Locally Speaking

Clemente heeded Narron’s hitting advice

June 23, 2014 

Nick Robinson

COURTESY OF LEIGH ANNE ROBINSON

One of the best part of being there for the naming of the Sam Narron Baseball Award winner every year is hearing another Sam Narron tale from his son, Rooster, who represents the Narron family at each year’s award and scholarship presentation.

There’s always a new story or 12 that I haven’t heard in the decade and a half I’ve been around to see the award presented. This year was no different.

Two tales stand out.

The first is from Narron’s first trip from the Emit community in northern Johnston County to a mass tryout for professional prospects. It was 1934 and he was told that if he didn’t make a team, he’d be responsible for getting himself back home from Florida.

So every day he’d check the big scoreboard that showed the jersey number of each player who was still in the running for a spot. His number stayed up throughout camp, he got a job playing baseball and headed to Martinsville, Va. where he met his wife.

Skip ahead two decades or so and Narron is a coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates whose lineup features a young, super talent in Roberto Clemente.

“Clemente didn’t worry about hitting a good pitch,” Rooster recalled. “If he thought he could hit the ball hard, he’d swing at it no matter where it was around the plate.”

The hits, of course, came for Clemente, but Pirates management wanted to become a more consistent pull hitter instead of spraying the ball all over the field for some reason.

Clearly frustrated by the prospect of a change to a swing that would ring up exactly 3,000 career hits before he died tragically in an airplane crash, Clemente broke down crying in what he thought was an empty clubhouse one day.

Narron came upon Clemente and knew what was bothering him.

“Listen,” Narron told Clemente. “If you ever tell anybody I told you this, I’ll deny it until I’m blue in the face. And every time they tell you to pull the ball, you answer ‘Yes, sir.’ But don’t change your swing. Don’t hit the ball like they want you to. You hit like Clemente.”

Clemente, of course, did just that. He continued his free-swinging ways all the way to a spot in the Hall of Fame.

Spain wins at Wake County Speedway: Clayton’s Dillon Spain won the Legends race at Wake County Speedway on June 13. He added to his season points lead in the division. The racing at the quarter-mile track near Garner returns on June 27 with a lineup featuring the USAC Eastern Midget cars.

North athletes headed to Charlotte: Two North Johnston High rising seniors have been selected for events this summer. C.J. Jackson will play in the State Games of N.C. High School Soccer Showcase June 20-22 in Charlotte. Jackson is a member of the Northeast region team.

Ryan Coley will participate in an NFL Leadership program hosted by the Carolina Panthers on June 25.

Seventh grader places at Southern National: Nick Robinson, a seventh grader at Cleveland Middle School, finished second in the Dogwood Blossom 150 at Southern National Raceway Park last month. He ran in the Pro All-Star Series and came in second after taking the pole in the race in the No. 71 D&S Site Construction/RPM Motorsports Chevy SS.

Robinson has been racing since age 7. He has three poles, three top five finishes and four top 10 finishes this season.

Four-Ball golf: Sumner Tate of Raleigh, a former Southeast Raleigh High School standout, and Garner’s Lee Adams were both part of top five finishing teams in the Carolinas Golf Association Four-Ball Tournament at Brier Creek Country Club on June 16. Tate teamed with Raleigh resident Patrick Merritt on a 69 to tie for second, while Adams and Chapel Hill’s Rex Willoughby were fourth with a 71.

Best: 919-524-8895 or cbest@newsobserver.com; Twitter: @dclaybest

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