Looking Back 16 Years Ago To The Day
June 17, 1994.
ESPN, in its 30 For 30 documentary series, found the date to be worthy of its own show. It was, among other things, the date pro football hall of famer O.J. Simpson led America on a slow-speed chase in a white Ford Bronco, the chief suspect in the slaying of his wife and a friend.
It’s one of those stories you can’t forget, one that was big enough for most people to remember exactly where they were when it was going on.
I recall exactly where I was – Watt Powell Park in Charleston, playing in the West Virginia Class AAA state championship game against Logan as part of an underdog run with the Brooke Bruins on none other than my 18th birthday.
First, a little back story. High school baseball was still being played in the middle of June that year because John Marshall, then a regional foe of Brooke’s, had a measles outbreak, which shut the tournament down for two weeks state-wide.
Brooke’s sectional foes 16 years ago were Weir and a Chris Enochs-led Oak Glen team before both dipped to Class AA. After surviving that sectional despite a sub-.500 record, then beating John Marshall and Clarksburg Liberty in the regional, we were headed to the state tournament to play DuPont in the state semifinal.
On that team was Randy Moss in center field (it was the only year he played baseball; he was first-team all-state), Bobbie Howard, a future Notre Dame captain and NFL linebacker (Chicago Bears), and Sam Singleton, a 7th-round draft pick of the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1995 MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Those three, along with future NBA star Jason Williams, represented as much talent at one school as the state had seen in years.
Well, Perry West’s Bruins beat them with Chris McCoy hitting a home run, helping his team into the state title game. (If you remember Watt Powell Park, it was huge. Not many high school kids hit home runs there).
Because it was a night game, none of us had heard anything about O.J. Simpson. We were trying to become a state championship team with what would have been an 18-18 record, had we won.
In one of the early innings, we trailed 3-2 when Jimmy Sperlazza, a future Presidents’ Athletic Conference scoring champion in basketball and a fast-rising high school and college football official today, reached base ahead of a walk to pitcher Chad Robinson.
Sperlazza had already advanced to third when I replaced Robinson as a courtesy runner. (Don’t laugh. I didn’t see you there). Anyway, Sperlazza and I immediately combined on a double steal. They threw all the way to second, but I beat the play while Sperlazza broke for the plate. He scored easily to tie the game, as the ball got by the catcher, allowing me to take third (the slide causing a strawberry women and children didn’t want to see). Two pitches later, I scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch. Seriously. This newspaper has the details, though they were sketchy. The writer failed to note the courtesy runner and credited Robinson with the whole thing).
Still, we were leading 4-3 and about to make some serious history.
But two things were working against us. Robinson, the team’s starting shortstop and one of its best pitchers (now an attorney in Dallas, Texas), had developed a blister on his pitching hand and wasn’t going to be able to go long. And in the first inning, Rick Vincent, one of the valley’s finest relief pitchers that season, wasn’t available because he’d been tossed for arguing a third-strike call in the first inning as a designated hitter.
It remains one of only two instances where I’ve seen an umpire toss a kid in 20 years of watching high school baseball; the only time I’ve seen it in the roughly eight state tournaments I’ve covered since.
We went on to lose, 9-4, with Logan using the bunt as a weapon like no team had before or since.
And, remarkably, a baseball program that played for state titles twice from 1991 to 1994 hasn’t had a winning season since 1993.
Last fall, during Hall of Fame night at a Brooke football game, I talked to Perry West about that night and that game. His memory was spot-on, the details incredible.
He remembered the ejection, the blister, the car chase. I forgot to ask him if he remembered it was my birthday.
June 17, 1994. O.J. was riding down the road. Arnold Palmer was playing in his final U.S. Open. The World Cup was starting. And an underdog Brooke baseball team almost pulled off the unthinkable.
Where were you?
Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org