WMKY

'Batter Up, Baseball In Charleston’ Documentary Told Through Oral Histories

Jun 14, 2019
Originally published on June 20, 2019 9:56 pm

Batter Up, Baseball in Charleston is an audio documentary based on the memories of the people who have attended, and played in, the games over the years.

The documentary is based on oral histories recorded during FestivALL 2018. Twenty eight people sat down for 25 interviews to talk about baseball at Watt Powell Park and the new Power Park. The text of a few of the oral history excerpts are included below.


Stories in the documentary include the very first bat boy at Watt Powell Park with the Charleston Senators, tales of the Charleston Charlies in the 1970s and the advent of the Toastman -- where it came from and what it all means.

Batter Up: Baseball in Charleston looked at baseball over five different periods:

  • Early Baseball
  • The Charleston Charlies
  • The Wheelers and Alley Cats
  • The struggle for a new ballpark
  • The West Virginia Power

Early Baseball

Baseball really took off in 1949 when the city of Charleston built Watt Powell Park in Kanawha City. It was named for Walter “Watt” Powell, who managed the Charleston Senators in the 1930s and served on the city council. He convinced the city to build the park, but died shortly before it opened 70 years ago.

The opening game when the senators baseball came back to Charleston, and my dad and the whole family went to the opening game. Hoby Landreth hit a homerun and someone else hit one. Joe Biggs was the manager, Hobie Landrith was only 19 and a great prospect for the Cincinnati Reds. He did make the majors later on. But it was an exciting night. And it was a full house. I mean, we used to draw throngs of people here full stadiums all the time and maybe average 4000 or 5000 people a game. It was it was just great to see the color of the grass. To hear the horse hide meet the hickory and to see all the happenings of that,  I fell in love.

Harry Wallace

That Marlins team I was speaking of which was a triple A team for the Cardinals. That was like 61 I think and in 64 they won the World Series over the Yankees and several of the guys on that team had been on that Charleston team. Probably the most famous for not only playing but  broadcasting was Tim McCarver he was like 19 years old and the catcher for Charleston and he ended up with the Cardinals long for major league career and announcing career and there was a pitcher named Ray Washburn, which was one of their top pitchers for Cardinals for years. And they had a couple infielders named Dal Maxvill and Julián Javier who played for years with the Cardinals. They were all on that Charleston team.

Jeff Dent

The Marlins only lasted one year. The owners moved them back to Miami. In 1962, Charleston  fielded a new team known as the Charleston Indians. They played for three seasons until Charleston was left without a baseball team in 1964.

The Charleston Charlies

After nearly a decade without a baseball team, baseball returned to Charleston, West Virginia in 1971. The Charleston Charlies were a Triple A affiliate of several teams, but started out with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

I spent the year getting an autographed baseball of the Charleston Charlie's team -- Bruce Kison, Richie Zisk, Charlie Howard, Renny Stinnett. There's a lot of players on here that played up and down in the major leagues; Gary Kolb. This is all from the 1971 year, yeah, you can see the different color of pens used. May 24 1971, Charleston Charlies versus the Pittsburgh Pirates. You got Hoylman Huffman advertising on it, official scorecard $0.25 cents. And you got the regular programs. There's all kinds of they're interesting to look at from regular season. There's all kinds of ads in there. And there's actually a couple businesses that are still in business, you know, but most of them are long gone.

Terry Hess

Dave Parker was playing with the Charlies and they took someone up. And it might have been Al Oliver. I don't know. I don't remember that. But they took somebody big leagues and he got mad and went home. And so when the big shots in Pittsburgh called him and told him to get back down there he said he wasn’t coming. If he played any more ball he was going to play in the big leagues. They said, "Alright. We'll take ya," and he never came back. He played 15 maybe 18 years.

Cal Bailey

The Wheelers and Alley Cats

The Charleston Charlies moved to Maine following the 1983 season. After again going without baseball for three years, a new team arrived in Charleston in 1987. Named for the historic riverboats that plied the rivers, the Wheelers were a Single A team. In 1995, the team changed its name to the Alley Cats and continued playing in Watt Powell Park until 2004.

