Straight Paths

This is part one of a series about Michael who was admitted to hospice at 62 with terminal cancer. Michael was born on Sept. 20, 1947, the same year that the first Little League World Series was held in Williamsport, PA. Who could have dreamed that little boy would eventually pitch at the Little League World Series 12 years later? But more about that later.

Michael was a family man with a wife and two grown daughters. He retired as a chemist from Sunoco Chemical plant in Haverhill, Ohio. Michael’s father, Bill, explained, "When he first hired in it was called USS Chemical, and then I think it became Aristech and then Sunoco."

I’d never heard of Michael Powell until he was admitted to our Hospice inpatient center, but evidently numerous others had. The hospice staff talked about the droves of visitors coming to see Michael, especially local girls’ softball teams and players, both high school and college. I thought, "Who in the world is that guy?" I soon discovered that Michael was somewhat of a local legend in baseball and softball circles. He coached girls’ softball and taught numerous local girls, even competitors, how to fast pitch. I use the word "legend" to describe Michael, because a legend is defined as "A collection of stories about an admirable person". I discovered that Michael was truly an admirable person.

His father, Bill, is Michael’s unofficial biographer. So I’ll let Bill tell you a few things about his son’s athletic ability: "Michael wanted to be a pitcher ever since he was five years old, so I taught him what he wanted to know. When Michael was a senior at Clay High School they were playing Portsmouth at the diamond at Clay. Al Oliver was on Portsmouth’s team. Joe Nuxall from the Cincinnati Reds was at the game scouting, and he told a fellow there, ‘They sent me down here to check out Oliver, but I like that lefthander’. He was talking about Michael who was pitching. Two professional teams were talking with Michael, the Minnesota Twins and the Cincinnati Reds, but we talked to the principal at Clay and he suggested that Michael take the full scholarship at Ohio University and so he did."

Now back to the Little League World Series, specifically to the 1960 New Boston Little League World Series team. Again, here’s Bill: "New Boston had one of the few franchised Little Leagues, so players came from different parts of the county so they could be eligible for the playoffs, so we had the cream of the crop, so to speak. We had to win 11 games to make it to Williamsport, and it was single elimination back then. Portsmouth was the toughest team we played to get there. We were the first team from Ohio to ever make it to the World Series. We won two and lost one; we lost to California. It was tied eight to eight and in the last inning, California scored three runs and won the game. We had a lousy game and made some errors. We just fell apart against California. We placed fifth in the world, but if it hadn’t been single elimination we wouldn’t have had any trouble winning the whole thing. A team like that only comes along once in a lifetime."

Bill shared that it had been his goal and passion for several years to see that the team was somehow locally honored for their outstanding accomplishment. Bill reflected: "I tried to get them on the Portsmouth floodwall murals for seven years, but I talked with all the players and they said, ‘We didn’t play for Portsmouth. We played for New Boston. We want to be honored in New Boston.’"

Therefore Bill contacted Jim Warren, the mayor of New Boston, who told Bill, ‘That’s the least we can do. That team put little New Boston on the map back then.’ Bill’s passion and perseverance paid off. The Village of New Boston launched a fundraising campaign and hired Brent Woodard, a local fledgling freelance artist, to paint a mural of the team on the north end of the press box. That young fledgling artist is now an Assistant Professor of Art at the University of Charleston, Adjunct Professor of Art at West Virginia University Tech and was voted the "Number Two Best Artist" in the state of West Virginia".

Poet, Robert Frost, wrote "Two roads diverged in a yellow woods … I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads to way, I doubted I should ever come back ... I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference." ("The Road Not Taken); in more familiar terms, "One thing leads to another". Who could have imagined that young fledgling artist would be the one who God inspired, while working at the Portsmouth Daily Times, to pave the way for this weekly column, and eventually this series about Michael? And who could have imagined that he would later write the foreword to my book, "Straight Paths"?

"I truly believe that every opportunity in life, good or bad, anticipated or unexpected, no matter how small, presents renewed opportunity, born of itself … small opportunities inform future opportunities." ("Straight Paths", foreword, Brent Woodard)

Loren Hardin is a social worker with SOMC-Hospice and can be reached at 740-357-6091 or at lorenhardin53@gmail.com . You can order Loren's book, "Straight Paths: Insights for living from those who have finished the course", at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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