Tales from the dugout: An ex-Senators batboy remembers

At Play

Summer

In Howard County

August 24, 2005|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

GLENELG RESIDENT Allen Derwent has some great baseball memories. Oh, indeed.

Did you hear about the time Harmon Killebrew and Bob Allison, one-time Washington Senators stars who moved with that ill-fated team to the Twin Cities in 1960, would some years later torment a rookie on the new, replacement Senators with rats?

Oh, yes. Derwent has some memories. He was one of the new Senators' last two batboys, an experience that gave him a lifetime of memories, some of which he shared Saturday with local members of the Society for American Baseball Research at a gathering in an Ellicott City bookstore.

"Killebrew and Allison both knew all about RFK Stadium, which was built on a swamp," Derwent said in an interview. "When they came back to play in Washington, they used to go to a tunnel beyond center field with bats while the Senators were practicing, and they'd stir up rats that were all over the place. One time, one went running onto the field, headed straight for a rookie in the outfield and ran straight up one of his legs. The rookie ran away screaming, while Killebrew and Allison laughed and laughed."

Derwent, now 56 and a free-lance photographer and former photo lab owner, grew up in Prince George's County, his home until about 10 years ago. As a teenager, he spent four years working for those "new" Washington Senators, a replacement franchise that distinguished itself with mediocrity before being moved in 1971 to Arlington, Texas, and taking a new name, the Texas Rangers. Derwent was 16 when, in 1966, at the suggestion of a friend who worked for the team, he sought a bat-boy job and was hired at $5 a game.

His tenure allowed Derwent to form indelible impressions of many players, both for the Senators as well as with opposing American League teams. Some samples:

Ted Williams, the Hall of Fame Red Sox hitter who was manager of the Senators for their final two years in Washington: "The first year, I think he wanted too much to just be one of the guys. But he got better about that. Everyone, of course, asked him for tips on how to hit better."

Eddie Brinkman, longtime Senators shortstop: "He was - still is - my favorite Senator of all time. Just a good player and a good guy."

Denny McLain, a two-time Cy Young Award-winning pitcher who won 30 games in a season in Detroit but was traded at the end of his career to Washington, where he was a bust, losing 22 games in his one season: "He always kept to himself - very stand-offish. He had a lot of problems. It became known later that he was addicted to caffeine. I do remember he was big Pepsi drinker, as much as a case a day."

Frank Howard, a huge first baseman who was one of the game's best pure sluggers, acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1965: "He was such a meek giant - very quiet.

"My favorite memory of Howard was the day Morganna [a statuesque stripper who is a footnote in baseball history for her oft-repeated publicity gimmick] ran onto the field and kissed him. He saw her coming, of course, but couldn't do anything about it. When he turned around, he was beet red."

Other memories: A 22-inning, 1967 game against the Chicago White Sox that lasted six hours, 38 minutes, ending at 2:43 a.m. and led to the American League adopting a 1 a.m. curfew everywhere.

He also worked the team's last game in Washington, assigned to the New York Yankees' bench. It was an infamous game, with Washington fans storming the field for souvenirs and forcing an early end to play.

Locker rooms provided Derwent with memories, too.

"Just about everybody smoked, and many players chewed tobacco," he said. "It was before CD players and video games and even TV in the locker rooms. So when players arrived early for a game, they sat around and talked or, mainly, they played pranks on one another, just like boys.

"I was working the Boston Red Sox dugout one day, and just about everybody watched [pitcher] Luis Tiant, who was one of the biggest practical jokers ever, literally crawl across the floor so slowly to [slugger] Leon Wagner, who was reading a newspaper. Wagner never saw him, and Tiant got a match and set the paper on fire in his hands."

That last Senators game was Derwent's last major-league game. He took up slow-pitch softball in his 20s and still plays for a team in an over-50 Howard County men's league. But baseball? He saw enough. He has never been to an Orioles game and does not intend to see the new Nationals, either.

"Bob Short [the Senators' owner who abruptly moved the franchise to Texas in 1971] just broke my heart," said Derwent. "I grew up rooting for that team, and when Short moved them, I lost all my enthusiasm for the game. I've never gotten it back.

"I've seen the [minor league] Bowie Baysox play a couple times, but I still can't bear to watch major league ball, even on TV."

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