The tributes to former Nevada Daily Mail Sports Editor Kelly Bradham, who died Tuesday after a long illness, reminded me of the first time I met him, slightly over 30 years ago.
It was July 4, 1978, and Coach Lew Ross' Lamar Senior Babe Ruth team was playing in a tournament at Nevada. That team, as fans from that era will remember, was a joy to watch with pitchers Jerry Freeman and Rick Scarberry, catcher Tim Oeltjen, Dayne Shoff, rifle-armed right fielder Bennie Cochran, and slick fielding speedster Jackie Bryan, among others.
I had no idea when I drove over to Nevada where the ballpark was, so I stopped at one of the few gas stations that was open on the holiday (this was before every street corner had a convenience store) and as I got out of the car to ask directions, my thumb did not follow getting stuck in the door. Somehow I got it open, walked up to the man standing by the pumps and received directions. After he told me how to get to the ballpark, I wrapped a handkerchief around the thumb, knotted it, and headed to the ballpark.
Unfortunately, the Lamar Senior Babe Ruth team did not do much better than I did that day, losing its game, though time has erased from my memory who the team was playing.
What I do remember was the incident with Jerry Freeman and the Nevada home plate umpire. With seemingly no reason to do so, the umpire kicked Jerry, one of the top players on the team, out of the game. When Lew Ross asked Jerry what had happened, Jerry said he had yawned. The umpire told Lew that Jerry had "yawned abusively," the only time in 22 years of sports writing that I had the opportunity to use that phrase.
I barely had the chance to talk to Kelly Bradham that day, but I soon learned that his legendary devotion to Nevada, was not limited to its athletes, but also to its umpires.
Being a smartaleck 22-year-old, in the next day's paper, I wrote a limerick that would have made Henry Wadsworth Longfellow roll over in his grave. As best as I can remember, it went like this:
There once was an ump from Nevada.
who players and coaches were fraida,
The players and coaches would come,
and he'd give them the thumb,
and he'd laugh and he'd say, "See you later."
Kelly took offense at this meanspirited depiction of the umpire who had tossed Jerry Freeman for "yawning abusively," and whipped Nevada into a frenzy the following day over this upstart reporter from Lamar who had besmirched the reputation of a Nevada umpire.
Now, Kelly defended the reputation of the Nevada umpire, but that didn't stop him from greeting me warmly the next time he saw me at a game, the Silver Tiger football game between Lamar and Nevada that fall.
When I approached him before the game, he quickly took up where we left off. "Did our people let you have it over that poem?" he asked, showing concern.
"A little bit," I admitted.
He paused for quite a while, then smiled and said, "Serves you right."
That was the last good moment for Kelly that night, as Coach Chuck Blaney's Lamar football team brought the Silver Tiger back to Barton County.
Kelly was never happy when his Nevada teams lost. He was one of a kind.