by Scott Kindberg
February 10, 2005
Lyle Parkhurst Was Known As: Lefty, Parky, Friend
His full name was Lyle Raymond Parkhurst.
But on the mound, where he carved out quite an impressive 10-year minor league career in the 1940's and 1950's, he was known as "Lefty."
And behind the plate, where he umpired for decades at every level - from the PONY League to the Bambino League - he was known to players, coaches and fans as "Parky."
To everyone else, he was simply known as "friend."
Parkhurst, the man whose love for baseball spanned nearly all of his 80 years, died early Wednesday morning in WCA Hospital.
Born and raised in Jamestown, Parkhurst is one of the few pitchers ever to jump from junior high school into professional baseball when he signed with the Jamestown Falcons of the PONY League in 1941. The Falcons won the title that season and repeated in 1942.
After that, Parkhurst's career took him to Buffalo (twice), back to Jamestown - he was 20-10 in 1944 - and to places like Ashville, North Carolina, Pueblo, Colorado, Rock Hill, South Carolina and finally Olean.
One of the highlights of his career was pitching to Hall-of-Famer Stan Musial during a spring training game in 1946. Invited to pitch an exhibition game for the Mobile, Alabama team of the Southern Association, Parkhurst had retired the St. Louis Cardinal great on a groundball in his first at-bat.
The next time Musial appeared at the plate, the outcome was entirely different.
"I had a strike on him with a curve," Parkhurst told Post-Journal sports editor Frank Hyde for an article that appeared December 14, 1974. "My catcher was calling for another curve but I shook him off. He hollered back at me: 'You'll be sorry.' And I was. This guy belted the ball down the right field line. It cleared the fence at 360 feet, crossed a double-lane road and landed on the 40-foot high roof of a pulley factory. Maybe I kind of inspired him."
What Parkhurst probably didn't fully comprehend during his remarkable life was how much he inspired so many for so long, beginning with his retirement from baseball in 1951.
For the next 50-plus years, Parkhurst, who was a retired employee of the former Meadow Brook Dairy and Walker Creamery Products, was on the diamond, this time as an umpire. After working two years in the PONY League, he spent the rest of his career in "blue" doing high school, MUNY, County, Little League, and Babe Ruth League games.
He also umpired in the Babe Ruth 13-year-old World Series in 1980 at College Stadium, the first tournament Jamestown ever hosted.
Parkhurst touched many people and following are the comments of just a few. First, are two from a couple of members of the Post-Journal sports staff:
"From attending Expos and Jammers games for several years, I can recall coming through the gates at then College Stadium just minutes after they opened. I always wanted to get there early so I could get as many autographs as possible.
"It was never a certainty that I would get autographs, but what was a sure thing was that Parky and his wife would be in their usual seats along the third-base line, next to the aisle, two rows in front of me. Part of the fun of going to the games was being able to listen to Parky holler at the umpires.
"In one game against the Batavia Clippers, the home-plate umpire was making what Parky thought were bad calls. Throughout the game, Parky would yell something and every time he did the look of anger grew on his face. He had the look in his eyes as if saying he was still able to play the game. He frequently had that look. Finally, in the late stages of the game, Parky stood up (something he never did until the seventh-inning stretch or it was time to leave) and yelled at the top of his lungs, 'Where are you umps from? Batavia?'
"Despite being so focused on the game, there was never a time Parky didn't take a minute to say hello to people or shake a young person's hand.
"After getting several autographs from players, I learned about his playing career from my parents, I immediately asked for his autograph - an autograph that I will always remember getting at a Jamestown baseball game."
"Baseball was a big part of my growing years from throwing grounders in the backyard to (occasionally) knocking a whiffleball off the neighbor's house. I played in the City Rec League until I was 12, then moved on to the Babe Ruth Prep League.
"I had never pitched before, but since the team needed another hurler, I volunteered. I had two pitches: a changeup, and a changeup of the changeup. But going into our first game, I still didn't have all the rules down.
"After I faced my first batter, Parky ambled out to the mound with a smile on his face. I knew I wasn't doing it right but I didn't know what the correct way was. Parky patiently explained the rules of stepping off the pitcher's rubber, coming set, then winding and delivering. He even demonstrated so that I saw what it looked like.
"And this was in the middle of a game.
"But it didn't matter to Parky. He saw that I needed some help, and he was willing to put the game on hold until I got it right. He was always patient and willing to teach, whether he was taking in a game at the old College Stadium or working behind the plate at a Church League softball game.
"I never forgot what he taught me in the Babe Ruth League, because he made a shy, 13-year-old feel like a professional ballplayer.
