Everywhere he went, Riddle left a winner:

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 2, 2002

Former Troy State coach got his start playing Class D baseball in former Alabama-Florida League


Sports Editor

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Following the re-dedication of Troy State’s Riddle-Pace Baseball Field last Friday, Athletic Director Johnny Williams motioned to a weathered old man and showed him a baseball.

The ball, used for the ceremonial first pitch, bore a simple inked statement to commemorate the field’s christening.

"It’s the same as the one you got in your pocket," said Williams.

Chase Riddle had come to witness the rebirth of the field that bears his namesake. He, along with 16 others, lined up and tossed baseballs into the gloved hands of Troy State’s current crop of players.

Riddle picked out TSU pitcher Shane Moran. Moran played at Pike Liberal Arts School where Riddle coached for a few seasons, along with Butch Austin, after calling it quits at Troy State.

"I looked at him and pointed him out. I said ‘I’m throwing to you,’" said Riddle.

After the pitch and a hug from Moran, Riddle tucked the ball into his front pocket and forgot about it until Williams gave him a good look at the script of the AD’s own baseball.

With 50 years spent in the game, the old coach just doesn’t seem to stand too much on ceremony.

But he appreciates it all the same.

"I’ve watched the progress here and it’s just a great feeling to know I’m a part of it," he said. "Just watching the growth and it’s just that feeling you can’t put words to."

Chase Riddle is a legend. Maybe not across the country, but in Florida and Alabama, this multi-talented baseball player and coach once ruled the diamond. He played in the Alabama-Florida League, a Class D minor league. There were teams everywhere: Enterprise, Andalusia, Greenville, Panama City, Graceville. During those times of Communism and Mcarthyism, the Cold War and Bay of Pigs, people spent their summer nights at the ball park where the world was safe.

Playing in the AFL was a humbling experience. Salaries were low and air

conditioned buses unheard of as athletes attempted to fight off the heat en route to

stadiums across the south; stadiums which sometimes consisted of little more then a set of bleachers and telephone poles to mark where the outfield ended.

"I remember it being these old bleachers out here, falling down," said Riddle as he looked up at the aluminum seats and grandstand of Troy State’s newly expanded baseball stadium. "In the old Class D leagues they had the poles with those big bulbs they’d put in them and one would blow every five minutes."

In only four seasons, Riddle did everything in the AFL. He managed, played catcher, third base, pitched and ran the outfield. In 1953 he batted .411 and had 125 RBIs.

His temper got him in trouble once. In 1951, one of Riddle’s friends, Otis Johnson, was killed by a pitch thrown by Headland’s Jack Clifton. That incident, and the fact that the league allowed Clifton to keep pitching, upset more then a few people and things came to a head when Riddle’s team was playing at Headland. Upset about a call, Riddle apparently struck an umpire, resulting in his suspension for the rest of the season.

He sees some of himself in his grandson Wes Johnson, who was a

junior catcher for Pike Lib this season. Riddle still coaches a bit when Austin calls on him.

"I hope he keeps going," Riddle said of his grandson. "He’s made some progress, but he’s hot-headed. Maybe he can settle down."

Riddle joined the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization in 1955 and spent 23 years as scouting supervisor for the southeast. He came back to Troy in 1979, this time as a head coach and won two national titles in 1986 and 1987 before retiring in 1990.

"I’ve got a lot of fond memories of this place," he said on Friday. "It’s hard for me to pick out one game that stands out, but winning a couple of conference championships, regional championships, which let us go to the World Series, were the ones that was really nice."