One of the best part of being there for the naming of the Sam Narron Baseball Award winner every year is hearing another Sam Narron tale from his son, Rooster, who represents the Narron family at each year’s award and scholarship presentation.
There’s always a new story or 12 that I haven’t heard in the decade and a half I’ve been around to see the award presented. This year was no different.
Two tales stand out.
The first is from Narron’s first trip from the Emit community in northern Johnston County to a mass tryout for professional prospects. It was 1934 and he was told that if he didn’t make a team, he’d be responsible for getting himself back home from Florida.
So every day he’d check the big scoreboard that showed the jersey number of each player who was still in the running for a spot. His number stayed up throughout camp, he got a job playing baseball and headed to Martinsville, Va. where he met his wife.
Skip ahead two decades or so and Narron is a coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates whose lineup features a young, super talent in Roberto Clemente.
“Clemente didn’t worry about hitting a good pitch,” Rooster recalled. “If he thought he could hit the ball hard, he’d swing at it no matter where it was around the plate.”
The hits, of course, came for Clemente, but Pirates management wanted to become a more consistent pull hitter instead of spraying the ball all over the field for some reason.
Clearly frustrated by the prospect of a change to a swing that would ring up exactly 3,000 career hits before he died tragically in an airplane crash, Clemente broke down crying in what he thought was an empty clubhouse one day.
Narron came upon Clemente and knew what was bothering him.
“Listen,” Narron told Clemente. “If you ever tell anybody I told you this, I’ll deny it until I’m blue in the face. And every time they tell you to pull the ball, you answer ‘Yes, sir.’ But don’t change your swing. Don’t hit the ball like they want you to. You hit like Clemente.”
Clemente, of course, did just that. He continued his free-swinging ways all the way to a spot in the Hall of Fame.
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