Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Clearwater and Wilbur Snapp

Careless Whisper by WHAM! Was topping the charts this June. The foul year of our lord 1985. I was 10 years old the last time I stepped foot in Clearwater, FL.  The only booze I tasted was the Irish Whiskey my Mom rubbed on my gums. Life was a lot less complicated, but things change. Well most things..My voracious love for baseball has never waxed nor waned. My family was on a trip to Disney World that year, but I begged and pleaded for us to travel down I-4 to watch the Clearwater Phillies play. My Mom and Dad are the greatest and agreed to make that trip, spend a day at the beach, and then catch the game that night.

I can recall 7 of us piled into our rented Lincoln Continental Town Car. It was white and it was sweet..kinda like (oh nevermind). Clearwater Beach did not offer changing rooms or bath houses, so I can vividly recall my Aunt Gerry getting changed in the back of the car with my Mom holding up towels over the windows. She loved the water and HAD to set her feet in the Gulf atleast once. I can recall my cousin Brian floating on a raft in the Gulf and this fish jumping or ‘flying’ over him. That was enough for me, I was OUTTA THERE!

We arrived at Jack Russell very early for the game against the Osceola Astros that night. So early that we were the only 7 patrons in the park. A thirty-something ginger haired fella walked up to my Dad and they started chatting it up. I forget his name, but he was the current GM of the Clearwater team.  My Dad was telling him my name, to look out for me in about 7 years, and that I could ‘hit a speck of fly shit off of a pile of pepper grains’ . So my Dad and the GM called me over. The GM asked me if I would want to go on the field during the 7th inning and throw a baseball for a contest. I had no idea what the contest would be, but I was confident and cocky, so I said sure.

The middle of the seventh was approaching, so I made my way down towards the Phillies dugout. I was decked out in JAMS and a mesh-backed maroon Phillies cap (I was wearing mesh hats before that nutrag Kutcher). There was a wooden cutout with three holes (triple input??) being brought onto the field as well. My name was announced over the PA system and I was given three baseballs. I do not remember the prize, but the deal was the three holes were small, medium, and large and I had to try and throw the ball in whichever one I picked. My Dad had just talked me up, so I had to go for the toughest and smallest. SWISH! One through. SWISHH! Two through! And finally SWISSHHH! The kid from Philadelphia just aced the challenge. As I was leaving the mound area, the Astros pitcher gave me a high five and I felt like the coolest kid on Earth for that moment.

I remember a few players from that game: Steve DeAngelis, who was supposed to be the next big thing for the Phillies. The starting pitcher was Marvin Freeman. Wally Ritchie came in the game to pitch relief and that Ricky Jordan was on the squad and played First Base this night. It was June 25, 1985. I remember it for many reasons, but one reason made it particularly memorable. Wilbur Snapp.

Wilbur Snapp was the Clearwater Phillies organist. He was at the game bright and early and played a few songs for my brother and I. He was cool and fun and just had a neat way about him. Later that night on a particularly bad umpiring call, Wilbur played “Three Blind Mice”. I can remember laughing my ass off and thinking minor league baseball was so easy going and fun… Then I saw the umpire take off his mask and motion above the first base area, right where Mr. Snapp was, and toss him. For the first and only time in recorded baseball history, the organist was ejected. I can recall the PA announcer laughing while he said, “Wilbur Snapp, the Clearwater Phillies organist, has been EJECTED!”. The crowd of 2000 or so went wild applauding! Mr. Snapp came down from his perch at the organ and grabbed a seat in the stands. He was seen making balloon animals for any kids that came by. I went over to Mr. Snapp and had him sign my ball: Wilbur Snapp, 3 Blind Mice Organist.

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