Looking Back: Good-Bye Old Friend

By Bill Traughber / Nashville Baseball Historian / Nashville Sounds | April 14, 2014 9:00 AM

This year's theme for Nashville Sounds baseball is to celebrate our "Last Cheer at Greer." The year 2014 will be the Sounds 37th and final season in historic Herschel Greer Stadium. The new ballpark in downtown Nashville is being constructed on the site of the old Sulphur Dell ballpark and scheduled to be completed before the April 2015 season.

I have two personal memories of the site on which Greer Stadium was built in 1978. The site belongs to the Metropolitan Nashville Government and was originally softball fields. There were four fields (no fences) altogether with home plate located in corners of the acreage. Four games could be played at the same time so outfielders from other games became acquainted with each other. Somewhere underneath the Greer press box was one softball field's home plate. I played a Junior Knot Hole baseball game on that field.

While standing on second base (no leads in JKH), I raced home on a hit to right field. However, I was thrown out at the plate. It would have been the tying run. After the game I was sitting in the stands behind home plate and that umpire was sitting in front of me. Someone made the comment to the ump "that sure was a close play at the plate." The umpire said my knees caused the out. He was right. I made a terrible slide with my knees up and an easy tag. I didn't get under the tag.

My second memory, this one positive, was that same year playing in the little league field behind Greer Stadium. The field was fenced and located in the present day parking lot behind the third base side near the railroad tracks. Our team was McKinnon Bridge Company and we were not very good. I think our record for the year was 3-7 (with one win a forfeit). In the first inning, I came to bat with two outs. I batted third in the line-up.

I swung at a pitch and watched it go over the left-center field fence for a solo home run. I ran as hard as I could to first base never thinking I could hit the ball over the fence. The rest of the way I proudly sported the home run jog around the bases. We took a 1-0 lead, but lost the game 21-1 thanks to the 20-run rule. That was the only home run for our team that season. So I can honestly say that I hit a dinger that would in the future, be part of Greer Stadium. And I led McKinnon Bridge Company that year in home runs (or home run).

There was a great deal of excitement when it was announced that Vanderbilt's head baseball coach Larry Schmittou was spearheading the drive to bring professional baseball back to Nashville. Nashville has a history of professional baseball that dates back to 1885 through 1963 the final year of the Nashville Vols.

I would drive out to the construction site of Greer at least once a week to see the progress. It was going to be close if the stadium would be ready for play on opening day. It was not. The home games scheduled to open the season were swapped for road games for more construction time. The first game was rained out and when the first home game was played on April 26, 1978, grading equipment was still at work earlier that day.

I was there for the first game, a 12-4 win over Savannah, and many more that season. The home opener drew a sellout crowd of 8, 156. In many games that season and beyond the outfield was roped off to accommodate more fans. A ball hit into that section was a ground rule double. Fans loved the unusual promotions that year especially "Used Car Night."

Now, Nashville baseball fans can live through that same excitement 37 years later as the new ballpark is being constructed. Not only is the Sulphur Dell site full of baseball history, recently uncovered (literally) has been evidence of Native American life with the discovery of pottery and other artifacts. At one time the site was the city cemetery with bodies moved in the 19th century.

So many players donning a Sounds uniform were motivated to make the big leagues thrilled Nashville fans with their talents. Many like: Steve "Bye-Bye" Balboni, Don Mattingly, Buck Showalter, Skeeter Barnes, Tike Redman, Brian Dayett, Chad Hermansen, Willie McGee, Bruce Fields, Scotti Madison, Paul Householder, Otis Nixon, Duane Walker, Aramis Ramirez, Drew Denson, Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Brendan Katin, Magglio Ordonez, Corey Hart, Clay Christiansen, Andy McGaffigan, Scott Ruffcorn, Stefan Weaver, Chris Hammond, R.A. Dickey, Geoff Combe, Mark Corey, Johnny Hellwig and John Wasdin who pitched a perfect game at Greer on April 7, 2003. I know I'm leaving out so many, but there have been 1,030 players that wore a Sounds uniform in 36 years.

This season "Looking Back" will focus on Greer Stadium and the Nashville Sounds history. Be sure to get one of the Nashville Sounds monthly programs; there will be five total. A five-part series on the history of the Greer Stadium and the Sounds will be included covering the early years (1978-79) through the Pirates/Brewers era (1998-2014).

Each week during the 2014 season "Looking Back" will run old interviews (and new) to bring back memories to Nashville Sounds and baseball fans. You will read interviews from George Weicker (Sounds first, first baseman), Larry Schmittou, Farrell Owens (first general manager), Brian Dayett, Buck Showalter, Stump Merrill, Chuck Goggin (Sounds first manager) and the great Skeeter Barnes.

More history will be visited with stories on Sounds championships, major league exhibitions at Greer, Sounds no-hitters, Michael Jordan roaming the outfield during an NBA break and much more including an exclusive interview with Chuck Morgan the Sounds first PA announcer. Any true Sounds' fan remembers Morgan's unique style of introducing Nashville player's plate appearances such as Gene Menees. Morgan's voice would echo past the outfield, "Now batting, No. 10, second baseman, Geeeeeeeeenoooooooo Meneeeeeeeeeeeeeees."

The Nashville baseball history book that I have written will be published next year to coincide with the new downtown ballpark. So it's play ball and give one last cheer for Greer! It will be your last chance!

If you have any comments or suggestions, contact Bill Traughber via email.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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