Baseball in Ashland during the 1960s meant one thing: Winning.
As in championships.
As in state championships, as in plural.
As in dynasty.
During my baby sportswriting years, I was taught to never overuse two words — legendary and dynasty. Save them for the real special, my wise mentor, the late Mike Reliford, often told me.
I can still hear Mike’s words and I never write those two words without thinking hard about it. They are to be used for special occasions, special players and coaches and special teams.
So before even writing the words, I ask myself:
Is it legendary?
Is it really a dynasty?
Ashland baseball during the run from 1965-69 is about as close to a high school dynasty as anyone could possibly get. They won 111 games and three state championships that were bookended by a final four appearance and a runner-up finish.
No high school team in Kentucky history has ever matched that achievement. PRP has the three championships in a row but not the bookends.
Without question and, the more I’ve learned about that era of players in Ashland, the more I’m convinced that not only was it a dynasty but there were some legendary players, too.
It’s not surprising that dynasty and legendary go together. Dynasties don’t happen without legends.
Major league baseball had the New York Yankees.
The National Football League had the Green Bay Packers.
Kentucky high school baseball had the Ashland Tomcats.
One of my next personal projects will be a book on the 1965-69 era of Ashland baseball titled “Tomcat Dynasty.” I’ve already been working with several of the players from that era on interviews and, thanks to legendary historian Curtis Crye (yes, you read that right, legendary), I now have a copy of everything the Ashland Daily Independent (you read that right, too, we were the ADI back then) wrote on the subject of Tomcat baseball from that five-year span.
In August, many of the players who no longer live around here will be coming to town for the CP-1 Reunion. It will be the weekend of Aug. 23-24. On Aug. 23, which is a Friday, there will be a reception at the Elks Lodge for those players and their families from that golden era of Tomcat baseball. I’m looking forward to not only meeting some of them for the first time but having the chance to interview them for this project. By the way, contact Bill Lynch (606-694-0029) or Mike Smith (firstname.lastname@example.org or 606-571-6913) if you’re coming.
Ashland’s baseball story starts with the beginning of Little League in 1955. These players, who later made Ashland Title Town in the Kentucky high school baseball world, came up through a system that not only taught them how to play well but how to win whenever they stepped on the field.
It was second nature to them. They really never thought anybody was going to beat them. It is that kind of mentality that produces multiple state champions.
They honed their skills on Little League diamonds with some of the greatest youth coaches this area has ever seen starting with the late Jim Stewart, who coached the Tigers in the Ashland American Little League. He led some of those All-Star teams to unmatched heights, too, including back-to-back state championships in 1963 and 1964.
The ’63 All-Stars came within one game, a 6-3 loss to Texas, of making it to Williamsport for the Little League World Series.
Any of the Ashland players who ever had the honor of playing under Stewart – either on one of his Tiger teams or on an All-Star team – credit him for their development.
You came away from Ashland American and Ashland National with the fundamentals of the game being second nature. Nobody had to re-teach anything to these players.
The late Jack Lynch, who coached the Cubs in the National League, is another name that seems to pop up a lot. His oldest sons, Billy and Bobby Lynch, were instrumental in Ashland’s monumental run during the five-year dynasty.
Billy was a fireballing lefty on the ’65 and ’66 teams (He was in the same heat class as Don Gullett) and Bobby was a right-handed pitcher (whose knee touched the ground a lot like Tom Seaver) on the three championship teams from 1966-68.
Their stories, even beyond Ashland baseball, are fascinating and a great read but I’m not going to tell you everything. The timeline will be for the book to come out sometime next spring and I hope it does justice to one of the greatest five years in Ashland’s fabled sports history.
I know that I’ll sell at least one copy. Mary Jane Hunt, who is Jo Etta Lynch’s aunt, also happens to be a superfan of her niece’s husband Bob. She likes all things Tomcat baseball, especially when you start talking about the “Tomcat Dynasty” era. So Mary Jane, I’m reserving the first copy for you!
Of course, the Ashland dynasty was far more than the Lynches, as they’d be the first to tell you. It was a collection of talent that few anywhere will ever match again. Tim Huff, Johnny Mullins, John Thomas, Mike Smith, David Cox, David “Bo” Carter, Benny Spears, Don Lentz, Fred Leibee, David Staten, Tobey Talbert, Joe Conley, Steve Hemlepp, Mike Johnson, Bobby Ison, David Detjen, Billy and Wayne Workman, John Sieweke, Joe Mantle and so, so many others will be a part of “Tomcat Dynasty,” too. Oh the stories these guys will tell.
During the CP-1 Reunion, many of these players will be recognized and are honored guests for the get-together in Central Park when the memory of Jim Stewart will be front and center.
Jody Hamilton, one of the best high school coaches in Kentucky history, will also be a special guest. He cut his teeth on Little League baseball in Ashland, played for the Tomcats and starred at Morehead State University (OVC Triple Crown winner) before taking a shot at professional baseball with the Paintsville Yankees.
Jody is another great story from Ashland baseball history. He won a state championship at Boyd County in 2001 and has more than 700 high school victories combined at Raceland, Boyd County and West Jessamine.
When it comes to legends, we have them from Ashland’s amazing baseball tradition.
The CP-1 Reunion on the Aug. 24 Saturday afternoon in the park will be a way to remember those days and some of those players who made it a golden era.
Be sure to come out. It’s like taking a swig from the Fountain of Youth.
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2648.