Greensboro reacquainted itself with Jim Bouton - the irreverent, comical, never-take-things too-seriously Jim Bouton - Tuesday night at the Second Annual Hot Stove Banquet.
From all indications, the overflow crowd loved every minute.What they didn't see, however, was Bouton's sentimental side. The first thing the 51-year-old ex-big league pitcher did after arriving in the city was visit War Memorial Stadium. He even stepped onto the pitchers mound, the same mound, albeit soggy from recent rain, that saw him achieve his first success as a pro.
``It gave me a little bit of a chill, honest,' Bouton said. ``I haven't been back there in 30 years. Heck, it was the first real stadium I actually played in.'
Bouton posted a 14-8 record for the Greensboro Yankees in 1960. It was a promising start to a career that would see him win 21 games for the New York Yankees in 1963 and pitch in the World Series. Later he would become more famous and more wealthy for his no-holds-barred books on life as a major league athlete.
But Tuesday he was in Greensboro to help the Hornets promote baseball, raise a few bucks for area youth baseball, and yuck it up with a few of his friends and fans. Clearly, his sense of humor was still in tact.
``I came into town today and they asked me where I wanted to eat,' Bouton said. ``I said someplace where they have cornbread and blackeyed peas. I love Southern cooking. The first time I had grits, I said, hey these don't taste like anything. Then I learned that they taste like what you put on them.'
An estimated 300 people turned out for the fete at The Depot in downtown Greensboro. They were joined there by Bouton, Hornets owner Steve Bryant, general manager Marty Steele, South Atlantic League President John Henry Moss, Carolina League boss John Hopkins, 20 or so ex-pro players, including Greensboro's Skinny Brown, major league umpire Drew Coble, a wide array of media and sundry other baseball notables.
Four awards were given. Southern Guilford coach Charlie Gamble won the Raymond Johnson Award given annually to the top area amateur coach. Elon catcher Mike Kennedy won the Wes Ferrell Award given annually to the top amateur player. Former Greensboro News & Record sports writer Tom Northington won the Charlie Harville Award given annually to a member of the media for excellence in baseball coverage. And Mike Flemming won the Mayor's Cup for longtime service to the game.