One of Houston’s own was responsible for bringing a Semi-Pro baseball team to Houston in the mid-forties. Part of his legacy is that Dave Kyle had the prospect of playing baseball with the big boys, till an injury to his pitching arm and the subsequent surgery that didn’t go well ended those dreams. In my un-informed mind, Dave Kyle was the fellow who owned the diner located where the Fox Law firm is now. As teenagers in Houston back in my day, it was where you went to ‘see and be seen’ on a weekend night. It was famous for the statues out front of polar bears holding a snowball.
There are few around who remember watching them play, but the Houston Travelers Baseball team were a force to be reckoned with in the mid-to-late 1940s. An article in the Houston Times Post of May 2, 1946, gave the history of their organization in the following fashion:
“Organization of the Houston Independent Baseball team, sponsored by the local American Legion Post was announced today and the initial home game is to be played on the local diamond this afternoon, starting at 3 o’clock. The locals will be taking on a reported strong Bruce 9 at the diamond located near the airport. Local fans are urged to support the team and cheer them on to a victory. Admission to the game will be applied to the purchase of uniforms and equipment. At an organizational meeting held Monday night, Pete Dossett was named manager; Zeke Enochs, business manager and Wilford Doss publicity manager. It is stated that anyone living in the area is eligible to compete for the team.”
I found it rather difficult to find a lot of information in local newspapers. In the ‘40s, often the article only stated they won or lost and by what score. Dave Kyle’s youngest daughter, Dianne, shared some newspaper clippings with me as well as a photo of the team. Deedy Harrington also told me some stories that certainly added some ‘color’ to this article.
Dave had a history in baseball – and a quite impressive one, I might add. His prior baseball career, which was on a higher level than Houston, started with the Southeastern League, specifically with a semi-pro team from Montgomery, Alabama. After that league went defunct, Dave was picked up by the Knoxville Smokies. Time wise, we are now back in the early 30s. In an undated article in the Commercial Appeal of Memphis, I read the following: “Dave Kyle, right-hander of Houston, Miss., late of the Montgomery Club of the defunct Southeastern League, making his Smokie debut, dueled along with ‘Little Grif’ for five innings with little advantage on either side. But Kyle ‘fell by’ the wayside in the sixth….”.
Another undated article also in the Commercial Appeal reads: “Dave Kyle, right-handed pitcher with the Smokies early in the season and picked up by the [Memphis] Chicks recently as a free agent, was carried along [on a road trip to Atlanta and Knoxville]. Kyle, a Houston, Miss., boy, has been pitching semi-pro ball in fast society lately and turned in a no-hit performance in a game at Coldwater recently. Kyle pitched a game against the Chicks here the later part of May and allowed but four hits in seven innings.”
In April of 1933, Dave had the honor of going up against The Babe Ruth – in Russwood Park in Memphis. The headline stated that a “Crowd of 8,100 Sees Game at Russwood”. The Yankees beat the Chicks by a score of 6 to 0, which I think is pretty impressive. One article I read stated that the Memphis Chicks were recognized as being among the 100 greatest minor league teams of all times.
I believe this is about the time Dave must have undergone the surgery that affected his pitching arm. But, the Chicks’ loss was the Houston Travelers gain. After a two-year stint in the army, Dave was home again and I’m sure with baseball heavy on his mind.
The members of the Houston Travelers are all gone now, but their names will be recognized by most locals who have lived here for some years. There were three Baine brothers who, at one time or another, played on the Travelers’ team. Robert Harold or “Hap” Baine was the oldest. Born in 1917, he was a graduate of Mississippi State. Hap is credited with organizing the National Guard in Houston. He was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army, having served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He retired from Texas A & M in 1981, having served there as ROTC Commandant and Assistant Register. He played catcher on the Travelers’ team. Hap passed away in 1990.
The next oldest Baine brother who played ball with the Travelers was Billy Neill, or “Red” Baine. Born in 1920, Red passed away at Fort Hood, Texas in 1973. He was a retired Sergeant/Major in the Army at the time of his death. He is buried in the Prospect Cemetery in Chickasaw County. Red was an infielder on the team.
