When fast-pitch was king

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Date sent: 2017/10/20 03:19:14
In an era when live summertime entertainment in small Southern towns proved scarce, one of the hot tickets in Lebanon was admission <a href=""></a> to fast-pitch softball games at Shell Oiler Park where the Oilers and some of the finest teams in the mid-South battled it out beneath the lights on a dirt infield.
Assembled by local businessman Danny Evins, who opened the first Cracker Barrel Restaurant in 1969, the Shell Oilers flourished from 1965 until 1972. The squad, which finished third in the state its first two seasons, was the first team in the Nashville area to qualify for the nationals after winning the South Atlantic Regionals in August 1971. In mid-September, they competed in the Fast Pitch Softball Championship in Springfield, Mo., where they wound up in 10th place.
Evins, who was 29 when he started the ball club, was the heart and soul of the Shell Oilers as well as its benefactor, covering all the expenses of equipment, uniforms and traveling across the country. He even built one of the finest softball fields of the day, Oiler Park, which was dedicated May 27, 1966, on Coles Ferry Pike. More than 50 years later, the site, now blacktopped, has been transformed into the parking lot for the Jimmy Floyd Center.
Season tickets for Shell Oiler home games cost $15 as the hometown boys played some 15 to 20 games in Lebanon. The facility included dressing rooms for the Oilers and their guests as well as a player lounge where athletes could slip 50 cents in a Coke machine and pull out a Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer in a long-neck bottle. For a time, the gung-ho Evins even had games broadcast live on WCOR Radio with Clyde Harville and Tilford Elkins behind the microphone.
Wilson County natives, brothers Gordon and Bruce Skeen, along with Evins, were likely the only three players who stuck with the team through its eight-year span.
Bruce Skeen, 72, one of Lebanon High School's all-time great athletes, shares a funny anecdote on the team leader, who was one of his best friends.
"Danny Evins was batting once and struck out. If the catcher missed the pitch, and there was nobody on first base, you could run to first just like in baseball. The ball got past the catcher, and everybody hollered at Danny to go to <a href=""></a> first. Well, he had gotten mixed up after his swing, and he took off for third. This confused the catcher, who threw the ball to third, and Bobby Hill, our manager, told Danny to slide, which he did, and the ump down there called him safe," said Bruce, laughing as he talked.
"Then they threw the ball to first base, and the home plate umpire called him out. Danny came into the dugout and said, 'If anybody laughs at me or says one word about that, you won't be on the team tomorrow.'"
Evins' son, Meacham, 58, was bat boy for the Shell Oilers as a lad and later had a stellar pitching career at Friendship Christian School and Tennessee Technological University.
Reflecting on childhood memories forged at Shell Oiler Park, he said, "That's where I learned to play ball, throwing softball underhanded with the players.
"Dad always had to have a project and when he did it, he was in it to win it, period," he says of his father, a right-handed pitcher, who in his prime stood 5-foot-10 and weighed 165 pounds. There were better hurlers on the team, but the senior Evins had pretty good stuff. He won 14 games and lost eight during the 1967 season as the team won 36 games and lost 13. In 1968, he threw a no-hitter against a Tullahoma team, striking out 12 in seven innings.
"He was a good pitcher. He wasn't overpowering. He was smart," said Meacham. "He had a wicked change-up. He was a deceptive pitcher and had a pretty strong arm. He was competitive, but he always was pretty humble. He knew the good pitchers and made sure they got to play. More than anything, I think he facilitated the Oilers."
While his memories as a six-year-old bat <a href=""></a> boy have faded with the years, he remembers several big nights at the ballpark when his father brought in a four-man softball team, the King and His Court, led by super pitcher Eddie Feigner. Tickets for that May 18, 1968, game went for $1.50.

Date sent: 2017/11/02 07:54:40
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