Remembering ‘special’ players

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Selma Times-Journal

The days of Class D minor league baseball are long gone, something Clint Chafin and Sam Ezell know all too well.

Chafin’s father, Bobbie, was a pitcher for the Griffin, Ga., team in the Georgia-Florida League in 1949.

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Ezell was the scorekeeper for the Alabama-Florida League’s Selma Cloverleafs in the 1960s.

Chafin is trying to make sure every player, owner, umpire or anyone otherwise affiliated with southern Class D ball has the chance to reconnect by attending the seventh annual Alabama-Florida League reunion in Moultrie, Ga.

The reunion began under the direction of Scott Parks, primarily as an event for AFL players. Chafin took over in 2001 as a tribute to his late father. Since then, players from Georgia have been included as well.

“The stories are definitely the best thing about the reunion,” Chafin said. “They didn’t make a lot of money, and you hear how hard they play. They would sit in the dugout filing their spikes. And if you ask a pitcher if he ever beaned anyone, he’ll tell you no. But you can look at their records and tell they were brushing back a lot of batters.”

Ezell has never been to a reunion and only recently learned they were being held.

His fondest memories are of watching future major league players and managers like Lou Piniella, Bo Belinsky, Buddy Kerr and Larry “Moose” Stubing.

“I think it would be great to renew old acquaintances and see some of the people I haven’t seen in a while,” Ezell said.

The reunion will be held Aug. 10-11 at the Colquitt County Ag Building. Over the years, it has picked up steam and gotten the backing of the Minor League Baseball Alumni Association, Museum of Colquitt County History and Colquitt County Chamber of Commerce.

This year’s guest speaker will be former AFL umpire David Chafin, who Clint says is no relation.

The first day’s event will include a golf tournament, home run derby and dinner.

“Of course, no one hits a home run,” Clint Chafin said. “All these guys are in their 70s. The oldest guy we had last year was 94. But it’s fun to watch them try.”

Ezell still speaks with a hint of sadness at the way professional baseball in Selma came to an end.

Racial politics took its toll on teams all over the South, and resistance to black players led AFL president Bill Moore to shut the league down in 1963.

“There was a certain segment of the people that didn’t think they wanted to see blacks play at the baseball park,” Ezell said. “I think that’s a cop out. I think (Cloverleafs owners) Earl Ellzey and Earl Goodwin would have done everything they could to keep a team here. But the values are different today. Kids would rather stay inside and play games. And moms, dads, aunts, uncles and grandparents are spread all over the place watching little league games.

“It may have been handwriting on the wall that Bill Moore killed it.”

Chafin feels discussions about the former ball players have been dormant far too long.

His mission is a simple one – to make sure men like his father live in other people’s memories.

“I really started this as a memorial to my dad, and I also wanted to say to these guys, ‘You haven’t been forgotten,” Chafin said. “How much longer it can last, I don’t know. With the ages of the players I’m dealing with, probably not much longer. But I want them to know they’re special.”