Big right-hander plays a guitar

I thoroughly enjoyed Neil Snarr’s excellent May 26 article about Dick Mitchner, which described Dick’s baseball and musical careers. As Neil said, Dick came within a tender arm of making the Major Leagues.

Dick Mitchner has been a good friend of the Haley family for at least 60 years. I first met him when he came around our house in Port William with my brother, Jack.

They were teammates on some of the best independent baseball teams in the 1960s. Jack was a hitter. Dick was a fire-balling pitcher, but also enjoyed talking about his hitting prowess.

I told Dick recently that I talked with a mutual friend of ours, Ron Nischwitz, a few days ago. Ron pitched for the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers about the time Dick was ending his professional baseball career, but they played against each other in the esteemed Dayton AA amateur league for many years.

“I could hit Ron,” Dick said simply.

My brother, Jack, told me a story about Dick a few years ago. Jack and Dick were teammates on a local team I believe were called the Red Birds.

Surprisingly, in those days, it was common for teams throughout the area to play prison teams at the old Chillicothe Reformatory a couple of times a year. “It was a little spooky when they slammed the doors behind us, knowing there was no escape,” Jack laughed.

“The prison team had a few good players, but we knew our team was better,” Jack said. “They were competitive, but only because the umpire was half drunk and every time Dick threw a strike, the umpire called it a ball.”

“After about three innings of the umpire’s missed calls, Dick called time out,” Jack said. “I ran in from first and the catcher came to the mound.”

“I’ve had enough of this nonsense. I’m going to throw a fastball and I want you to let it go,” he told the catcher.

According to Jack, the next pitch left Dick’s hand at about 90 miles per hour. The catcher ducked and the ball hit the umpire full force on one of those old air balloon chest protectors that umpires used to wear.

The pitch hit the umpire squarely in the chest, rocking him backwards onto his back. “Hey, send a medic out here quick!” the batter-inmate said excitedly. “I think the ump is out cold!”

The combination of the heat, whiskey, and Dick’s fastball ended the umpire’s day.

Dick looked over at Jack and said with a smile, “Sorry, Jack. That one slipped.”

I was old enough to see Dick pitch just after his return from the high minor leagues. Very few locals could hit him when his arm was loose and his fastball was moving. He threw hard and his “stuff”, as they say in the Major Leagues, was tremendous. He also threw a big-league curve that kept the hitters on their heels.

Dick has always had a pleasant sense of humor. He was the manager when I pitched for Wilmington’s American Legion Post 49 baseball team.

He was full of old baseball sayings from his days in the minor leagues. On one particular Sunday I was having a difficult inning against the Sabina Legion team. “You’ve got to stop letting these guys dig in on you,” Dick said. “You have a good fastball. Start throwing at their chins for a couple of innings. You need to get their attention.”

“What if I hit them?” I asked.

“Just sneak in their kitchen and steal all their snacks,” he replied, as he left the mound.

It made me laugh, but he was right. I followed his advice, and the opposing players stopped digging in.

A month or so ago, my sister, Rita, and I were sitting in the McDonald’s restaurant at 68 and 71 eating ice cream, when Dick saw us and asked if he could join us.

“Sure, it would be our pleasure,” we answered.

As Dick sat down, he told how much he enjoyed playing music with the Back in Time Express, a group of local musicians who have gained a great deal of popularity in Clinton County and surrounding counties. Rita, Brenda, and I have heard the group many times, and they are always great.

Dick plays the guitar and also serves as the emcee for the group. His humor often surfaces as he introduces the band members, and his friendly patter continues throughout the performance.

“We have had several requests tonight, but we’re going to play anyway,” he might say.

Sometimes he might quote the late Little Jimmy Dickens who once said, “My wife just bought me a new treadmill. She doesn’t want me to lose weight, she just wants to hear me breathe hard again.”

Say goodnight, Gracie. Goodnight, Dick.

Pat Haley is a Clinton County Commissioner.

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Pat Haley

Contributing columnist