"And his pointers did the trick. At the next year's signups, my coach informed me that I had led the league in strikeouts."
Below are reflections on Parkhurst from others he touched:
Russ Diethrick, Jamestown's Mr. Baseball:
"He was my hero as a kid. He was a major-leaguer to us.
"Wherever kids were playing baseball, he was there to offer a lending hand.
"I got to play with Lyle in the semi-pro league here in town. That was a thrill. One thing with him, he always told us kids to take care of ourselves and our bodies and not to smoke. That was a lifetime blessing for me. When people ask why I don't smoke today, I say it's because of him. That is certainly a gift.
"With the Jammers, he has always been a loyal supporter. The local pro team was always very important to him and he was a strong supporter of that.
"He gave thousands of hours to the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame and it was very valuable. He made it what it is today. He touched an unlimited number of lives in our community. He was a special guy. Guys like Lyle come along once in your lifetime.
"Just his personality and presence is a big loss. There are a lot of people he did touch. Tomorrow's generation won't have that opportunity. He sure made it better for everybody."
Doug Berlin, former Babe Ruth League coach:
"I'm sad. I'm sorry. Every time I go to the ballpark, I'll be telling a Parky story.
"The thing about him - it wasn't the call - it was the way he called the game. He would stop a game and tell the pitcher what he was doing right and what he was doing wrong.
"I saw him go down to a high school game once (at Diethrick Park) and an umpire didn't show up. He grabbed his stuff and didn't think twice. He ran out on the field and was chattering with the fans between innings. We're not going to see one like him again.
"He was one of those guys you saw and couldn't help but smile, whether you were coaching or if you saw him somewhere. I'm certainly going to miss him."
Adam Donato, Jamestown Community College baseball player:
"He was an umpire in every age group I played in. He taught me how to pitch. If I was doing something wrong, he'd call timeout and come to the mound and tell me what I did wrong.
"He was always smiling, always happy. And he still went to our JCC games."
George Barone, Jamestown Babe Ruth League manager:
"One day several years ago, I got a call from Parky. He wanted to know if I needed any help coaching Jock Shop in the Jamestown Babe Ruth League.
"I told him I'd be glad to have his help and he began coaching first base for me. He liked to coach first base and he always wanted us to get the first base dugout so he wouldn't have to walk so far.
"He truly loved the ballplayers and everybody in the community thought a lot of him.
"Parky was always the first one at practice. He would arrive 15 to 20 minutes early with his hat on. He was a fantastic gentleman and never complained.
"This was quite a shock. We have all lost somebody very special."
Ron Melquist, Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame president:
"Lyle was quite a guy and he was an excellent board member that volunteered his time to keep the hall open. He was very dedicated and was always at the Hall of Fame every Monday and had been coming some Fridays recently.
"We knew he was having health problems, but he never complained and the day he was out of the hospital he was down there volunteering.
"He was always upbeat and he was always the one to make the motion to end our meetings by saying, 'I make a motion we adjourn.'"
Greg Moran, umpire:
"I just heard from my mom that Lyle had passed away. He was one of a kind. He was instrumental, along with Larry Rodgers, Chief Catania and Ross Crucilla, in getting me into umpiring at age 16.
"When I was playing Little League and Babe Ruth it always seemed like Lyle was the umpire at the games. He was always telling stories, joking and laughing.
"The last time I saw him as when we (the housing authority) repaired the roof on his house."
Sue Sawyer, WCA Hospital Director of Volunteer Services:
"He was priceless and always had a kind word.
"Lyle would come in four days a week in the mornings around 7:30 and stay to 11 or 11:30. He would take patients to and from radiology and other departments.
"He loved people and loved to tell stories about baseball.
"Lyle was a stable part of the community and will absolutely be missed."
George Elder, WCA volunteer:
"He was a very likeable person to the end. I came in this morning and was told Lyle passed away.
"I knew him as a volunteer for ten years and he was a very honest man. We are going to miss him."
Bob Schmitt, former Frewsburg Central baseball coach:
Chris Reilly, former Jamestown High baseball coach:
"I remember a playoff game, I believe with Williamsville North, when an umpire didn't show up. Parky took over and was on the bases. He was hoping no one would hit a line drive in his direction.
"I first remember Parky in 1984 when I was a sophomore. He gave me pointers on my curveball during the game.
"Even when he didn't umpire, he and his wife were at the Jamestown games sitting in the grandstand.
"Before the games he umpired, he would come over to the dugout, sign the vouchers and say, 'How you doing, young man.'"
The additional financial assistance of the community is critical to the success of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame. We gratefully acknowledge these individuals and organizations for their generous support.