As always, those who came to the CP-1 Reunion in Central Park left feeling like they’d taken a gulp from the Fountain of Youth.
Tales of days gone by were prominent with old friends seeing each other again, some for the first time in decades.
The reunion, started five years ago when Gary Wright’s generous donation refurbished the main diamond in Central Park, saw nearly 150 come to the park on a hot but not so steamy August afternoon.
They were treated to stories about Ashland baseball from the 1960s, a golden era when state championships were the norm from start to finish.
State championships were won in Little League in 1961, 1963 and 1964 and the high school made an unprecedented five-year run from 1965 to 1969 with three state titles, a final four and a runner-up finish.
No team in Kentucky has done it since the Tomcats reign of supremacy.
Not surprisingly, many of the same names that made Ashland Title Town early in the decade were the same ones that kept Ashland Title Town during the high school run.
Almost to a man, they point to the men who coached them at the beginning of their youth league baseball careers.
Some were fathers, others just had a burning passion for baseball.
The late Jim Stewart was a little of both. His memory was recognized as his widow, Fanny Stewart and her two daughters and sons, listened intently to speakers Rick Dixon and Bo Carter talk passionately about how much he meant to them.
In the crowd, there were probably another 25 to 30 players who are considered “Jim’s boys” after playing on either his Tiger teams or one of his All-Star teams.
The day meant a lot to Jim’s daughters, Chere Hallahan and Beverly Vice, and son Jamie, who came along later in life when his father was disabled by stomach ulcers and couldn’t coach.
“Mom leaned over to me once and whispered ‘Your Daddy would have loved to have been here to hear this.’ I told her I’m sure he’s looking down and listening,” said Beverly. “This has meant so much to us.”
Fanny is battling Altheimers but her memory was keen on Saturday as player after player after player came over to speak with her.
Her longtime friend, 92-year-old Ginny Carter, sat nearby as well.
“We grew up taking this for granted but it’s part of our life,” Beverly said. “I had never followed the circuit but as I listened I realized many of the players who were on those Tomcat championship teams played for Dad.”
Jim Stewart, a combat veteran from World War II, was a hard-nosed coach who sought perfection. There would be no excuses for anything less.
Make an error and you might be taking a seat.
His teams won several city championships and Stewart coached the Ashland American All-Stars to a pair of Little League state titles and to within one game of Williamsport in 1963.
Dixon was a star on that ‘63 All-Star team that fell 6-3 to Texas in Norfolk, Va. He talked about that game but mostly spoke on the lessons learned from playing under Jim Stewart.
Bo Carter, Ginny’s son, had much the same impression as did the many men who sat intently listening. At the end of his speech, Carter pulled out his All-Star cap and tipped it toward the Stewart family in a classy gesture.
Charlie Jackson, one of two black players on the ‘63 All-Star state champs, had a front row seat of racism that summer along with Mike Johnson.
But Jim Stewart wasn’t going to let it happen. If they couldn’t do something or eat somewhere, the team wouldn’t either.
Stewart lived on Carter Avenue around a lot of black families, Jackson said. “He came up to me and said ‘You need to be playing baseball.’ That’s how I got started.”
Jackson brought to the park his Tigers jersey from his last season of Little League. The team was getting new jerseys the next year so they let the players keep the old ones.
Jackson’s son had framed his but he took it out to get some teammates to autograph it on Saturay.
It had Tigers on the front and Johnson’s All-Star Dairy — the team sponsor — on the back.
Jackson said “as long as I worked hard, I got to play.
“Every now and then, somebody like that comes along but not all the time.”
Zeke Meyers, who drove from North Carolina to take in the Ashland baseball weekend, coached the Tomcat to their state titles in 1966 and 1967.
He marveled at the tremendous heritage and tradition and considers himself lucky to be part of it.
“I’m sorry I didn’t stay around long enough to win another couple (of state titles),” he said. “The talent was definitely there.”
Meyers, who played baseball at Marshall, was only about 8 to 10 years older than most of his players. He inherited a powerhouse team although his main coaching duty at Ashland was as the offensive coordinator for Jake Hallum’s football team.
“I knew the game and that pitching was the key,” said Meyers, a catcher for the Thundering Herd. “If you got some good chuckers, you had a chance.”
Pitching was what pushed Ashland over the top, starting with fireballing lefty Bill Lynch, who led the Tomcats to the 1966 state title and a 25-0 season.
His little brother, Bobby Lynch, was a crafty sophomore who threw as hard as he needed to throw.
“He had a better fastball than everybody thinks,” Meyers said.
Bill Lynch, though, he said, was faster than anybody he ever caught in college. “It wasn’t even close,” he said. “Bill was in his prime. That (‘66) team was probably the best of the three (champions).”
Nearly 100 attended a Ashland Baseball Reunion on Friday night at the Elks Lodge, including Meyers, who said he was glad he came.
That seemed to be the sentiment of everyone else on Saturday, too.
CP-1 alumni came from coast to coast, California to Florida, and other places in between.
Few enjoyed the ride more than Ginny Carter, the most active 92-year-old you’d ever want to meet.
“This has been so wonderful,” she said. “Are we doing it again next year?’
My answer: Why not? The Fountain of Youth never tasted so sweet!
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2648.