The yellowed newspaper clippings recall the days when Pete Rose was a rookie, Juan Marichal was winning games for the San Francisco Giants, and Houston’s baseball team was called the Colt .45s.
There were no Florida Marlins or Tampa Bay Rays, but the Florida State League standings included teams in Orlando and St. Petersburg.
It was May of 1963.
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And the Manatee Hurricanes owned high school baseball, losing just twice.
“There wasn’t a team that could touch us,” said Richard Buckle.
Buckle, 64, is now a lawyer with an office in downtown Bradenton. He played second base for those Hurricanes, who won the Class 2A state title that season and were the last Manatee team to play for a baseball state title until this year. The 2011 Hurricanes head to Port St. Lucie on Friday for the Class 5A state semifinals.
Buckle keeps mementos from that magical time in a beige folder. Among his collection are stories cut from area papers and glossy black-and-white snapshots, including one of pitcher Gary Trapp and coach Maynard Clark posing with the massive state championship trophy.
Manatee defeated Pensacola for the state title on Friday, May 17, in a game played at Sarasota’s Payne Park.
The final score was 7-5, though the Canes trailed 5-3 heading into the bottom of the third inning.
“You see all of those things about teams getting into a big pile when they win,” said Gordon Tyler, Manatee’s catcher that season. “Well, we did that.”
Makes sense. Manatee’s baseball team did everything together?
“Everybody got along,” said Tyler, who is retired and lives in Tampa. “That’s probably the biggest thing that I liked, the camaraderie.”
They played Password on the bus during road trips and touch football games at Lewis Park. They were teammates during the summer, playing with the American Legion team, and when they weren’t practicing or playing at McKechnie Field, the Hurricanes headed to Skip Lujack’s house and took swings in his homemade batting cage.
Lujack played second base during the state final, going 1-for-3 with a run scored.
“We breathed, ate and drank baseball,” Buckle said.
The ’63 team featured Richard Trapp, an all-world athlete who went on to have a Hall-of-Fame football career at the University of Florida. He also starred on the university’s baseball team and won the school’s table tennis and billiards titles before embarking on a pro football career.
It also included Jack Hutchinson, whose father, Fred, managed the Cincinnati Reds to the 1961 World Series.
Suffice it to say, the Hurricanes were good.
“We dominated,” Buckle said.
During a regional playoff game at McKechnie Field, they roughed up a team from West Palm Beach. That team’s pitcher, Harry Dahl, was a coveted bonus baby who hadn’t allowed an earned run all season.
“He was the fastest (pitcher) I ever saw,” Tyler said.
The Hurricanes scored eight off of him en route to a 16-2 win. Lujack hit a home run over McKechnie’s scoreboard and off the roof of the Bradenton Boys & Girls Club. That appeared to rattle Dahl, who hit the next batter, Tyler, in the arm with a fastball.
“We knew after that, we were going to win state,” Tyler said. “We knew if we could beat that guy, we could beat anybody.”
Winning a state championship is always special. But what made it especially sweet was that the ’63 Canes were a close-knit group who grew up together, and the ripple effects from that era are still felt today.
Lujack recently taught Tyler how to play golf.
“I’ve been playing ever since,” he said.
Tyler and his wife recently celebrated their fourth anniversary. They were paired up by Danny Alfonso, a manager for the ’63 Hurricanes.
Buckle attributes that team for helping shape the person he is today.
“I wasn’t good enough to play in college, so I turned it into a law degree,” he said. “It gave me confidence and poise.”
Now this year’s Hurricanes have a chance to match the ‘63 team, a team that matured together, played together and won together.
“I can’t think of those days and remember if we expected to win. But we were just good,” Tyler said. “We were good.”