Paul Baine, the youngest of the Baine brothers was born in 1923 and died in 1996. Paul was an avid sports fan – and in addition to being a player on the local club, he was a longtime member of the MS State Bulldog Club. Paul is buried in the Chickasaw Memorial Gardens.
Another valuable player for Houston was Phillip Floyd “Lefty” Brandon of Pontotoc County (1921-2016). And like those above, Lefty went on to play in a much larger venue. “Lefty” not only played baseball for the Travelers, he also pitched for MSU’s SEC championship teams in 1948 and ’49. In 1948, he was voted 1st Team, All SEC. After college, Lefty coached in several high schools. At the opening game in 1996, Coach Ron Polk of MS State asked him to throw out the first pitch. He is buried in the Zion Cemetery in Pontotoc County.
Ralph Neal or “Rabbit” Brown, (1910-1984) had an illustrious career in the baseball/sports field. While attending Mississippi State, Rabbit participated in football where he played halfback, a shortstop in baseball and a forward in basketball. After graduating from State in 1939, Rabbit played professional baseball for several years in the Piedmont and Cotton States League. He was later signed by Atlanta in the Southern League. He also played in the National Semi-pro tournament in Wichita, Kansas, in 1940. Rabbit was a Major in the Army Reserves, and served 2 years in Korea. Rabbit coached at several Jr high and high schools around before joining Darrel Royal’s coaching staff at MS State in 1954.
George “Pap” Gates (1903-1998) was one of the bat boys for the Travelers. He also helped in whatever capacity the team needed him to do. Pap worked for James “Soup” Kyle back in the day. Deedy related the story that one time when some guys from the team were sitting around discussing who could run the fastest. Onion Alexander was the hands-down favorite. Someone asked Pap how fast did he think Onion could run to which he replied ‘He runs just as fast as he wants to!”
Another local, well remembered in baseball circles, is Rex Harrington (1924-1993). One article published in July of 1946 reports that “Last Sunday afternoon, the locals smothered West Point here to the tune of 9 to 1 with Rex Harrington, local hurler, easily the master of the situation”.
There are other names mentioned in connection with this team such as Johnny Grace, inducted into Mississippi State’s Hall of Fame in 2000 for his baseball contributions. I was not able to find further information about him.
From Deedy, I learned that John Oren Rhodes played third base. His dad was a barber in the old Houston Hotel back in its heyday.
Reginald Colbert, another player will be remembered here as “Red” Colbert from the Trebloc community.
Boosie Sanderson and Dave Kyle played high school baseball together and Boosie was Dave’s biggest fan. Deedy told me about a time when they were playing baseball in not what one might call a rain, but certainly a heavy mist. Boosie said when “Uncle Dave” threw that ball, it looked just like an aspirin – didn’t even get wet!” Boosie was Dave’s catcher.
Dave obtained the uniforms from a defunct Arkansas baseball team. They already had “Travelers” on them, thus the name.
The Bat Boys of the Travelers included Deedy, Wesley Kyle (Dave’s son), and Billy Beasley. According to Deedy’s memories, when someone hit a foul ball, SOMEBODY better find that ball out in those tall weeds, and it better be quick, too!
An article in the April 8, 1948, Times Post, stated that “Houston, admittedly one of the best baseball towns in NE Mississippi, already had the fever and manager Dave Kyle was losing no time in making preparations for the opening of the 1948 season…..One of the better semi-pro nines in the mid-south last year, the uniforms will be white with a red stripe up the pants legs, socks will be blue. Manager Kyle revealed that 900 additional seats have been added to the Legion Field stands, thus alleviating last year’s seating drawbacks…..Houston players who will be seen in action this year include outfielders Onion Alexander, infielders John Rhodes, Red Baine and Rabbit Brown and pitcher, ‘Tater’ Harrington. State College aces have been secured in Lefty Brandon and Johnny Grace”.
If I have not included info about a player on this team, it is truly because I was unable to find any and thanks to all those who passed along their memories to me.