The 90 team, and remember, Dan Wilson was a catcher and probably the most highly touted player, one of the first games he threw someone out at second from his knees. And I said, this guy might work out okay. The 90 season was a lot of fun although I believe that was also the first season of toast man. So not everything great happens in the same year.

Phil Kabler

Speaking of the Toastman, he explained the origin story.

So somebody said you are toast. I thought, that’ll cheer because it’s, "You. Are. Toast." And so we just started saying it. And I made a little signs so people would join in. And that was 1991. And by 1992, we were doing it all the time and that's what 1992 is when we're heading back to the playoffs again. In '91 we made the playoffs,  '90 we won the championship, swept through the championship started counting down the outs at nine more outs for every game that we had a league we started doing nine more outs all the way down to one. And at one point, the hitting coach from the other team asked the Bat Boy Jason Caufield to come over and get a piece of toast. So I actually handed him around the corner and then went back to my business. Later I said, "What was that all about?" Well, he took it and he threw it in the lap of some guy who had been struggling and said, “Do you want to keep hearing about this. Or are you going to work on your swing?”

Rod Blackstone

The Fight for the New Park and Power Park

In 2003, after more than five decades of baseball, Watt Powell Park was to close its doors for good. The owners of the team wanted to build a new ballpark in Charleston. But not everyone felt the same way. Many had fond memories from the last season and last night at Watt Powell. Others dealt with the fight over the new park.

So I was, I guess, kind of the leader of a vocal group that was advocating for keeping the park where it is. Now, in hindsight, I still in my heart believe that with less money that the old park could have been rehabbed and it could have become a kind of interesting mix of history and new updated facility, you know. But given that, I'm really glad that the new park ended up where it is, you know, in midtown. Because there were some discussions about other locations that would have put it further west. I just can't imagine myself going to ball games driving from Charleston out there to go to a ball game. So I'm glad it ended up where it is, and it is a nice facility.

Russ Young

When it came time to play the first game in the new park, some minds were changed.

We were totally against closing down the ballpark. Totally, totally, totally against it until I stepped in to Power Park for the first time. In less than 30 seconds I went, “I was wrong. This is awesome.” You know, things change, you know I missed the nostalgia of Watt Powell of course, but there are so many more pluses now because of Power Park.

Danny Boyd

In 2005, safely at home in the new ballpark, the team changed its name to the West Virginia Power. They hoped to represent the entire state, not just the city of Charleston.

For many fans, baseball is the basis for lifelong memories, remembering time with family or friends, special moments watching the game.

Baseball is about the players and the friends you make. I just love the game, the way it's played. I love batting, I love fielding and I love everything about the game. I would rather watch it live than I would on TV because you get the atmosphere of the ballpark and everything.

Gene Barker

Batter Up, Baseball in Charleston includes 25 interviews with 28 different people. They took time out of their own schedules to record their interviews. They are (listed in the order the interviews took place):

  • Alan Fleishman
  • Terry Haas
  • Jim Strawn
  • Phil Kabler
  • Rod Blackstone
  • Danny Boyd
  • Terry O’Fiesh
  • Mike Shock Jr.
  • Charles Morris
  • Russ Young
  • Danny Jones
  • Charles Houck
  • Jeff Dent
  • Jim Berner
  • Cal Bailey
  • Mike Shock Sr.
  • Robin and Jason Black
  • Lyle Sattes
  • Harry A Wallace III
  • Jim Workman
  • Gary Kolb/Lisa Hughes
  • Gene Barker and Karl Priest
  • Dick Noel
  • Andy Richardson
  • Jason Caufield

Each of these complete recordings will be housed at the West Virginia Archives and History Library, West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History for public access, along with the other oral histories recorded as part of FestivALL.

This project was made possible with support from FestivALL, a city becomes a work of art; The West Virginia Archives and History Library, West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History; Ray, Winton and Kelley PLLC; and West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

Organ music courtesy of Matt Jackfert. Baseball crowd sounds were recorded at Power Park in Charleston, West Virginia. Roxy Todd edited the script and Patrick Stephens mixed the sound.

Copyright 2019 West Virginia Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit West Virginia Public Broadcasting.