This is the final in a series of articles on the 2017 Class of the Clinton County County Sports Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame induction ceremony and dinner will be held 5:30 p.m. June 15 at the Expo Center on the Clinton County Fairgrounds. The doors will open at 5 p.m. The Wilmington News Journal Clinton County Scholar-Athlete Award also will be presented June 15. Cost is $25 paid at the door the night of the event. Call the News Journal office to make reservations. NEXT UP: The big night.
If you scroll through the records of the Blanchester High School baseball teams, or any other athletic squad for that matter, you won’t find the name of Rodney “Butch” Whitaker.
Whitaker never played an organized sport for BHS. He graduated in 1963.
Yet he is one of the most decorated alumni ever produced by the school in southwest Clinton County.
Whitaker tried out for the baseball team his freshman year. However, while retrieving a foul ball at what is now the Veterans Memorial Park facility, Whitaker was struck down by a sharp pain in his chest.
“I went to my knees,” he said.
An immediate medical check proved inconclusive but the doctor thought Whitaker was having issues with his heart.
“What I probably had was indigestion, not heart trouble,” Whitaker said as he reflected on the incident.
Rather than take a chance, Whitaker didn’t continue with the tryout. A few weeks later, a medical followup determined the issue was not with Whitaker’s heart, but he never went back out for the team.
“I can’t recall being disappointed not getting to play,” he said.
That’s because Whitaker did play ball. Nearly every day when he had the opportunity.
“When I was 12, I’d go down the road to church and play on the church softball team,” Said Whitaker, who grew up in the Edenton area before moving into Blanchester on Main Street during high school. “(When the weather cooperated) every day five or six of us kids would get together and choose up sides and play ball all day.”
When he was by himself, Whitaker would swing whatever he could get his hands on — a pick handle or shovel handle — and hit rocks.
“I would swing at a lot of things,” he said. “I developed a good swing by trial and error.”
Whitaker took his fierce swing to the slow-pitch softball arena and became one of the best hitters Clinton County has ever produced. Though he never had any formal coaching, Whitaker can point to several things that more than likely propelled him to such lofty status with a softball bat in his hands.
“My dad gave me a wooden bat, that was really too big for me, so that probably helped me develop power,” he said.
In addition, Whitaker worked on the railroad where he did plenty of digging and climbing on poles, two jobs that helped improve his arm and leg strength.
“You get a lot of power from your legs,” he said.
Whitaker worked for a year with the railroad but went through three lay-offs. Following the third time, Whitaker decided to look into the military. He first went to a Navy recruiting office in Wilmington but the recruiting officer was not there so he turned to the Air Force. He wanted to be involved with military police.
However, the Air Force needed radar operators, so Whitaker went that route instead. When he got out after four years, he returned to work with the railroad and was quickly promoted.
Aside from his employment growth, Whitaker found physical growth at that time. He weighed 160 in high school, 164 when he went into the service and 215 when he got out.
And he didn’t lose his ability to hit a softball. After many successful years as one of the top power hitters in the game — and a stint as the only Clinton County product to play professional softball with the Cincinnati Suds — Whitaker was again felled by a medical issue. This one for real. In 1984 he had triple bypass surgery at the age of 39.
The open heart surgery only slowed Whitaker, it didn’t stifle him. Later Whitaker hit a home run at 70 years of age in the Yesterday’s Kids League.
But from the ages of 30 to 45, Whitaker averaged more than 130 home runs per season. He finished his career with more than 3,000 home runs (a safe estimate) and 37 home run trophies.
Whether it was as a softball player or the 24 years he was a volunteer coach with the Blanchester High School softball team, Whitaker was honored by all the victories, trophies and newspaper write-ups but gave credit where he believes credit was due.
“I just give God all the credit. For my swing to come out that good, without a coach to teach me, all good things come from above and with that I would say I have been truly blessed,” he said. “Our talent is God’s gift to us and what we do with that talent is our gift to Him.”
Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, or on Twitter @wnjsports