OLA — One student held a World Series ring in his hand; others listened to stories from those who grew up with the baseball greats.
Two Rivers High School students have started the Arkansas Online Baseball Museum, aobm.trgators.org, based on interviews they’ve conducted with relatives of former professional baseball players in Yell and Perry counties.
It’s a project of the Environmental and Spatial Technology class at the school.
“The goal was to do something different,” said Jim Yeager, instructional technology specialist for the Two Rivers School District.
He said one of the motivations was to find a commonality for Ola and Plainview, which were consolidated to form the Two Rivers District.
“One of the ways to unify those communities is to not forget the past,” Yeager said.
“We batted this stuff around,” Yeager said, no pun intended, “and I probably mentioned baseball, and the next thing that happened, we remembered this gentleman named Bill Baskin, who was superintendent of Casa for 41 years. He’d play minor league baseball and come back in the fall and be superintendent. We found a number of minor league baseball players and major league baseball players from Yell County.”
Two Rivers senior Austin Long said it was surprising what they discovered.
“I’ve always been a big fan of baseball,” Long said. “I didn’t know there were that many professional baseball players, especially from the Yell County area.”
However, he said he knew about Baskin, who was a pitcher in the 1940s for minor league teams in Tennessee, Alabama and Maryland.
“My grandpa was on the [Casa] School Board for a long time, so they knew each other,” Long said. “[Baskin] never made it to the major leagues.”
Casa had already consolidated with Ola before the Two Rivers School District was formed.
Long interviewed Oleta Baskin, the player’s widow, and his daughter, Patti Baskin of Casa.
Patti Baskin, 56, said that when she was growing up, her father was retired from baseball.
“When I came along, I had an older sister and myself, and I was ‘the boy’ that fished with him and hunted with him and watched baseball with him. That’s all that was on at the house,” she said. “I was the one who loved it.
“He would go to bed at night with a little transistor radio on his stomach, listening to the Cardinals.”
She said she never got tired of hearing about his baseball career.
“He could tell you up until almost three years before he died about every play, every game. I just hung on every word,” she said. “He loved to tell the stories.
“He had a knuckleball that he was famous for. When he was still playing, he was at school, and he would get one of the boys out of study hall to catch for him during the day, out of class,” she said, laughing.
One of those was Bob Townsell of Conway.
“That’s the truth,” Townsell said.
A 1955 graduate of Casa High School, Townsell was on the baseball team.
“Every spring, he’d (Baskin) get the urge, so he’d get me out of class,” Townsell said. “He was knuckleballer. … It doesn’t spin, it floats, … and it’ll bob all over the place. He used to knock my shins off. If it hit the old rock wall, it’d scruff the ball. He’d say, ‘If you can’t catch it, I’ll get somebody down here who can.’”
Townsell said he made sure to get in front of the ball because he didn’t want to go back to class.
“We had the Arkansas River Valley League, where we had just made up teams from all the little communities, and we played every weekend. I was a pitcher. He (Baskin) wouldn’t pitch unless we got in a bind,” Townsell said. “He’d come in and strike us all out.
“He was quite a man.”
Baskin said she retired last school year as a math teacher in the Russellville School District. Her father also taught math.
She said her father would be thrilled with the Online Baseball Museum, which combines his two biggest passions, education and baseball.
“My daddy would be so, so pleased about this,” she said. “He would have beamed.
“He loved the balancing [of baseball and education]. He knew his life was there in Casa, and he knew what he wanted to do there. The school was his life. We never took vacations because he needed to be at school in the summer because a kid needed to work. He cleaned the gym, if the janitor couldn’t. If we thought somebody was breaking into the school, we didn’t call the police; we went down there.”
Her father died in January 2001 at age 79.
Baskin said she has a baseball signed by the team her father played for when he pitched a no-hitter in 1947 for the Gadsden (Ala.) Pilots of the Southeastern League.
She has the baseball alongside some photos of him.
“It’s comforting to me,” she said.
Yeager said the students working on the Online Baseball Museum enjoyed doing the videos, editing and face-to-face interviews.
“They wanted to do that in a big way,” Yeager said. “They will reluctantly do research, but they’ll interview at the drop of a hat.”
Yeager said the students unearthed “family pictures, interesting tidbits that you’re not going to find anywhere else.”
Kip Grimes, who teaches the EAST class, said the Arkansas Online Baseball Museum “is a really interesting way to learn Arkansas history — to make Arkansas history important to students and make them interested in seeing the personal side of it. Instead of just reading statistics, when you hear the families, and they bring in mementos, it makes it a lot more personal.
“I’m listening to Paul Dean, the son of Daffy Dean, and his stories. They were funny. Not only were they humorous; they had to do with cotton picking and things students don’t really know about now,” Grimes said.
“Dizzy and Daffy Dean (brothers) were legendary Arkansas pitchers, and they grew up in Yell County a little bit; they were sharecroppers,” Yeager said.
Paul Dean Jr., 75, who lived in Plainview during the 1970s, joked during the interview with Long, saying, “Dad always said baseball ruined his cotton-picking career.”
Dean, who lives in Fort Smith, also played minor league baseball for two years in the Milwaukee Braves organization. He said that unlike today, salaries were low, so he quit.
The students also interviewed Paul “Bo” Dean, the grandson of Daffy Dean and the principal of Clarksville Junior High School.
Long said the father-son pair own a restaurant in Scranton, adding that the business is packed with baseball memorabilia.
Paul Dean Jr. had his father’s 1934 World Series Ring from when he played with the St. Louis Cardinals. Long said getting to hold the ring was “cool.”
Paul Dean Jr. “was such a talker,” Yeager said. “Dizzy Dean was a great storyteller. He didn’t limit himself to the truth very often.”
Grimes said talking to the families was priceless for the students.
“One of my students there was just taking photographs of memorabilia and stuff. I said, ‘There’s some more stuff hanging down the hallway — go shoot that.’ He said, ‘Can it wait a minute?’ He was listening to the stories,” she said.
Eleven players are listed on the website, along with photos, biographies and links to interviews.
“I’m hoping we can add more to it,” Grimes said. “We kind of started as a Yell County thing, but it grew and grew.
“This has got to grow because it’s just too interesting,” she said. “I would like that, because as word gets out about this project, I’m hoping we will get in contact with more family members, and we can just keep adding to this, and it can be an ongoing project and website.”
Yeager agreed that the website could expand.
“It’s a huge task. It’ll never end, unless the kids get tired of it,” he said.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.