” a resident of Three Lick died in 1993 at the age of 62.
John recalls that his grandfather loved to watch him play. When the teams played in the field beside the Catholic Church, Gaver watched the game from his car on top of the hill overlooking the ball field and didn’t visit the field itself. John recalls on one occasion when he was playing a game at Falls Mill, his grandfather was watching the game along the third base line. During the game, John hit a “Kiner-like” home run to center field which landed on the swimming raft anchored in the middle of the Little Kanawha River. As the ball left the park and his grandson rounded the bases, Gaver, as the result of a congratulatory pat on the back from another fan, swallowed a sizable portion of the chewing tobacco which he usually kept in his jaw.
Blaine’s son John Gray recalls that his father established strike out records while playing for the semi-pro Akron team which probably was the basis for the Cubs’ contract offer.
Blaine ’s sister-in-law, Wanda Gay of Roanoke, recalls that a photograph of Blaine in baseball uniform hung in the living room of Blaine’s Ohio home. Wanda also recalls having seen a certificate in Blaine’s possession concerning his baseball tenure. A nephew of Blaine Gay, Bill Freeman, was also an excellent ball player, as was Blaine’s brother-in-law, Vaden Grove, according to Cecil Mick.
Back Row: Kenneth Sumpter, Junior Snyder, Junior Kuhl, Kit Carson, Coy Parson, Pudge Snyder.
Front Row: Wilmer Anderson, Herbert Young, Russell Losh, Ray Parsons, Junior Love, Buck Pritt.
Manager, kneeling: Harry Love.
John Gibson IV recalls many stories that his dad told about the ball games during the hot days of summer. Bob Gibson, the story goes, was a very good pitcher and a very good hitter but ran with feet of lead. John on the other hand was a very fast runner. In a game at Falls Mill, Bob was on third base with his brother John at the bat. John hit a long fly ball. Perhaps it was inattentiveness by Bob or an abundance of caution about the long fly ball and the fear of being doubled up if the ball were caught, Bob crossed home plate with his brother only a step behind. John attributed the closeness of the runners to Bob’s “lead feet” while Bob attributed it to “prudent base running.”
left below: John Gibson III
Madeline Brown, widow of Sol Brown, formerly of Flesher Run, recalls that her husband was a player-manager for the Falls Mill team. In the early 1950’s Falls Mill was playing a team from Weston which had a player who had been a former major-leaguer. The game coursed along with Weston up by one run 1-0. In the top of the last inning, Falls Mill tied up the game when Sol Brown drove in Sam Stalnaker from first base. In the bottom of the inning, a Weston batter got on base. The runner then went to third base on a hit despite a ground rule which only permitted the runner on first to go to second base. The runner on third base refused to retreat to second base. In the course of the discussion, or argument, and without a time-out having been called, Madeline recalls that Bobby Gibson, the Falls Mills third baseman, tagged the errant runner with the ball who was promptly called out by the umpire. Madeline remembers that the Weston team packed its bags and went back to Weston without finishing the game.
In another game at Falls Mill, Bobby Gibson was pitching against a team of All Stars and his brother John was catching. A batter, supposedly a player from West Virginia University, was crowding the plate and leaning over into the strike zone. John warned the batter to move off the plate but the warning was not only disregarded, but also the batter made a derogatory remark about the pitcher being a “hayseed.” Promptly, Bob plunked the batter in the ribs with a fast ball. Much to the batter’s chagrin, the pitch was called a strike by the umpire who noted that the batter was leaning into the strike zone. After a short rhubarb, the batter resumed the bat but stood much farther back in the batter’s box. Bob’s next two pitches skinned the outside corner of the plate and the batter was out on three pitches. The same batter also struck out his next two times at bat. So much for the all star and the hayseed!
John IV also recalls his father telling him about his uncle Bob hitting two balls across the Little Kanawha for home runs in a game, during which “Popeye” Puffenbarker also decked a ball into the woods on the other side of the river. These home runs conservatively would have traveled at least four hundred feet.
Later, Bob Gibson played semi-pro baseball in Akron along with Blaine Gay, another Orlando boy who was employed in Warren, Ohio. Although Blaine was a little older than Bob, he was still a very effective left handed pitcher. It was during his stint with the Akron semi-pro team that Bob was approached by a major league scout with the proposition of a contract as a pitcher. Bob however wanted to play third base rather than pitch. The scout insisted that his major league club was only interested in him as a pitcher. The indecision was resolved by Uncle Sam who sent a draft notice to Bob, and the choice was thereby settled.
The olden days in Orlando were the glory years of baseball. We're fortunate to have the stories of “Popeye”, the Gibson boys, “Kiner” Allman, Blaine Gay and his brother-in-law Vaden Grove, Charlie and Cecil Mick, and all the other young men and boys who learned to play the game on Saturday and Sunday afternoons on the hayfields of the Oil Creek valley or the sand and red clay of Falls Mill. They are a part of history, and particularly a part of our history.
Comment 1 by David Parmer
In the Riffleton News reported in the Burnsville Kanawha Banner on June 21, 1911, it was noted that Charlie Moran incurred a broken jaw in a Saturday baseball game at Orlando and was taken to a Clarksburg hospital for treatment.
