February 25, 2014
Yesterday, I hit the wall for coverage on the next signature of "The 66 Kid." I thought I had enough info and photographs to cover the section on my Little League career, but when it came time to do the layouts, I realized I was sorely mistaken. What to do?
Ray "Buns" Bonham of Flagstaff showed up at the True West World Headquarters this morning with a suitcase full of all the missing Little League photos and newsclippings. In addition to being my Kingman All Stars teammate, Ray has it all, including the actual Northern Arizona Little League Tournament program:
So, looking through his clippings I was able to patch this storyline together for the book:
The Northern Arizona Little League Championship In Flagstaff (1959)
When I was 11, and an all star alternate, I didn't play one single inning. I hated riding the bench. In my last year of eligibility I was determined to give my last year everything I had to not only make the team but to play as well as I could. I had a very good coach, Frank Esquibel, who taught me the finer points of drag bunting and when the All Star practices began he coached me on how to get an extra step towards first base.
On July 27, 1959, we traveled to the big city—Flagstaff—by car caravan. I rode with Ray Bonham, Chuck Petkovitch and our driver was hitting coach, "Jonesy," who worked the bug detail at the inspection station on north 93. We landed at the biggest and best hotel in Flagstaff, The Weatherford. I had never stayed in a hotel before. When we got to our room on the second floor, Jonsey told Ray and I we could use anything he had but we weren't allowed to use his toothbrush. Although I made a mental note about this, I think he was joshing. Jonsey also had little pebbles he would carry and he would give them to certain players to put in their back pockets to help them play better. Alan Tapija had a great tournament and he had Jonsey's little pebble in his left-back-pocket for every game.
We weren't in the hotel for very long before Chuck Petkovich and another kid from our group threw a water balloon out the second story window, right outside our room, drenching a man and woman going to a business meeting. They were wearing business attire and were not happy. The hotel staff responded quickly and kicked everyone from Kingman out on the street. We ended up at a flea bag hotel on Route 66 just east of San Francisco.
Things went better on the playing field. In our first game, we defeated Holbrook 7 to 3 Tuesday afternoon. Skip Davis started as pitcher for Kingman but was relieved by Wendell Havatone in the second inning. According to the Mohave Miner, Skip's arm "tightened up in the mile-high dampness and he was removed to prevent injury coaches said." The Miner also reported, the "game started at 2 p.m. but was called after two and one-half innings of play at 2:50 p.m. because of rain. Play resumed at 4:40 p.m." Wendell Havatone had two hits with Robert Bell, Ray Bonham, Paul Torres and Heber Nelson each getting one apiece."
We advanced to play Page. Ray Bonham was the pitcher going the distance, striking out 10 and giving up one walk. Quoting the Miner again: "Kingman jumped off to a two run lead in the first inning when Allen Tapija bunted and was safe. Robert Bell bunted and was safe on a fielder's choice, and Leroy Bender walked."
"Tapija and Bell scored on pass balls before the side was retired."
"In the big fourth inning, Skip Davis walked and Stephen McLendon was safe on an infield error. Then Tapija walked to load the bases. Robert Bell singled sharply to right scoring Davis. . .Havatone then singled to score Tapija and Bell."
I have never been so successful on any playing surface in my lifetime and no newspaper reporting in my lifetime has ever mentioned me so prominently, or so successful on the field of dreams. According to one of my coaches, Floyd Cisney, I was the team's leading hitter at the tourney, batting 670. True, I achieved this mostly by bunting and being fast, but still, I'll take it. This was truly the top of the roller coaster for my sports career. We beat Winslow in the final and the game was broadcast live on KAAA to the folks back home. We weren't told about the broadcast to keep our nerves down, which was probably a good idea.
When we got home the team's leading players were asked to show up for the photo op in a vacant lot across from Valley Bank the next day. The select crew, myself included, showed up for our starring moment but there was a slight problem. Leroy Bender showed up with Allen Tapija and, although he was a player on our team, he hadn't been asked to be in the photo. Rather than tell him he couldn't be in the photo, Leroy stepped into the photo and is there for all time, simply because he showed up. That is so Kingman, and I learned another lesson: so you weren't invited to the big dance?
"Just show up at the dance and you'll be surprised how often you get asked to dance."
—Good Ol' Ben Rux