Remembering Six

Quote of the Day     “You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who can never repay you.”     –John Wooden

Running through my usual websites today, I read with great interest on the Mississippi Press Register’s website that the 12 year old Dixie Youth Baseball O Zone World Series was underway in Pascagoula.  I was pleased to see Pascagoula buried Tennessee 17-8 in the opening round.  My mind travelled back to Pascagoula National’s bitter 4-3 defeat at the hands of Tennessee in the 1983 Dixie Youth World Series in Bessemer, Alabama.  The details have grown fuzzier with each passing year, but I recall for certain that we had the tying and winning runs on 2d and 3rd base when the game ended and that all of Tennessee’s (12 year old) players were 6’5, had beards, and were ambidextrous.  

It was a great summer.  My friends and I won three tournaments in route to that World Series.  In the State Tournament, we faced Laurel needing to beat them twice in order to advance.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, we were major underdogs as Laurel was considered one of the greatest hitting teams ever seen in our state.  The public address announcer even thanked us for our participation and wished Laurel well at the World Series in the 5th inning of our first game with them when we were behind two runs.  We won that game, won the next night, and the achievement means almost as much to me today as it did twenty-six years ago.

Our manager was Sixto Aleman–Coach Six.  He passed away several years back and I miss him.  Six taught me a lot that summer.  The season of 1982, I played well enough to make the All-Star team comfortably. However, I didn’t and the main reason why was Six standing up during the vote and telling all the other coaches I didn’t deserve it because I had a “bad attitude.”  Six didn’t know me at the time and misinterpreted my visible reactions to the little setbacks that happen during the course of games as being directed at teammates rather than at myself.  I knew he blackballed me and I was pretty unhappy that he would be my coach in 1983.  

The first thing Six did was “make” me play shortstop–I thought I should be in centerfield.  The summer was off to a bad start.  Then we played our local nemesis, Moss Point, in the finals of our first tournament. I was pitching and got off to a miserable start.  Down 5-0 in the second inning, Six came to the mound and sent everyone else away.  He wasn’t angry or frustrated, just matter of fact.  “Hey chief, you think I should take you out.”  I angrily replied “I guess.”  He calmly responded, “You’re our best chance to win this game. Forget about everything before now and pitch the way you know how.  And have fun.  We’re going to win.” And we did, 6-5.  It wasn’t long thereafter that Six came to me and told me how proud he was of me.  He also said he knew I didn’t like him because of what happened the year before, and he didn’t blame me, and he was wrong, and he was sorry.  That was the first time an adult had ever confessed his fallability to me. And I loved him for it.  Pragmatism, loyalty, determination, trust, honesty, and forgiveness–my understanding of all of these qualities was dramatically and permanantly enhanced over those weeks in ways that have stayed with me to this day.  Plus, I ended up loving shortstop and playing it pretty dang well.

I can’t remember all I learned from Six sitting in his house, or in a dugout, or out at the ballfields over the course of the 1980’s, though one other moment stands out.  It was a couple of years later and a coach was trying to call my pitches from the dugout.  I had never relied on anyone else to call my pitches and didn’t like it a bit.  I complained to Six and he said “You think you know better than him?  Then go out there, listen to him, say “yes sir”, then do what you think is right.  If it works, he won’t say anything.  If it doesn’t, you better be prepared for the consequences.”  It’s the best advice I ever got and I still use it all the time.

I don’t know if Heaven’s gone wireless and online yet, Six, but if someone forwards this to you, thanks for that summer.

About travellinbaen

I'm a 40 year old lawyer living in Ridgeland, Mississippi. I'm several years and a couple hundred miles removed from most of my old running buddies so I started the blog to provide an outlet for many of the observations and ideas that used to be the subjects of our late night/happy hour/halftime conversations and arguments.
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14 Responses to Remembering Six

  1. lefty says:

    TB, I stumbled upon your blog recently and find it to be a very good read. You give some very good insight to my home, which I miss very much. I also feel like I’ve learned something each time I read your post.

    I also reminisce about the good ole days when we were all playing ball together. Those were the best years of my life and I also learned a lot from my coaches and teammates.

    I grew up playing T-Ball and Dixie Youth baseball in Gautier and by the time I was 13 there was very little interest in the community and the league cancelled it’s season’s for a couple of years. So, there were quite a few of us that decided to travel to Goula to play ball with the big boys.

