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Playing baseball ‘back in the days’ at Byrne Field

By By Lowell McGill
Hey Cap, come on in. I’ve got just the car you need.”
That was Buddy Vickery’s way of greeting potential automobile buyers for many years when he was a car salesman at Staff Chevrolet Motor Company, formerly Gerlach Motors. He and Frank Bricken were the only two people I remember using the term “Cap” in talking with their friends.
He worked for many years with the Staffs. In fact, Eddie Staff called him “the best car salesman I ever had.”
Well, this column is not about Buddy’s successful career as a car salesman. It is about the many generations of Vickerys that were, and still are, known for their baseball skills.
From my junior high school days until this very day there have been Vickerys involved in Atmore’s baseball programs. Buddy and his brother, Doc, along with many other non-Vickerys, were outstanding baseball players. They played back in the days when Byrne Field was the center of all baseball activity. This was years before sanctioned youth leagues were organized here. Mostly, it was those Saturday night and Sunday afternoon games that lured large crowds. Games involved teams from Byrneville, Perdido, Bay Minette, McCullough, Monroe County and even Mobile.
As I said, there were other good ball players back in those days. Some played earlier and some played later than Buddy and Doc. I remember seeing Root Lowery, Joe Lalak, E.E. Martin, Austin and James Taylor, Eubie Coon, Gene Wilson, Jack Akins, Clarence Akins, Leon Akins and many, many more.
Those Byrne Field games got “pretty heated” at times. Teams took those games seriously and umpires were always kept on their toes to make sure the games moved along in a rational manner. Mobile teams were often alleged to use minor league professional players who were in the Air Force and stationed at Brookley Field. Buddy always said they used “high inside pitchers.” Those were the ones noted for throwing at your head. Batters had to be “on their toes” not to get hit by these pitchers. As I said, some of these games got real interesting. Local city policemen were always standing by on Mobile game days and nights.
I remember a Mobile hitter slapping a long fly ball to straight away center field and it looked like it would leave the ball park. But, Atmore center fielder James Taylor, in those long high stepping strides that he was known for, ran up to that fence and made a leaping catch to save a home run. Playing outfield in Byrne Field was somewhat dangerous as the walls were made of cement blocks.
Over the years many other players played for or played against Atmore. My cousin Hiram Cabiness and several players from Perdido were in that group. There was catcher, David White; pitcher, Hilburn White; first baseman, Hamp White; pitcher, Lefty Adams and center fielder, George Smith, among many more.
Doc Vickery left Atmore years ago and went to work in Mobile with the fire department. Today his son, Glenn, is the well respected high school football coach at Daphne. He was at Davidson prior to his current position. During his career his teams have accomplished outstanding area and state records.
Lou Vickery, Buddy’s oldest son was drafted by the Cardinals out of high school as a pitcher. He enjoyed several years of success in the professional ranks, reaching triple A level. An outstanding businessman, he owns the local radio station. I remember my broadcasting some of his youth league games over WATM.
His brother, Bill, also played minor league baseball. He, too, was outstanding in Atmore’s youth leagues. Their cousin “Wild Bill” Etheridge set hitting records several years ago while he was a member of the Mississippi State Bulldogs baseball team. Wild Bill’s brother “Cannonball” was also known for his baseball skills.
Lou and Bill’s brother in law, Earl Miller Jr., played pro ball and I understand he has sons who are currently playing ball today. He is still coaching baseball at the high school level. Earl Miller Sr. served in our youth programs for many years as a coach.
Brothers Weldon and Doug Vickery kept the tradition alive during their playing days. Weldon has two sons Todd and Danny who were very good ball players. They played with my sons in Atmore’s youth programs. Weldon has the distinction of the league’s longest serving coach. He coached the WATM team for years. Many times I have seen him leave a game early to go to his job at the paper mill in Brewton. He was one of most dedicated coaches in Atmore. He also was a successful county commissioner for several terms. He has a grandson, Cody, who plays for ECHS. And, he is another “Vickery southpaw” pitcher.
Doug’s son is coaching football at Flomaton High School.
You know, as I write this column on the Vickerys, I do so with pride and admiration for this family of baseball players. I don’t need any sources for columns such as this because I was there. Very few writers here today can reach back and describe those players, events and game situations. In other words, without boasting, you must have been there, lived it and you must have remembered it. This is what I call “true nostalgia.”
I want to apologize for only hitting the high spots in this column today. This is just the beginning. There are many more columns to be written in much more detail about each of these fine people I have mentioned and many other non-Vickerys. I’ll devote more column space in future columns. I’ll give you games, players, managers and coaches dating back to the l940s when I began following Atmore baseball. These stories will also be based on my having broadcasted games and handling all the sports news part time for almost 15 years at WATM. I’ll also draw from my time with Martin Ritchie, Bob Morrissette and Phil Sokol at The Atmore Advance.
Lowell McGill is a historical columnist for The Atmore Advance. He can be reached at exam@frontiernet.net