Former baseball players gather to reminisce about their field of dreams Love of sport draws friends together

September 12, 1993|By Larry Sturgill | Larry Sturgill,Contributing Writer

They sit in Lenny Hobbs' store in Dayton, four gray-haired gentlemen, their weathered faces shadowed by the brims of well-worn hats.

Friends since childhood, they've gathered here almost every morning for more years than they care to count. As usual, the talk eventually turns to baseball, baseball as it used to be played, as it ought to be played -- for fun, for free, for as long as they could.

They were all ballplayers, local farm boys who started together at Clarksville High and moved to the Dayton Athletic Club baseball team. It was one of nearly a dozen amateur teams competing before small audiences in rural towns, such as Lisbon, Sykesville, Relay, Savage, Woodbine, Elkridge and Alberton, during the 1930s and 1940s.

They're still known by the nicknames -- Lefty, Dutch, Scooper, T and Brother Love -- they won playing the kind of spikes-up, hard-nosed hardball rarely seen today.

Byrd Murat "Rat" Seibert was a 16-year-old high school student when he donned a Dayton baseball uniform in the summer of 1932.

"Rat," as he's still amicably called by former teammates, anchored the pitching staff of some formidable Dayton teams during the mid- and late-1930s.

"I wasn't a hard thrower," says Mr. Seibert, 80. "I guess you could say I was sneaky fast. I changed speeds a lot, but my best pitch was the curve."

The retired farmer had great control and threw a first-class sinking curveball. During his 18-year career, he was known as a strikeout pitcher. Old newspaper clippings detail many games in which the crafty left-hander struck out 10 or more batters.

Brothers Carroll and Francis Brown were among Mr. Seibert's teammates at Clarksville High and later the Dayton club.

Carroll Brown was a player known for his clutch hitting who spent 12 seasons with the Dayton team and ended his career in 1946.

"I was a choke hitter," says Carroll Brown, 82. "I didn't hit with much power, but I could hit line drives over the infielders."

His younger brother, Francis Brown, was an outstanding infielder who quickly earned the nickname, "Scooper."

"I didn't have much range," says Scooper Brown, 82. "But, I caught everything I could get to."

Another regular at Hobbs' store is Guy Nichols, a ballplayer who zTC was better known as a soccer player at Clarksville High. He was the catcher for the Sandy Springs club in Montgomery County.

"I wasn't a very good baseball player," admits Mr. Nichols, 79. "Not as good as these guys."

One player they all remember from the the old Dayton team was catcher Albert "Dutch" Day. Mr. Day, another regular at these morning gatherings, has been home lately, tending his ill wife.

"Dutch was probably the best catcher I ever pitched to," Mr. Seibert says. "He didn't hit too much, but he saved us a run or two every game because he blocked just about every bad pitch."

They are looking at a photograph of the 1933 Dayton team, trying to remember the names of the youthful faces staring back.

"That looks like 'Brother Love,' " says Carroll Brown, pointing to a slightly blurred face in the photo. He looks up at the others. "Brother Love was about the best ballplayer I ever saw," he says. "Maybe him, and Billy Renn."

"They could play, all right," Mr. Seibert agrees. "I think some pro scouts looked at both of them, but nothing ever happened."

"That's 'T,' " says Francis Brown, pointing to T. Marshall Harding, another Clarksville player, who would spend more than 15 years playing for Dayton and several other teams.

"That's Malcolm," Carroll Brown says, looking at a familiar face in the team photo. "I wonder how old he was when this was taken?"

Malcolm Disney began playing with the Highland Athletic Club baseball team in 1907. He was 16. In 1933, Mr. Disney, 42, played with the Dayton A.C. team alongside two 17-year-old players, Mr. Seibert and Mr. Harding.

"He played second base," Mr. Seibert says. "A good, solid ball player. He wasn't a star, though, and he didn't act like one. He was dependable, and, he could still hit."

Mr. Disney was the quintessential Punch and Judy hitter who just slapped the ball through the holes in the infield. It was a talent that drove pitchers crazy.

In 1937, Mr. Disney and Mr. Harding would again be teammates on the Granite A.C. baseball team, 30 years after Mr. Disney played with Mr. Harding's father on the old Highland A.C. team.

Mr. Disney, who died in 1968, was 61 when he played his last game. In a career spanning 44 years, he played in more than 2,000 games with 12 teams.

"There's not many of us left, you know," says Mr. Seibert, who hung up his spikes after 18 years of amateur ball in 1950. "Most of the guys are gone now."

But, on mornings like this, among this group of old friends, the memories are still vibrant.

Larry Sturgill is writing a book about the history of amateur baseball in Howard County. If you have old baseball pictures, newspaper clippings, or other information on pre-1950 Howard County teams and players, please call 995-1578.

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