On Saturday, April 13, 2019, a group of Louisville members from the Pee Wee Reese SABR Chapter journeyed down I-65 to Bowling Green, Kentucky, for a fabulous day of baseball and camaraderie.
The day began with a gathering of seventeen aficionados at the Warren County Public Library (many thanks to those fine people) in a conference room reserved for us by super-SABRer Joe Cox. We started with introductions, which took over an hour, not because people mumbled or spoke slowly but because most every introduction opened with an anecdote, followed by another one or two, which usually inspired a delightful diversion down one baseball path or another. So what normally can be a dry preliminary housekeeping function ended up turning into a lively hour plus of stories and laughter.
The (somewhat) formal part of the program commenced with Dr. Gerald (“Jerry”) Sullivan, who centered his discussion on his lifelong baseball memorabilia collecting hobby, salted with rare baseball cards he brought with him and peppered with wonderful side stories and quips. Jerry is a natural raconteur and passed around a only a fraction of a fraction of his collection of (mostly) baseball cards, including an Old Judge Cigarettes card dated 1887 of Marty Sullivan, left fielder for the Chicago White Stockings (any relation?).
Joe Cox followed up with a great presentation about the process he uses for writing his fine baseball books while also discussing his latest offering, A Fine Team Man, about Jackie Robinson. The two and a half hours seemed to fly by.
Others in attendance were Peggy Gripshover, full-time Western Kentucky University geography professor and part-time SABR author and her husband and fellow WKU geography professor, Tom Bell, Jon Borie (more on Jon later), former Judge Frank Wakefield, decked out in a 1934 St. Louis Cardinal uniform, and his wife Jayne Leslie, from Franklin, Kentucky, Ward Begley (Bowling Green native who played baseball for Centre College after growing up on the ballfields of Bowling Green), Rocky Cooper (long-time Bowling Green dentist par-excellence and slugger of a never-forgotten home run for Paducah’s Arcade Barber Shop, Atom League), Joe’s two biggest (and littlest) fans, daughter Natalie and son Ryan, Mike Zanone (Louisville SABR member, old-time baseball expert who performs as turn-of-the-century HOF’er Pete Browning and who had just hung up his spikes on a twenty-six(!) year sandlot baseball career), Ron Coleman, Scottsville resident and inveterate Tigers fan (later joined at the game joined by his wife Vicki and son Kalen), David Cole, esteemed Bowling Green attorney who served as a nice complement to Jerry with tales of yesteryear, and BoSox diehard fan Jack Sullivan down from L’Ville (more on Jack later).
Skip Nipper, head of Nashville’s Rice-Russell Chapter, was good enough to make the trip up I-65 and added to the fun. We discussed with Skip the prospect of a home and home series between the Nashville and Louisville SABR Chapters involving our respective AAA teams. An excellent time was had by all.
From there, most of the gang, plus a few additions (including Alex Magera, budding attorney and law clerk to Kentucky Chief Justice John Minton), headed over to the Bowling Green Ballpark (opened in 2009), where we were greeted by Jon Barhorst, Box Office Manager for the Bowling Green Hot Rods, single A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. Jon guided us to the Stadium Club, where we met with Hot Rods General Manager Eric Leach. Eric provided us with excellent overview of life in the minors, the Hot Rods team, the ballpark, and the new owner, while patiently answering all our questions. Good man.
Next, Paul Kilgus, former MLB pitcher from Bowling Green, arrived and treated us to an informative wide-ranging give-and-take about his days with the Rangers and the Cubs, along with entertaining snippets about former teammates and games of yore, including one hilarious spring training story about the time he hit three batsmen in a row, the last one unintentionally. We then retreated to our suite and watched as Joe Cox and Paul Kilgus threw out first pitch(es) down on the field.
Following that, Jack Sullivan administered one of his famous trivia contests (shortened this time to ten questions). Jon Borie took the honors, with Joe Cox coming in second and Ron Coleman (nailing two questions about Tigers) third. Each got to pick one of the baseball books hauled down from Louisville, and were then followed by our speakers (with the books serving as speaker fees), followed by our trivia master (Jack, of course, picked a book about Tony C). (Footnote: We had two Dr. Sullivans in the suite, Jerry and Jack, although neither of them were on an Old Judge card).
The Hot Rods’ opponent that evening was the Fort Wayne TinCaps. The game was scoreless until the top of the fourth, when TinCapper Michael Curry powered an opposite field shot through the mist and over the right field wall, knocking in two baserunners and, of course, himself. Then the rains came, the tarp came out and the game was suspended (eventually to be finished the next day). All was fine, though, for it had been a long good day and most of us were preparing to take our leave around that time anyway (I still regret that I didn’t get a chance to stroll the “360” walkway that circles the field, one of the many improvements to the park made by the team’s new owner, Jack Blackstock. Will do it next year, when the sun will shine and the stars will glow).
The one downer on this otherwise excellent day came from the fact that our fearless leader, Harry Rothgerber, got DL’d by pneumonia (Harry says he’s going with the new acronym, IL’d) and, on orders from his wife, had to stay home in bed. Harry would have loved it, would have been greeted by many old friends, and his presence would have made it all as close to perfect as you can get, but he promises he won’t get pneumonia again next year and will be there with bells on.
Jon (“Ace”) Borie helped out tremendously with logistics, with lugging two boxes of books and other goodies, by introducing Paul Kilgus and much more. During that intro, Jon handed Paul Kilgus a couple of old memorabilia items (received gladly by the former pro). A big thanks to Joe for his presentation and his “boots on the ground” work in BG to make this happen, to Jack for his trivia contest and innate ability to fill in the blanks when some of us old guys forget baseball facts, to Paul for taking the time to regale us with some of his stories, to Jerry for sharing his collection and many great yarns (and laughs) along the way, and to both Jon Barhorst and Eric Leach and the Hot Rods staff for their fine hospitality.
If you live in or around Bowling Green, or are passing through, head to the Ballpark!
This concludes our report for the inaugural SABR Day in Bowling Green. We’ll see you next year.
— Tad Myre