dedicated to Melvin Grimm
BAYVIEW — This is a story about softball, lazy summer days and memories of good times under a hot sun. And it’s about children honoring their father.
In the late 1950s and early ’60s — before the national upheavals of assassinations, Vietnam and Watergate — South Whidbey’s villages had the reputation of having a real small-town atmosphere.
Farms dotted the landscape and most kids worked hard on summer vacations, in small retail stores or on the family farm.
And absent of video games and computers, they devoted serious time playing fastpitch softball, many playing for a guy they called Tuck.
For the love of baseball
Melvin “Tuck” Grimm was born in Langley in 1928 at a birthing center where Linds Drugstore now stands. His father was well-known on South Whidbey as the fellow who ran the projector for silent moving picture shows at Bayview Hall.
Though he made his living cutting logs at Waterman’s sawmill — for many years the biggest industry on the South End — Grimm loved fastpitch softball. For years he and Ivan Richardson organized and coached Bayview’s pee-wee and minor Little League teams and, more often than not, took their teams to championship games which usually came down to a pitching duel with the fellows from Clinton.
Richardson lives just down the street from the old field next to the Bayview School.
“We won four years in a row, which surprised people because we were supposedly the weaker team,” he said.
“We printed up T-shirts and bought our own equipment. They were a swell bunch of guys and a lot of ‘em still live around here,” Richardson said.
Each community had their own team in the summer leagues; Bayview, Clinton, Langley, Freeland and Maxwelton.
Ray Gabelein and Mark Myres played for Bayview in the 1960s.
“We’d ride our bikes down to the field, grab our gloves and play ball,” Myres recalled.
Gabelein remembered the cold pop swimming in melted ice water at the Cash Store. And both have never forgotten the Hershey bars Grimm would hand out after every game.
“In those days, my dad would go and buy them for $1.05 a box,” Brian Grimm said. “We all ate too many.”
Myres said they were just farm boys.
“We played in T-shirts, nothing fancy. Tuck would show up from work covered in sawdust and start hitting balls into the field one-handed. You got pretty strong hand-pushing wood at the mill,” Myres said. “It was a simpler time, something like Mayberry. We had fun.”
There weren’t many girls playing in those days, unless they were good.
“They needed a good center field catcher and I was it,” Bonnie Altenborg recalled with a proud smile.
Gabelein said Grimm was pretty mellow, an easy-going sort who seldom raised his voice.
“He always had a positive attitude, probably why we always fielded a full team. Maxwelton usually had some townies, but we beat them,” Gabelein said.
Though he spent his life in Langley, Grimm cast a wide net looking for a wife, traveling to Coupeville to woo and win the hand of Ruth Ann Chesterfield. They married in June 1950 and had three boys and two girls.
The brothers said their father believed in education, though he himself didn’t have much.
“He told us to shine at what we did best, then helped us with what we weren’t good at,” Bruce Grimm said.
Brothers honor father’s memory
The brothers have established a $500 scholarship in their father’s name for Bayview School students, particularly the boy or girl who shows the most significant improvement as a student and person. The parents must be involved as well, providing mentorship and support.
Grimm passed away in 1999 at age 71. His memorial service was so well attended, it was held at Langley Middle School.
Brian Grimm remembered there was a lady serving food that he didn’t know.
“She told me that years ago when she first came to the island, her tire blew out at Casey’s and someone gave her dad’s phone number,” Brian said. “My dad drove over, changed the flat and just smiled when she told him she had no money.
“’I’m helping out to re-pay the debt I owe him,’ she said.”
Today, the grassy softball field is just four bases, a tattered backstop, a few benches and a picnic table on a plateau next to the school, hidden from the road by a thick stand of trees.
There’s only one new addition, a sign erected by the brothers Grimm — Mel, Brian and Bruce — and sisters Lori and Mary Ann, designating it as the Melvin Grimm Memorial Field.
Affixed are a bat, softball and a Hershey wrapper.
“We wanted to recognize my dad and all the men and women who played for him over the years,” Brian Grimm said. “He taught us the value of sportsmanship, friendship and brotherhood. Many of his players still live around here.”
Grimm said that though he goes to visit his father’s gravesite at Bayview’s cemetery, he feels closest to him at the ballfield.
“It’s a place to mourn. There really are angels in the outfield here.”
Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.