I grew up near Gilmer. Most of the local men used to belong to the Gilmer baseball team of that era. My father, Earl Kuhl, and his brothers Junior and Willard, all played for the Gilmer team. My uncles, the Snyder brothers, and the two Love brothers also played for the Gilmer team. Most of the games were played at Falls Mill so that all the families could swim and picnic each Sunday. Dad would haul all of us to the game in the back of his coal truck which I also used to drive to Burnsville to see the Saturday night movie.
My uncle Jack Snyder married Doris Riffle of Orlando. My uncle Jack and I used to hunt on the hill behind Doris ’ home.
I remember when I was around eleven or twelve years old, attending a baseball game at Hyres Run during the 1940’s. The pitcher for the Hyres Run team was Blaine Gay from Orlando. Blaine had a tremendous fast ball and could really “bring it” to the plate.
I recall during the game that the other team had a runner on first base. The catcher for the Hyres Run team was Web Goodwin. Web was a very big man and was an outstanding catcher. As Blaine was in his delivery to the plate, Web noticed the base runner starting toward second base on an attempted steal. Web prematurely whipped off his catcher’s mask as Blaine ’s fast ball was coming toward the plate. The batter swung at the pitch and ticked the ball, changing the course of the ball from Web’s mitt to Web’s forehead. The ball struck with a dreadful sound. Web was knocked unconscious and had blood running from his eyes and ears. Web suffered a concussion but recovered from the rendezvous with Blaine ’s fastball.
After World War II, I spoke with Blaine who I knew had earlier been offered a major league contract with one of the Chicago teams. He advised me that because his employment at that time was vital to the war effort he could not accept the major league contract. After the war, Blaine was advised by major league scouts that he was then too old to begin a baseball career. .
comment 4 by Leonard Keith
My father, Leonard “Lindy” Keith, was an avid baseball player in his youth in Orlando. As a young man before World War II, he played for local teams, and, as did many young men from Orlando, donned the uniform of the Falls Mills team. After service in World War II, my father, who worked as an assistant station master for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in Burnsville, continued playing baseball for the Falls Mill team from around 1946 until 1949.
When I was around eight years old in 1949, my father pitched his last baseball game for the Falls Mill team. During this game, at which I was present, my father suffered an arm injury which ended his pitching days. After this game he was no longer able to throw a baseball overhand.
My family moved to South Carolina in 1950. Although unable to throw overhand, my father took up fast pitch softball and was a very successful pitcher in fast pitch softball leagues in South Carolina. I would frequently serve as catcher for my father during his pitching practice but he threw so hard it was difficult for me to serve as an efficient battery mate.
Bert Hamric, a native of Sand Fork and former resident of Burnsville, was a major leaguer and played as an outfielder for the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers and the 1958 Baltimore Orioles. He began his minor league career in 1949 and played for various farm teams of the Brooklyn Dodgers. While awaiting his chance to play baseball professionally, Bert often played at Falls Mill. Bert’s father, Odbert Hamric, was also a noted baseball player and played on semi-professional teams in the Akron area. According to Bert’s brother, Fay, during a pre-game practice session at Falls Mill, Bert told his father that he bet that he could hit a ball further than his dad. Bert then hit a long fly ball into the falls of the Little Kanawha River. His father then promptly hit a longer fly ball over the falls.
In the spring of 1955, Bert broke his right hand during spring training with the Brooklyn Dodgers and lived briefly in Burnsville while he convalesced. Bert was ambidextrous and could throw the baseball with his left hand as well as his right. On several occasions I played catch with Bert who threw the baseball very effectively with his left hand.
My father, Charles Foster Cart, was born in Strange Creek to Fleet Cart and Susan (Moore) Cart and graduated from high school in Huntington, West Virginia.
He came to Orlando in about 1925 as a telegraph operator and agent for the B & O Railroad. He later held the same position with the railroad at Burnsville. He met my mother Hazel Wooddell at a church social where the men bid on the women’s picnic baskets. My father was the successful bidder on my mother’s basket. They were married and had four children, Mary (Cart) Barcus, Betty (Cart) Densmore, Sue Ann Cart Tighe and Charles Foster Cart, Jr.
My father loved baseball and all other sports but baseball was his favorite. He took my brother to some games in Pittsburgh when we lived in Grafton. He bought the two older girls miniature baseball bats from the Louisville Sluggers baseball bat company. I still have mine.
He played center field and was a switch hitter.
One of my neighbors in Florida is Mary Marguerite (Moran) Bush, daughter of John and Myrtle Moran of Burnsville. Her grandfather was Patrick Moran of Orlando. Mary Marguerite’s first grade teacher at Burnsville was my aunt Madeline Cart who was my dad’s sister.
My father, Lloyd Posey, owned a farm on Clover Fork with a ten acre bottom, complete with a baseball field. My three older brothers, Bob, Paul and Dee Posey, were dedicated baseball players. Bob was a pitcher and Dee played first base and was a catcher. A lot of baseball was played during the 1930’s on this field. My brothers also played quite a lot of baseball at Falls Mill. Baseball was a favorite pastime of the boys in the neighborhood.