A tribute to Don Stout
By Dale Basinger
Contributed to the Salisbury Post
“Here’s a trivia question for you,” Don Stout would say ó whether we were in a car driving to Gettysburg or an airplane flying to Chicago.
“Who played center field for the 1965 American League pennant-winning Minnesota Twins and was born in Mt. Holly, N.C.?”
Don Stout was a friend of mine and many others. We had in common a love for baseball and history. We were both teachers of social studies and our paths crossed at Catawba sporting events and American Legion games before we traveled together to big-league ballgames and museums.
Don died Jan. 14, 2007, and if a baseball game isn’t going on in heaven, then it wouldn’t be heaven for Don.
Before you could “Google” to get instant information, Don was a walking encyclopedia when it came to baseball, history and rock ‘n’ roll.
“Who was vice president during Lincoln’s first administration?” Stout might ask on the spur of the moment.
Watching the Braves play the Cincinnati Reds in 1989 was our first baseball trip together. Ben Poston, my son John, Don, and I traveled by car and stayed a short walk from Fulton County Stadium. We saw John Smoltz pitch and Pete Rose manage the Reds during a rainy two days and nights.
I convinced Don to fly with me in 1990 to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., as well as the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. After flying into Connecticut, we rented a car and drove to both Halls of Fame. I made it a point to do the driving because Don scared me when he drove. With his thick, Coke-bottle glasses, he would often confuse an infield pop-up for a home run.
We stayed at a bed-and-breakfast in Cooperstown and spent all day in the Hall of Fame. Don proclaimed to all: “We had to be run out of the place when they closed at 9 o’clock.”
The following summer, my wife again allowed me to travel with Don, this time to Chicago where his friend, Charles Welch, got us tickets to see both the Cubs and White Sox. Wrigley Field was a magical place for us as we got to see the Cubs beat the Giants 3-2. For years, Don would remind me George Bell and Andre Dawson both homered in that game for the Cubs.
Besides not being able to see the flight of the ball well, Don couldn’t stay in his seat any length of time. He had to get up to get something to eat every other inning and spent more on refreshments than his ticket. Eating was a priority for Don, a diabetic, and nothing would deter him from three square meals a day ó plus snacks.
When we traveled up north, Don would always ask a waitress if they had grits for breakfast, and she would always tell him no. When we paid $12.95 for a buffet breakfast at the Marriott Hotel at Copley Square in Boston in 1995 he was outraged we paid that much for breakfast and they did not have grits.
We made historical trips as well ó Gettysburg, Antietam, Fort McHenry and Harper’s Ferry. Don kept the trivia questions coming.
“Hey, Dale, What was the shortest recording ever to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart?”
Don knew his music, and we listened to his cassettes or he fiddled with the radio for an Oldie-Goldie station. He usually could identify a song, the artist, and the year it came out.
I talked Don into flying to San Francisco in 1999, the Giants’ last year at Candlestick Park. We stayed at the Grand Hyatt, took in Alcatraz, Muir National Park, and took a boat ride on San Francisco Bay. At nearly every major city we visited, a boat tour was part of the agenda. We both enjoyed looking back at the skylines of those wonderful cities.
A bus trip from our hotel to Candlestick Park cost $5. We happened to see the Giants play the Braves with Greg Maddux pitching for Atlanta. Maddux was not sharp, however, as the Giants pounded him for six straight hits in the fifth inning. In the eighth, with the Giants well ahead, I talked Don into leaving early to get back to the hotel. We hopped on the first bus in line ó with Don proclaiming it was not the right bus.
I insisted all the buses would end up back downtown, so he deferred to me. After 45 minutes of riding anywhere but downtown, I had to admit I was wrong. After going through a section where everyone looked like washed-out hippies, Don had had enough and asked the driver for directions to catch another bus downtown. Don was furious with me, but I replied it was a bargain to see that much new territory for only $5.
Our last big-league stop was the new Miller Park in Milwaukee in 2001. We saw two games, one from the second row, and Richie Sexson caught a foul ball just beyond our outstretched arms. The second game was under the retractable roof because it was raining. The sun came out after the game, and we stayed to watch the roof retract. That marvel was worth the price of admission.
Don’s health declined after the trip to Milwaukee. Instead of flying to games and historical sites, he opted for driving trips to Charleston and Savannah. Later, he just preferred to go fishing at Kure Beach.
Tommy Eaton also was a close friend of Don’s. Don would often arrange a trip with Mullis Travel Agency to see the Braves play and ask Tommy to come with him.
“About five years ago, I had a mildew problem in my house and was told that it would take about 30 days to fix it,” Tommy said. “Well, Don said I could come and stay with him until it was fixed. It ended up taking three months to repair but Don let me stay with him the whole time and gave me a key to go and come as I wished. He always made you feel comfortable. Practically every day I run into people who tell me they miss old Don.”
I miss him too, but the memories remain ó “That ball could be out of here!”
Even a pop-up to the catcher could bring that kind of excitement from Don Stout. He would also be excited right now that spring training is less than a month away.
Answers to trivia questions: 1. Jimmie Hall hit 20 homers and batted .285 for the Twins in 1965.
2. Hannibal Hamlin of Maine was Lincoln’s first-term vice president.
3. “Stay” by Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs. One minute, 38 seconds.
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