    My brother and I made a few calls and Coach Herndon decided to give me a chance to play on his Estabrook Dizzy Dean 13-14 year old team in Pascagoula. I was a skinny kid and couldn’t hit, throw or catch all that well, but I played with a lot of fire inside. There were a lot of players in the league that wore their Pascagoula High School hats, “P-Hats”, and I looked at them like they were major leaguers. They were all slick fielders, could hit the ball a mile and threw like Nolan Ryan. I was jealous and wanted to be like them!

    I never made All Stars in Gautier, which really means I sucked. Hell my dad was my coach one year and didn’t even select me. I had a decent first year on the mound in Dizzy Dean ball and I thought “maybe this will be the year”, but when the teams were selected I was very disappointed that my name wasn’t on the list. After that season I decided I needed to get bigger, more coordinated and play with more confidence. I wasn’t as good as a lot of players and I needed to get better. I started running, throwing, hitting, lifting light weights and I slowly started getting better and my self esteem improved. The next season I had some very good games and started hitting the ball well and I thought for sure I would be selected this time around for All stars. Of course, I didn’t make it and I was pissed off more than ever that I still wasn’t good enough.

    High School tryouts were held in December and I wanted to make the High School team, despite the fact that there were tons on kids better than me. The first day of tryouts Coach “O” watched us as we fielded balls and hit off the pitching machine in the cage. He didn’t have much to say to me and there was a lot of doubt that I would ever make the team. I started taking cuts in the cage and was making good contact. I had a short, weak stroke, but Coach “O” said “nice swing” and “good job” and that meant the world to me. I wanted to be a pitcher, but was willing to play anywhere to be a part of the team. The next day or two we scrimmaged and it was my turn to take the mound. I think I threw two innings and didn’t give up any hits or walks, which is very unlike me, and I think I struck a couple of guys out. The results from the tryout were posted in the High School later in the week and I was for sure that I would be left out once again. I was still less talented, smaller, and less confident that most guys, but I was amazed when my name made the list. I was on the freakin High School team! I was on the freakin High School team! Coach “O” saw something in me that very few coaches saw in me. He saw that I had a good work ethic, had some upside, and wanted to work to get somewhere rather than just show up and not give a damn like some others. There were quite a few former teammates that approached me years later and asked why I made the team and they didn’t. I told them I had to work very hard, because I didn’t have the talent. I had to be hustling whether coach was watching or not. I think he took notice and gave me a chance.

    I played in quite a few Junior Varsity games that next spring and did okay, but not great. I was really looking forward to Dizzy Dean ball! I wore my “P” hat and carried that confidence that I had seen in players that wore them before me. I had some very good games and some not so good ones, but I was finally selected to my first all Star team. I ended up making a few All Star teams, which made it to the World Series and was having more fun that ever.

    My senior year came around and I had a very, very good year. There were some shaky outings, but I did very well. I couldn’t believe it when I was selected to play, and start, for South Mississippi in the Diamond Club High School All Star game. I and only one other player made it from my High School team. I was in a very select group. All my hard work had finally paid off. In my mind I had made it to the top. There was some jealousy from some of my High School teammates, but I knew some had all the talent in the world and didn’t give a darn. They didn’t even try. Hell they even told me to slow down and times when running so I wouldn’t show them up. I just ran faster!

    Thanks Coach “O’ for giving me a chance!

  2. Thank for the comments OB. I never knew your back story–it’s pretty cool. You definitely worked yourself in to being one of the best pitchers in the state and I know that work ethic has served you well in the years since then.

    I look forward to hearing more from you.

    PS–Goula won again yesterday and now gets a bye in the winners’ bracket.

  3. lefty says:

    Thanks! I never knew a lot of things about you, too. I am glad you are doing so well and wish I could’ve seen you at the reunion. Maybe the 25th!

    Gooo Goula!

  4. Jessie Lou says:

    Great story TB – Six is well known in these parts and his son was on Gene’s team a time or two. Lefty – your story would give alot of kids inspiration knowing that sometimes hard work does pay off.

    The final score of the goula game yesterday was 13-1. There were two outs and bases loaded when Slater McCarty (son of Lance and Candance, grandson of Jolly) came up to bat and hit a grand slam home run! Everyone has their fingers crossed that Goula will repeat the 1971 team’s success. Kind of gives you goosebumps.

