I imagine most local people either know or have heard about musician Dick Mitchener. He is a very local person when it comes to music, but not when it comes to sports.
He was born in New Burlington — in Greene County at the edge of Clinton County — where he lived on a farm with his family equipped with neither running water nor electricity until he was 13. In that context, he came to know the natural world – fishing, hunting and to some degree the ability to live off the land. He certainly learned to respect hard work and others.
Technically, he was what has been referred to as a “birth-right Quaker”, born into the Friends Church at New Burlington. He continues to worship and contribute to the Chester Friends Meeting.
Dick’s current passion is music. He played with the Original Country Gentlemen, recording with Baron Records which is still available on YouTube. He then worked with the Sunny Siders and owned half interest in a music store in Hillsboro – D & J Music. He also played in Florida in the winters with two groups, The Sunshine Boys in the Keys and with Four Thornes and a Rose in Okeechobee.
Locally, he performs with Back in Time Express and currently on Mondays and Fridays working with the Wires and Wood Band at the Highland County Senior Center.
He will be available at the Chester Friends Meeting Strawberry Festival on June 17 at 4 p.m.; all are invited!
Baseball, however, I find most interesting and spectacular for a boy raised in a very rural area of southern Ohio. This may be because I had several experiences with the sport myself.
Dick graduated from Spring Valley High School in 1952 where he played basketball, baseball and track all four years.
“Baseball became an opportunity during my senior year and Major League scouts were watching me as I pitched for the Optimist Club in Dayton,” he said.
He was invited to several Major League parks to try out, including Crosley Field in Cincinnati, Cleveland Stadium and Tiger Stadium in Detroit. Out of these invitations he was finally offered contracts by 11 of the 16 major league teams.
He ultimately signed with the Cleveland Indians via General Manager Hank Greenburg in the fall of 1952. He ended up with the Daytona Beach Islanders pitching every fifth night for a total of 250 innings. His record was 19-10, second in the league in strikeouts.
Next, he was with the Spartanburg Peaches in South Carolina in the Tristate League. He was in the pitching rotation all season with good strikeout and ERA numbers, but not impressive win/loss figures.
In 1955, he found himself in Sherbrooke, Quebec where he led the league in strikeouts and innings pitched.
In November, he received word from the Baltimore Orioles that they had secured his contract and were sending him to San Antonio, Texas. In the meantime, however, he was to play winter ball in Colombia, South America.
Following the Latin trek, he spent a short time in the Sally League in Columbus, Georgia, after which he was sent to Lubbock, Texas in the Big State League. Most of that season found him nursing a sore elbow – he spent three weeks on the disabled list. Being examined by an Orioles physician in Phoenix, the prognosis was not good.
“He could fix it, but couldn’t say how it would heal,” he said.
For sure he would be out of baseball for an entire season.
He was offered a contract by the Orioles, but declined to sign. Thus, his professional baseball career came to an end. He could still pitch, but not as effectively.
For years, he pitched for Sewell Motor Express in Dayton, making the all-star team each year, and he was elected to the Dayton Pro-Am Hall of Fame in 1987.
It would take another paper of equal length to cover the successes Dick experienced in tennis, golf, etc., but it seems he has not slowed down very much. At 82 he plays several rounds of golf each week, never tires of talking baseball (I could have included the many outstanding and well-known professional baseball players he mixed with) and playing music.
To alter a well-known quote from World War II, “Old baseball players never die, they just fade into music.”
Neil Snarr is Professor Emeritus at Wilmington College.