By: Paige Cline
Back in the heyday of mining towns, the Sunday afternoon entertainment was at the local ball diamond.
The Wyoming County town of Kopperston was no exception. They were always smack dab in the middle of the competition for baseball superiority in the southern coalfields.
The quest for bragging rights was so keen that most companies would take into consideration the baseball skills of a job applicant when they hired a new employee. Many were even recruited.
The main reason Kopperston was in the thick of competition was a baseball-loving superintendent. As much as he loved the game, it seemed he wanted his team and his camp to be recognized as the best in all aspects. Ball was one of them.
Cleo Short (I don’t know what his full name was made no secret of the fact that he wanted the best players and the best team around. Every Sunday they had to play amazingly talented teams from every coal town in Raleigh and Boone Counties.
Very good teams from places like Amigo, Helen, Summerlee, Wharton and many others all played for the pride of their camps every Sunday. And if you didn’t have the good players you were left behind. That was unacceptable at Kopperston.
The idea was to win, and toward that end, Cleo Short had to prove that good players could also be good coal miners.
One Sunday in June I was in Kopperston for a doubleheader. All during the first game there was talk in the crowd about some new young players who had played for Marshall and were not available until the semester was over. Colleges back then, unlike today, were in session well after the high schools were done.
Anyway, the new guys were i the lineup for the second game. The names ! remember were a catcher named Hoskins and a burly guy by the name of Dick Roberts. Hoskins got an base and Roberts came to bat. He got a couple of strikes on him and appeared to be overmatched. When a high hard one came over, Roberts took his all-arms swing and I don’t know if they have found that baseball yet.
After baseball, Dick Roberts went on to become a valuable figure in the West Virginia coal industry.
In the early fifties, Kopperston hired an ex-major leaguer as a worker and to manage the baseball team. Many of the fans didn’t realize that it was not just any former big league player that they had. Earl Webb was a record holder.
Earl was born in 1897 in Bon Air, Tennessee. He broke into the major leagues in 1925 with the then New York Giants. In the season of 1931, while playing for the Boston Red Sox, he hit 67 doubles, a record that still stands. And the season was like 154 games back then.
Webb played hi last major league game on Oct, 1,1933. He had a very respectable lifetime batting average of .306.
Earl Webb died in 1965 in Jamestown, Tenn. True baseball fans will forever remember Earl, not just for his major league exploits, but for the time he spent in the hills of southern West Virginia helping his coal town build pride in itself and its baseball team.
And for giving young admirers like myself memories of a legend playing and managing a proud ball team on a field beside the highway.
A boy couldn’t ask for more than that, back when we were growin’ up.