Cain talks baseball at Pinnacle 50 meeting – Cleburne Times-Review
Two responded when Cleburne mayor turned author Scott Cain asked for any Houston Astros fans present to raise their hand during Friday’s monthly meeting of Pinnacle Club 50. The Astros, Cain said, began life as the Cleburne Railroaders more than a century ago. In four months they — Railroaders, not the Astros — will resume play in Cleburne after a break of 80 odd years.
Cain was on hand to discuss his upcoming book, “Cleburne Baseball: A Railroader History,” which will be released Feb. 6.
Cain described writing the book as a labor of love and a journey of discovery.
“I knew about Tris Speaker and that we had had a baseball team,” Cain said. “But I didn’t realize the rich history baseball played in Cleburne until I began researching the book.”
Speaker, who played on the Railroaders’ 1906 championship team, went on to earn induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937, having played for the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and other major league teams.
The Railroaders defeated the Fort Worth Panthers, later known as the Fort Worth Cats, in 1906 in Cleburne’s Gorman Park to claim the championship. It was, Cain said, an interesting game to say the least.
Down in the bottom of the ninth, the Railroaders scored two to tie. With two outs and three on base, a Railroader stepped to the plate and made the hit. What should have been an easy out was anything but, Cain said.
“There were cowboys on horseback along the outfield fence line who came in to watch the game from Glen Rose, Grandview, all over,” Cain said. “They all, of course, had their pistols with them. The play should have been an easy pop fly until they took their guns out and shot the ball out of the air into nothing. Which had the umpire and the Panthers wondering what’s with these crazy Cleburne people?”
Unsure what to do, the umpire waved the Railroader on third home, securing the Cleburne championship.
“So, we probably have the strangest walk-off fashion win in baseball history,” Cain said.
The owner of the Railroaders, unfortunately, took his trophy and team to Houston the next year.
All the same, during their time in Cleburne, the Railroaders hosted the Chicago White Sox and nine players from the 1906 team graduated to the major leagues.
Other semi-pro teams followed through the ’30s, some of which were sponsored by Cleburne’s Santa Fe Shops and/or the Cleburne Rotary Club and Cleburne Lions.
Minor league Negro League Baseball also figured into Cleburne’s history, Cain said. A 1906 team featured Oscar “Fudge” Frame, a player legendary despite the absence of one arm.
The 1950s brought the arrival of little league baseball to Cleburne and, for a time, rivaled the popularity of high school football, Cain said. Several of those Cleburne little leaguers later played in the majors, he said.
Legendary Cleburne High School football coach Brooks Conover got the little league up and running and Johnson County Judge Roger Harmon’s father later took it over, Harmon said.
“I tell you, I made a lot of snow cones and popped a lot of popcorn out there,” Harmon said. “My dad had me working.”
Cain credits the revival of the Railroaders to a phone call from Patrick’s Cleburne Floral Company’s owner John Patrick.
“John told me about how the [Fort Worth Cats] had lost their lease at LaGrave Field and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to get baseball back in Cleburne?’ probably just as an aside or joking around. Well, I was dumb enough to pick up the phone and call the Cats. But then I figured, we don’t need Fort Worth’s history. We’ve got our own.”
All of which led to the November 2015 election in which Cleburne voters approved, among other things, the issuance of $25 million in bonds to fund construction of a baseball stadium.
Construction on the stadium, known as The Depot, is scheduled to complete in April. The Railroaders’ first season in decades is scheduled to begin on May 18.
“You mean May as in this May?” one Pinnacle Club 50 member asked Cain.
That, Cain replied, is correct.
“They’re making good progress out there,” Cain said. “Hunt Construction Company has been doing this for 25 years building everything up to major league stadiums. Their guy told me they’ve never missed a deadline. So rest assured, we will not miss opening day.”
The American Association of Independent Baseball, in October, accepted the Railroader’s bid for league membership. Announcements of staff and players are around the corner Cain said.
One attendee asked Johnson County Sheriff Adam King if cowboys are likely to show up come May to shoot at baseballs.
“I hope not,” King joked. “But hey, if they do, feel free to call Chief Severance at Cleburne PD.”
Pointing out a picture of a 1911 Cleburne baseball team in his book, Cain said he hasn’t been able to identify one of the players and asked Pinnacle Club 50 Founder Dewey James if he might be the person in question.
“No, that’s Judge Harmon,” James replied.
James, at the beginning of the meeting, wished state Rep. DeWayne Burns, R-Cleburne, also a Pinnacle Club 50 member, luck as he heads down to Austin for the upcoming legislative session.
James also congratulated Burns on being named the Times-Review’s man of the year, a tradition that dates to 2001.
“Oh well, I wasn’t going to mention that,” James said after someone pointed out that he was named the Times-Review’s first man of the year.
Burns invited all interested to pay a visit to Austin at noon Tuesday when he gets sworn in to his second term.
On a more serious note, James and his son, Guy James, praised Cain for his proactive efforts to make the Railroaders’ return a reality.
Cain called it a community effort in which he only played a part.
“I’m just privileged to have been part of this great time and opportunity for the community,” Cain said. “We’re going to have to plan a parade for one thing. The town didn’t get to celebrate the 1906 championship before the owner moved the team out of town. So we’re looking to pick up right where we left off in 1906. It’s a great day in Cleburne.”
For the rest of the story, Cain joked, readers will have to pick up a copy of the book, which will soon be available at the Cleburne Chamber of Commerce, Layland Museum and other locations.
Pinnacle Club 50 consists of Cleburne and Johnson County businessmen and women and other community leaders who gather monthly for fellowship and updates on community happenings.