This will appear in the Farmerville Gazette, Farmerville, Louisiana.
Last week we discussed friends and how we have a tendency to become complacent with old friendships until we finally lose touch. Some are fortunate enough to make special group friendships and over time these bonds grow into a band of brothers. It could be a military unit or a sports team or a social group as depicted in the movie St Elmoe’s Fire. Years ago one of these groups came together as a softball team that expected to last a couple of years but continued for over twenty.
ARAMCO has its corporate center in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. One major pass time in the 1970s, 80s and 90s for the families was softball. So popular was the sport that there were two seasons, spring and fall. In 1981 the Offshore Trash softball team disbanded and several players were determined to put together a team of individuals that not only had the ability to play the sport but also got along well with each other. In the spring of 1982 The 3rd Street Blues took to the field. Named for the street where the new ball field was located coupled with the hit show name Hill Street Blues, the team began play and the camaraderie was formed.
The team expanded and played in both the Dhahran league and the Al Khobar league. Many players were playing 120 games a year and the families were becoming one large family. Team cookouts occurred and there were even team Halloween parties. The player’s children were in school together and they would meet at the park with their mothers in the evenings to enjoy the ball games.
In 1983 the team flew to Bahrain and won the first Bahrain Invitational Tournament and thus international play for the team began. A year later the team was invited to participate in the Dubai tournament. The team was brought in on construction visas; tourists were not allowed then so the team was basically smuggled in and went undefeated. The next year the Dubai government allowed teams from around the Arabian Gulf to attend and the Mid-East Championship game was born. The Blues got sponsorship from Pan Am; the airline would pay for the uniforms and the team became the Dhahran Clippers. Husbands and wives would go to Dubai and enjoy the experience and many wives played on girl’s teams.
There was some amazing play on the field for the spectators to enjoy. A ball would be caught in center field and the runner tagging on third would be put out at home. Contact was allowed at home plate and on various occassions the Clipper catcher would be hit so hard that he was knocked into the back stop but never lost the ball. The pitcher had broken his neck twice playing football in high school. There were times that after a game he would walk off the mound and go straight to the local hospital for a shot of Demerol. His migraines were so intense that he was almost blind.
Players would come and go but the core team remained in place. Children grew and left for school but the games continued and the parents continued to play. The players were becoming living proof that age is more a state of mind and not solely chronologic. In 1990 Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and a whole new set of teams arrived on the scene. The average age of the Clippers was 39. Military teams proclaimed, “You guys are as old as my father. You aren’t supposed to play like this”. No one had told the Clippers this so the players never realized they were aging. The team was never defeated by the military and wins came at the hands of the Navy Seals, the 82nd Airborne Battalion Championship Team, the USS LaSalle and several other units from the Air Force and Army. Average age of the military teams was early 20s. In 93 the Clippers went to Jakarta to play in the Southeast Asian games and in the competition to race around the bases the two fastest players at the tournament were both Clippers in their 40s. A few years later a fifty year old player was selected as the MVP of the Egyptian Invitational Tournament.
This year the last Clipper left Arabia. Mark Tucker turned the lights out and left behind quit a legacy; and what a legacy it is: 50 National and International Championships, 8 second places and 7 third places.
Fortunately the players have stayed in touch and a reunion is in the works.