(My column for this week's Newton County News features memories of the late Rue Porter.)
I am sure some of those who have played or coached at the new Granby baseball/softball complex on the east side of town will draw some of their fondest memories from that facility.
But for those of us who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, the memories stem from the downtown field, the one located smack dab in a residential section. It was at that field, that I played for the Tigers in Little League, played in Pony League and Colt League, and then for 14 years played men’s baseball with the Aroma Express.
During those years, I also coached Little League, Pony League baseball, and high school girls fast pitch softball, as well as umpiring hundreds of games at the old ballpark.
Through the early years I spent at the Granby ballpark, the one constant was the lanky gentleman from across the street, who managed the summer program, ran the concession stands, and who umpired home plate for a large percentage of the games for all age groups.
My first memory of Rue Porter dates back to one of the most embarrassing things that happened to me while playing Little League. When the opposing team was lighting up all of our pitchers like Christmas trees (my only seasonal reference in this column), the Tigers’ coach, Brad Letts, decided to allow me to make my pitching debut.
As I took my warmups, my confidence grew. My fastball was coming right over the middle at about knee level on most of the opposing batters. Unfortunately, everything changed once I was facing an actual batter. My first pitch sailed far over the batter, the catcher, in fact, over everything, somehow finding a hole at the very top of the screen and bouncing across the street.
I heard the derisive laughter, not only from the opposition and those in the crowd, but some from my own teammates. I only heard two words from home plate umpire Rue Porter, sounded in his carefully modulated tone: “Ball One.”
As I walked five batters and hit three during my two-inning stint, Rue never grew exasperated, never changed his tone of voice, he just did his job and I found that oddly comforting.
Over the years, Rue Porter had a soft spot in his heart for this hot-tempered player and coach from Newtonia. Never once did he toss me from a game, though I certainly gave him reason from time to time. On the contrary, Rue actually gave me my first opportunities to umpire games, first assigning me as a base umpire, and later letting me work behind the plate, something I ended up doing for 18 years and a few Oldtimers games during Old Mining Town Days. Thanks to Rue, I had a steady source of income during the summers for many years, as I ended up working games at both Granby and Stella.
All of those memories returned when I read that Rue Porter died Saturday at age 77. Though his life was marked by many accomplishments, both at work and during his 14-year stint on the East Newton R-6 Board of Education, the memories I have of Rue all come from those days at the downtown ballpark.
For those of us who had the good fortune to play or coach there during those long-gone days, the name Rue Porter will always bring back fond memories.