As most of you know, I am a true baseball fanatic. My dad taught me the game in 1952 when I was nine years old. We watched the Chattanooga Lookouts play many times that season, and names like Clary, Oravetz, Verble and DiJohnson became etched in my memory forever. I admired all of those guys, but Roy Hawes was my favorite. He was our first baseman, he led the team in home runs, and he became my hero.
I was sad to hear from David Carroll that Roy had died at the age of 91. Many wonderful memories flooded my brain: the long fly balls over the right field fence at Engel Stadium; the unfortunate strikeouts (of which there were many); the friendship with Roy in his later years.
In 2003 I wrote a column for the Chattanooga Times Free Press about my first meeting with Roy. I offer it here as a tribute to one of the most popular Lookouts who ever donned the uniform.
Roy Hawes, my childhood hero (Chattanooga Times Free Press, 2003)
On a whim last week, I decided that 51 years is enough. I made plans to meet a childhood hero.
It was with a sense of trepidation that I called Roy Hawes and asked if we could meet for lunch. When I was a lad of nine, Hawes was a larger-than-life figure, a towering first baseman for the Lookouts who sent many a baseball rocketing over the right field fence into the railroad yard behind Engel Stadium.
I wasn’t sure how to greet my idol after all those years. The sight of him made me feel like a kid again, and something inside told me I ought to say, “Golly, gee, Mr. Hawes. May I have your autograph?”
But I merely shook his hand and sat down at a table to listen to some wonderful tales of baseball in the 1950’s.
Hawes, who has lived in Ringgold, Ga., since his playing days ended, looks much younger than his 77 years.
“I try to stay busy,” Hawes said. “I think that’s the secret. I work every day, play a lot of golf and often do Western-style square dancing.”
Take that statement about work literally. Hawes owns and operates a trophy business in Ringgold and then drives to Ft. Oglethorpe on Saturday and Sunday mornings to serve as breakfast manager at the Golden Corral Restaurant.
I asked Hawes if he hits the golf ball as far as he used to hit those home runs in Engel Stadium.
“I hit it a long way,” he said. “But I have a heck of a time trying to find it.”
Hawes played professional baseball for 14 years, including six years with the Chattanooga Lookouts. He was called up to Washington for a cup of coffee in 1951 (one hit in six at-bats), but never got another chance to play in the majors.
My first year of following baseball was 1952, the year the Lookouts won the Southern Association pennant. Hawes hit a prodigious home run the first time I saw him play that year, and naturally he was immediately my hero. He hit 19 more that season and led the team in homers.
“Playing on that championship team is one of my fondest memories,” Hawes said. “You know, (manager) Cal Ermer always said that several of us on that team would have made it to the majors if they had the same number of teams then that we have now.”
Two special moments stood out as Hawes reminisced about his career.
“I never will forget hitting three triples in one game,” he said. “All three rolled up the Lookouts sign in deep center.” Deep center at Engel Stadium was 450 feet from home plate.
He will never forget his wedding night. He and his wife were married in Ringgold in the afternoon, and Hawes came straight to the park for a night game. Fans cheered as he came to the plate with the score tied in the bottom of the ninth.
“I’m sure I had some divine help with this one,” he said. “I hit a long home run over the right field fence to win the game than then raced over to the first base stands to kiss my wife. It was a great moment.”
The fans were so appreciative of his feat that they took up a collection after the game.
“I guess I was making only about $500 a month,” Hawes said. “They passed the hat and I collected about three weeks’ salary that night.”
His brief stint in the majors was in itself remarkable, in that Hawes jumped from a class D league in 1950 to the big leagues at the end of the ’51 season.
“I got a hit in my first at-bat in the majors,” he said, “and I stumbled going to first base. I guess my feet were going faster than my brain.”
Hawes went to spring training with Washington in 1952 and experienced a thrill when the club went to Sarasota to play the Boston Red Sox.
“Mickey Grasso took me under his wing when I was with the Senators,” Hawes said. “That day he said he wanted me to meet someone. So he took me into the Red Sox clubhouse and introduced me to an old friend of his, Ted Williams.
“What a thrill it was to watch Williams hit those screamers to right field. And I also got to see Joe DiMaggio play his last game.”
As those sweet memories cascaded across the decades, I thought of my childhood, my Lookouts and my heroes. I finally had a chance to say thanks to one of them.
E-mail Ray Deering at email@example.com