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Owens featured on Nashville Sounds website (Part Two)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

April 17, 2008

by Bill Traughber

NOTE: This is part two of the story. To read part one, please click here: Part One

This story was orginally published by the Nashville Sounds. It is available at http://www.nashvillesounds.com/news/news.asp?newsId=2643.

The first major league affiliate of the Sounds were the Cincinnati Reds. They were aligned with the Double-A Southern League. In that first season, the Sounds led all of minor league baseball in attendance.

The agreement between the Sounds and Reds was cancelled after two seasons due to a conflict with the designated hitter rule. The Reds insisted that the Sounds let their pitchers bat in every game even when their opponents were using the DH. Therefore the New York Yankees became the next Nashville affiliate.

"Right off the bat I started hearing about Steve Balboni," said Owens. "I got to be around Steve a lot. I got to spend time with George Steinbrenner that I cherished. Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle, they all came to Greer Stadium. I remember going out into the dugout on a cold late November night. Mickey was talking to Whitey and there was just the three of us. It was dark except for the inside stadium lights. Mickey said to Whitey, `I believe that I could take it out of here now.' Whitey was bugging him telling him he couldn't. We had a lot photographs taken that night. Most of the Sounds owners were there with Steinbrenner and Governor (Lamar) Alexander."

Owens close relationship to the Yankees organization would give him stories to remember for life. Many former Yankee legends would visit Greer Stadium. Owens remembers one night in particular when he was driving for Steinbrenner, Ford, Mantle and Elston Howard.

"I'm in my station wagon and I'm driving them back to the hotel," said Owens. "Steinbrenner has taken the shotgun seat and its Mantle, Ford and Howard in the back. Elston is kind of reserve and he didn't go for much foolishness. Anything that Steinbreenner would say, they would start laughing in the back seat. It wasn't a sincere laugh, and I don't think Steinbrenner was picking up on it.

"When he was saying something, I could look in my rear view mirror. Mantle was punching Ford in the ribs with his elbow. They were having a big time at Steinbrenner's expense. Whenever Steinbrenner tried to say something funny, Mantle and Ford would just laugh like it was the funniest thing they'd ever heard. I couldn't believe that there I was driving these guys that everybody in the world knew. Mantle and Ford were making fun of Steinbrenner all night."

One story that Owens tells is about a tragedy involving a plane crash and Sparky Anderson. In 1979, George Scherger was the Sounds manager. He had been Anderson's bench coach the previous season when the Reds fired Sparky. Anderson was not connected to any team at this time and he was promoting his new book Anderson came to Nashville to watch his friend Scherger manage the Sounds.

"I went to the airport to meet him and his plane was running late," Owens said. "Channel 2 was there to interview him at the airport. The plane is running late, and I'm thinking we need to hurry up and get to the ballpark so Sparky can watch BP and be around Scherger. When he got off the plane, Channel 2 wanted to take Sparky to their studio for a live interview at six o' clock and they'd take him to the ball park.

"Sparky said, `Farrell, here's my plane tickets and luggage.' So I took his stuff back to the stadium while he went to the studio. At seven o'clock that night there was a thunderstorm that really popped us. The game was rained out. Sparky said to me, `Farrell, I've got to watch my main man George Scherger manage a game. I've just got to stay another day.'

"Sparky stayed at Scherger's place. The next afternoon he was supposed to have left Nashville in the morning as he had a flight out of Chicago around one o'clock to take him back to California. So he cancelled that flight to stay another night since the game the night before was rained out. We learned later that the plane Sparky had tickets for had crashed."

The plane that crashed was American Airlines Flight 191 with a loss of life totaling 270 passengers. This was May 25, 1979. During liftoff at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, parts of the plane were falling off and eventually an engine dropped off a wing.

Owens said that there was not any national news about Anderson once having reservations for that flight. Owens saw Anderson in 1982 in the winter meetings in Honolulu. He asked Anderson why there had not been any news about him and the flight. Anderson told Owens he never said anything out of respect for the families.

At one time Owens was a part owner of four minor league teams. After the 1982 season, Owens left baseball to join a family business. He is a member of the Old Timers Baseball Association's Amateur Hall of Fame and the David Lipscomb University Hall of Fame. He has been a board member of the OTBA for 30 years. He has been involved with his publication of "The Sandlotter" (www.sandlotter.com) for 20 years.

So, why is baseball such a great game?

"People that get into baseball love it," said Owens. "There is certain romanticism to it maybe because it starts in the spring. The grass is turning green. Trees are getting leaves. You've been inside for the winter, now you are going outside. Baseball hasn't change much over the years.

"One time I held a 1927 baseball that belonged to Jim Turner. It felt like a baseball of today. The seams, the smell, the feel of it were the same. It's the history we have of it. It's a statistical game. We've all played baseball and we all have a story to tell about playing in the backyard."

Pick up a Sounds 2008 Program for a feature story on Babe Ruth visiting Nashville and much more

If you have any comments or suggestions you can contact Bill Traughber via e-mail at WLTraughber@aol.com.