  5. larry says:

    Baen, As you know, I too got the chance to have Six as my manager for the seasons 1981 and 1982. Two very different years in my young life. I moved up from Gulf League to National League and was picked by Six to play on Dick Sutherland Realty. It was the first time that I was ever coached by someone other than my dad. I had made the all-star team in each of the past three years and did not see a reason why I would not as an 11 year old. I had a mediocre year. I did not deserve to be on the all-star team and I knew it, but I still thought I would make it. Well as it fate would have it, I had spent the night at Six’s house the day of closing ceremonies and it was Six’s job to go pick-up the all-star trophies. Six and I piled into his old maroon car(I forget the make) to pick-up the trophies. I thought that this was odd given the secrecy that usually surrounded the all-star selections. I saw all the trophies and the names, mine was not one of the names. Six noticed me looking at the trophies and matter of factly told me you will not find one with your name. I of course asked him why? Again, matter of factly Six told me that he did even put me up for the team. I was crushed. Then Six did something I will remeber forever, he asked me if I thought I should have made the team? We both knew the answer was no. I was able in that moment to accept the disappointment and come to terms with not making the team. Looking back, I think Six took me with him on purpose. I think he was teaching me a lesson as well as motivating me to be better. The lesson I learned was people are not going to give you anything, you have to earn it. Six was up front with me and did not pull any punches. I liked it.

    Before the 1982 season, Six sat me down at his kitchen table and asked me what were my goals for the season. We made a list of about five items and as the year went on we checked each one off the list. The last one was to make the all-star team and we checked it off together. I can not begin to express the feeling of pride, statisfaction, accomplishment, and allegiance I felt and still feel towards Six. I apprecieated his candor and his confidence. Six taught these lessons and never made a person feel small. That is a unqiue quality. I hope in some way these qualities rubbed off on me. My life is better because Six is a part of it.

  6. travellinbaen says:

    In trying to just do 4-5 paragraphs on Six, its tough to convey how much he meant to me, and I know there are a lot of other guys around our age that feel the same. He was always teaching and you always wanted to learn more. It was like being at the foot of an Tibetan monk.

  7. face says:

    Nice blog TB. This was the first story I read. Being a few years younger than you boys, I also played for Six for Dick Sutherland Realty with the pretty green and gold unis. The first game of my 12 year old season, I pitched and we won. I was the best player on the team and we had won the game. We huddled up after the game for his postgame talk and waited for him to give out the game ball. He talked about me and held the game ball out in front of me and then said, “That’s the worst game I’ve seen you play.” He then gave the game ball to someone else. I remember playing harder than ever the next game.

    A number of years later at high school football practice, I looked up and there was Six watching me from outside the fence. He waited til after practice and came around to find me and ask how everything was going.

  8. Thanks Face–that’s a common experience with Six too. Actually both were. Of course, when you blew up on the mound and struck out three times at the plate he’d tell you then it was the worst game you ever played too. But then he’d laugh about it and tell you he trusted you and he was putting you right back out there next time.

    Stick around, I’ll find something everyone won’t agree with before long and start some arguments.

  9. BR says:

    There are a 100 stories i could tell about ‘Sixtoes”
    Like the time when me and TB were 12 and playing ball in the district tournament, as i remember the umpire had a tight strike zone and i
    said something to him about it, six calls time-out
    I said to myself that ump is up sh*t creek come to find out it was me that he was mad at, he let me have it, it was not my place to argue with the ump it was his.
    I was fortunate enough to play and coach with six
    for a few years it always seems that he would pick
    the kids that most coaches would not even consider drafting but six always seemed to get the best out of everyone i think that is the way he
    tested himself.
    To wrap this up when six passed away they had
    a service here in town and he was burried in Texas where he was originally from. I wanted so
    bad to go to the burial but work and circumstances
    would not allow it. i was fortunate enough to win a
    award at work years later and the convention i got
    to go to was in San Antonio as me and my wife were walking down the riverwalk she said look
    across the river that looks like Mike (six’s son)
    to my disbelief he’s down there visiting his uncle
    So as we BS and drank numerous cold beers
    at the HardRock his Uncle invited us to his house
    for tamale’s and more Beer. He lived outside
    the city limits so we all climb in his car and off
    we went. The subject of six came up and the next
    thing i know we are pulling into a little fenced in
    area in the middle of nowhere and i got to say
    goodbye to him again.
    Later Kiddo’s

