Seems like every class in every school in Mississippi has one, a supremely gifted athlete who can do just about anything that requires a ball. Bobby Myrick was ours in Hattiesburg, Class of 1970. He was that guy who could hit it, throw it, catch it, kick it, shoot it, run with it – and make it all look easy.
Bobby, who died five years ago, was a natural, the most athletic of our very athletic Class of 1970 at Hattiesburg High School. A left-hander, he went on to pitch for Mississippi State, the original Jackson Mets and then in the Major Leagues for the New York Mets and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
What those Major Leaguers never knew is that they never saw the real Bobby Myrick. He hurt his arm at State and never really did throw as hard — or with as much pop, as they say — after that. But he was so gifted he was still in that tiny fraction of one percent that make the big leagues.
In Hattiesburg, we saw the real Bobby. I caught him as a kid. He was my claim to fame as an athlete. Really. Kids would come by the dugout to look at my left hand, red and swollen from his wicked fastballs. I caught Bobby by default. Most everyone else was scared to.
I think of Bobby every time I hear Bruce Springsteen sing these words (which is often): “He could throw that speedball by you, make you look like a fool, boy.”
We were 12 and playing in the state tournament. We already had one loss in a double-elimination tournament and our coach decided he was going to save Bobby for a possible championship game.
Then, of course, we never got to the championship game and the coach brought Bobby in to pitch the last inning of what turned out to be our last little league game.
Bobby was seething. I remember thinking to my 12-year-old self: “Oh – – – -!”
I weighed about 80 pounds at the time. Bobby’s first fastball, a strike, knocked me over backward.
The kindly home-plate umpire braced me with his knee for the next eight pitches, all strikes, all untouched by the batters. My left hand was on fire. Never have I been so glad for a game to end. And I promise you this: Whoever was on deck that night so long ago was even happier.
That story and many, many more will be told Friday when golfers play in the Bobby Myrick Memorial Pinebelt Fellowship of Christian Athletes Golf Classic at the Hattiesburg Country Club. Bobby took up golf after his baseball career ended and, of course, became a scratch player. He was also a huge proponent of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and lent his time and money to the cause.
Seems most appropriate Bobby is remembered in his hometown in a way that raises a great deal of money for a cause he believed in.
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Rick Cleveland, Mississippi Today’s sports columnist, this year was named Mississippi Sportswriter of the Year — an honor he achieved for the 10th time — by the National Sports Media Foundation. Read his previous columns and his Sports Daily blog. Reach Rick at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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