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Field of memories

Mix memories and legends together; add generous portions oflocal baseball lore and Capt. Sam Brown American Legion Fieldsprings to life. Located in Exchange Club Park, the baseball fieldhas been the site of thousands of games in its 60-plus years ofexistence.

Personal information on Brown is difficult to unearth but thegentleman is credited with building the field from scratch. Infact, when the German POW camp was closed near the end of World WarII, Brown used leftover materials from that facility to construct abaseball field.

The late Hansel King, a director for the Brookhaven RecreationDepartment, was instrumental in erecting a wooden sign honoring SamBrown some 30 years ago. Once located near the park entrance, thesign is just a memory.

According to local resident Peter Swalm, Brown was an AuburnUniversity graduate who might have been in charge of the POW campthat was located off Union St. in northwest Brookhaven. Apparently,the German prisoners were treated with kindness and enjoyed theirincarceration in Lincoln County.

As a 9-year-old, Swalm remembers military trucks travelingthrough downtown Brookhaven carrying the prisoners to various workdetails. They would be singing happy songs in German.

Born in 1934, Swalm played baseball for Brookhaven High Schoolin 1950-51. Home games were played on Legion Field as early as thelate 1940s.

Swalm said the field was shaped differently back then. “Homeplate was out in left field. First base was where the current homeplate is located. “If you hit the ball, you would run south tofirst base.”

Swalm vividly remembers pitcher Clovis McKissick, an exceptionalathlete who excelled in all sports. He played quarterback on theBHS championship team and later played football and baseball atMississippi State.

“Clovis could make a ball curve about a foot,” said Swalm.”Nobody could hit it. One day at practice, our coach made fun of usstriking out and said, ‘I’ll show you how to hit thatcurveball.’

“Well, Clovis really reared back and threw harder with the coachat bat. He took six swings and never touched the ball. He wasmad.”

The field was a popular gathering place for residents seekingcheap entertainment. Men’s and women’s fastpitch and slowpitchsoftball teams played there over the years. So did youth leaguebaseball and football.

A.L. “Goat” Hoff remembers when he first played baseball atLegion Field. “It was about 1947. We had a league out there. Whenschool was out we would have high school games out there. A lot ofus were from Pearlhaven.”

Hoff played every sport at BHS and joined the Army “when I wasstill in high school in 1951.”

He later played college football and baseball at McNeese State,in Lake Charles, La.

American Legion Baseball

Kenneth Warren, now 72 years old, fondly remembers Legion Fieldand the American Legion team that was composed of area players.

“John Gregory coached our American Legion team,” said Warren.”We were called the Whizz Kids.”

It was the only summer league baseball available so fansnaturally flocked to the games that were played on Sundayafternoons and Wednesdays.

Lundy Johnson, who owned Johnson’s Superette, sponsored theteam. Hubert Burris, the owner of B&B Dairy, was another majorsponsor.

“We had a real good American Legion team,” said Warren. “Theplayers would load up in cars and travel to road games at placeslike Hattiesburg, Jackson, Yazoo City.” He said Natchez, Laurel andWaynesboro, plus Louisiana towns like Hammond, and Ponchatoula werealso on the schedule.

Warren, who often played first base, recalled some of theplayers. Elmer (Cutworm) Smith and J.B Moak were outstandingpitchers. Smith later played professionally, reaching the AAAlevel.

“George Price was the catcher,” said Warren. He remembered thenames of teammates like Skinner King, Joe Brueck, Ray Thames, DougMoody, Pete Dixon. Jerry Stone and Louis Decell.

“We were 16-17 years old.”

The light poles, located inside the outfield fence, proved to bean obstacle for fielders as well as batters. Relying on theumpire’s judgment, a long fly ball could be considered either aground-rule double or a home run, depending on where it hit thepole.

Pete Dixon, a centerfielder, played baseball in the summer of’52, when the American Legion team started in Brookhaven. “We onlylost one game until we got to the playoffs,” Dixon recalled. “Welost to Hattiesburg 2-1 on a rainy day.”

Recalling a baseball moment, “We had a board missing on the leftfield fence,” said Dixon. “Elmer (Smith) came up to bat and said,’I’m going to hit that ball through the hole.’ Sure enough, he didit.”

Dixon said the team was exceptional. “Everybody got along realwell. We had a very good team.”

Twenty years later, Lincoln County native Rickey Smith playedsecond base for the Whitworth College Patriots in 1969-70. RobertCalhoun of Bogue Chitto was the coach. Smith also played basketballfor Jack Case at Whitworth.

An independent team, the Patriots played a variety of smallcolleges on Legion Field, among them Clarke College at Newton and ateam out of New Orleans. “Most of them had Baptist affiliations,”said Smith.

Ferris Wheel Legend

Looming like a gigantic silver-spoked wheel behind the centerfield fence is the Ferris wheel, a popular ride each August duringthe Exchange Club Fair. The approximate distance from home plate tothe wheel is 400 feet. Many players have tried to hit it with abatted ball but only a few have succeeded.

According to Lance Smith, a former baseball star at Loyd Starand Mississippi College, he encountered one of those legends a fewyears ago. Sonny Clay was a member of the Frierson men’s softballteam that was loaded with semipro sluggers. Clay hit the Ferriswheel during a softball game on Legion Field.

Asked about the Ferris wheel legend, Warren said BHS graduatesLance Alworth (1958) and Donnie Foster (1982) could hit thebaseball into the Ferris wheel.

Lincoln County Youth Sports commissioner Weldon Smith said TheExchange Club went before the city several (17) years ago and “thecity deeded the baseball park to us. They already owned LoftonField which was used for B-Minor (age 7-8) games.”

Today, Legion Field is used almost exclusively for the DixieBoys Baseball League, which includes players age 13-14. They don’tknow they’re making history but they do love the game ofbaseball.