The Cable Guy recalls the Owls of summer
Not everyone remembers the days when Warren Wilson College had a baseball team, but Larry the Cable Guy sure does
It's not unheard of for celebrities to be on the campus of Warren Wilson College. Janis Ian debuted her song "Swannanoa" there last year, and actor James Franco, who participated in the school's low-residence MFA Program For Writers, famously wore one of the school's shirts to a press conference in 2012.
Bull Pullman, whose sons graduated from Warren Wilson, will deliver the school's commencement speech in May. One of the proudest athletic achievements in the life of comedian Larry the Cable Guy took place there, according to a recent interview with Graham Bensinger, which shined new light on the Owls' athletic history.
Before rising to fame with the catchphrase "Git-R-Done" in the early 2000s, Larry the Cable Guy was known as Dan Whitney. Whitney played baseball for the now-defunct Baptist University of America, one of the schools that the Warren Wilson College baseball team played in the mid 1980s.
"I hit 95 (miles-per-hour) on the radar gun there in the fifth inning," he recounts to Bensinger in this YouTube clip (https://youtu.be/pb6BWFgyImI?t=142).
It's been nearly a quarter of a century since the Warren Wilson College Owls last took to the diamond, which used to be located on campus right about where DeVries Gymnasium currently sits.
The gym - built on top of what used to be left field - is named after Sam DeVries, who spent 42 years at the school coaching football, basketball and baseball. He also served as Warren Wilson's first athletic director.
Black Mountain resident Danny Starnes, who went to Warren Wilson when it was a junior college, played baseball for DeVries on the best team in school history.
"I played second base and outfield and played every game," Starnes said. "I was a decent baseball player on a great team."
In 1959 the Owls were unbeatable under DeVries, who Starnes remembers for his tough demeanor.
"He'd have his elbows out with his hands on his belt," Starnes demonstrated. "But he was a fantastic guy."
Starnes played for the Owls in 1958 as a freshman and knew the team would be good his sophomore year. He would throw batting practice, which the team frequently used to intimidate opponents, before the game.
"I knew where each of the guys liked to hit the ball so I would put each one right there," he said. "They'd hit the ball all over the field. I think they used to worry teams before we played them."
The Owls were undefeated that year until, with only a few games left, "we got cocky," Starnes said.
So DeVries set up an exhibition game against the Asheville Tourists, a franchise team that had just returned from a brief hiatus.
"They whipped us good," Starnes said. "And we needed it."
The exhibition loss didn't count on the final record but proved to be what the Owls needed to finish the season undefeated. The accomplishment was acknowledged in 2014 when the team was inducted into the school's athletics hall of fame as a "Team of Excellence."
Bev Ohler, who came to the school in 1958 with her late husband Fred, remembers baseball at Warren Wilson as well. In fact, coaching it became Fred's "way of relaxing" after he succeeded DeVries as head coach, she said.
"He was the chaplain of the college. He taught all the religion courses, did most of the counseling on campus and didn't have much time for anything," she said. "But he loved baseball. He was a huge Brooklyn Dodgers fan as a young man."
Her husband served as chaplain of the school for almost 40 years before retiring in 1995. But according to Bev, who herself has a total of 56 years at Warren Wilson as a volunteer and her current position as the theater department's head of the costume shop, her husband took coaching seriously.
"The team didn't have money or uniforms," she said. "I remember one time they went to play against Asheville School, and they had wonderfully matching uniforms. Our kids went out there in their scrubby clothes, whatever they could put together. But we won, and that happened time after time."
Warren Wilson dropped its baseball program after the 1964 season before Hugh Himan revived it in 1975. Himan played college baseball and breathed new life into the program with a $500 budget.
Himan retired from coaching in 1984. The program was eliminated following the 1993 season when the school restructured its athletic program.