Professional baseball makes brief comeback in Selma

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 24, 2006

The following is the second story in a two-part series about the Selma Cloverleafs.

By George L. Jones

The Selma Times-Journal

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A comeback 40 years in the making was all too short for local baseball fans.

Three years ago, the return of the Selma Cloverleafs was marked with buzz that went all over Dallas County.

And almost in the blink of an eye, professional baseball disappeared much the way it did in 1962.

The circumstances were different, however. The Cloverleafs in the mid part of the century folded because of their attachment to a league that refused to include black players on its teams’ rosters.

The modern version of the team had competition that, while not as unjust, was equally stiff.

In either case, the downfall of Selma’s baseball team was a direct result of the changing of the times.

“They played their games at night, and all the youth players played at night at the same time,” Selma Parks and Recreation Director Elton Reece said. “Those young kids and their families were tied up two or three nights a week, so that was tough on them.”

Reece was instrumental in lobbying to city hall for the return of the team in 2002. He said the process to begin the team was in motion for about 18 months before the first game was played.

But baseball had already become in Selma, as was the case in most other parts of the country, a secondary pastime to more fast-paced sports.

The Black Belt is now known as a hotbed for basketball, and some of the Southeast’s most noticeable talents were produced here.

These days, little league baseball is a primary interest during the summer because thousands of players and their parents are involved.

“I imagine it would take a special person to sit for two or three hours and watch a baseball game,” said George “Cap” Swift. Even though Swift frequently fraternized with Cloverleafs players in the team’s earlier existence, he is self-admittedly not a fan of watching the game. “I could play the game, and that was just fine. I’d play catcher and play all day and wouldn’t mind that. But sitting around? No. I’d have better things to do.”

Swift’s opinion isn’t at all uncommon when considering the way the popular opinion about sports in this country has swayed.

Of the four major sports, professional football and basketball far exceed baseball and hockey in revenue, television ratings and popularity among young fans.

The advancement of technology was also a heavy competitor for the new Cloverleafs.

An article about the team in the June 2002 issue of the Montgomery Advertiser stated, “fans can watch Greg Maddux and Chipper Jones on television without having to pay a dime.”

The conflict between older fans’ nostalgia and younger fans’ perception eventually became a large barrier for the team.

“It was a blast. People really enjoyed it,” Reece said. “Whether it was the people, the economy, it just didn’t pan out. The demands the players put on the owners as far as the money available had a lot to do with it. It was new to a lot of younger people. The older people all came back to watch them play.”

In 2003, The Southeastern League asked that a $100,000 line of credit be issued to guarantee the team could finish the season.

When the owners didn’t meet that request, the league took over operations of the Cloverleafs and designated it as a traveling squad.

Selma’s minor league team played six games at Bloch Park and was gone completely by the end of the summer.

The existence of the most recent version of the Cloverleafs, although met with the same fate, was far different from that of the team in 1950s.

Jamie Wallace, who was the official scorer from 1960-61, recalled that the club was celebrated despite its struggles.

“The fan support was great,” Wallace said. “It was actually a community-owned team, and it had a board of directors. They would make a little money one year, and they might lose a little money the next. We averaged around 300-350 people per game, which for Class D ball at that time was pretty good. Selma was a pretty good baseball town.”