  10. zeek says:

    TB- I was surfing thru and I had read and comment on the Six blog. Unlike most of ya’ll, The Summer of ’83 was the pinnacle of my baseball career, one of the greatest summers ever, I believe we should still hold some State Tourney records and our Board is no longer up at Gibson Field. After that season I guess I just wasn’t quite up to snuff enuff for the powers that be but that is a whole different story. I still have bruises from catching you and BR the summer of 85 by the way. Back to Six, I think that his ability to truly be himself at all times, not in comfortable ones, and him being a genuinely great person, is what made him such a good coach. Not that he didn’t know baseball, but, he was sort of a life coach who had a baseball team. I will remember him more for the times spent talking and learning from him after that year as we got older. Just wish I would have heeded the wisdom better. All in all one of the coolest cats I’ve ever come across. Godspeed Sixto.

  11. coachdee says:

    Where is coach Johnny “O” now?

  12. Jessie Lou says:

    If you mean Johnny Olsen – he is still coaching baseball at PHS.

  13. To all who knew my Uncle Sixto,

    My name is Sixto Louis Aleman, I live in San Antonio, Tx. Sixto Xavier Aleman was my uncle. I am very touched by your stories about him. It is nice to know that he is remembered and respected by others. I did not see him very often growing up, but I do recall one particular visit when he asked me to bring him a glass of ice water and he tells me to make sure the glass was sweating. I had never thought about it, but unless your glass is sweating on a hot Texas Spring day, your drink isn’t very cold at all. Well, that’s what I remember. I still remember him teaching me how to throw a circle change and I remember him calling my Uncle Raymond and my parents and asking how I was doing on my high school baseball team. I did not see him enough or as much as I would have liked, but reading about him and how he touched your lives is heart-warming. I want to thank you all for sharing and remembering my Uncle Sixto.

  14. Leon Aleman, Jr. says:

    Greetings All! My name is Leon Aleman, Jr. When my brother, Sixto Louis, shared this article on our Uncle Six with me I was so inspired by the way he inspired so many of you that I forwarded the story to many of my fellow coaches and teacher friends. I am a high school teacher and coach of 21 years in San Antonio, Texas. We did not see or talk to Uncle Six very often but when we did we always talked baseball! It seemed no matter how well I felt I did or how good I thought I was, he always found something to critique and told me I could still do better! Now to the point, before I share this with you, I need to give you a little background info. My grandfather (mom’s dad), Salvador Acuna, was a great fan of baseball. There is a story about Salvador, do not know if it is true or not, but all the old timers say it is. Where, as a young man Salvador had an opportunity to play professional baseball, St. Louis Browns, I believe, but being a migrant worker and working for the family his mother did not sign the papers for him to go as he was underage and needed to make money. Well, Uncle Six loved to sit, have a beer and talk baseball with my “Grandpa Sal”. Though not related to him, other than my dad’s, Six’s brother’s, father-in-law, he often spoke very highly of his love and respect for Salvador and his love for “THE GAME”. Now the story, my Grandpa Sal loved to sit with me and talk baseball. Whether it was in his living room, in his kitchen with a bowl of menudo, out back by the picnic table, walking through the aisles at Handy Andy (for those of you who don’t know Handy Andy is an old San Antonio family grocery store, gone now, maybe one or two left), or at the “Sportsman’s”, his hangout across the vacant lot from his house, we talked baseball for hours! I can still see Grandpa Sal with his cold Pearl Beer in his right hand and smoky old cigarette in the other! Well, in all the many years of Little League, Pony League, Babe Ruth League, High School, College, and Amateur Ball, Salvador never was able to see me play, Well not exactly, Uncle Six did an awesome thing for me and my Grandpa Sal. I was playing for Incarnate Word College in the program’s inaugural year, Spring 1987, our field was under construction so we played our home games at Trinity University. I can not tell you who we played, whether we won or lost, or even how I did that day, but I can tell you this, my Grandpa Sal saw me play and he was proud! Thanks Uncle Six for bringing Grandpa Sal to my game! (Grandpa Sal died the following spring) That is the kind of person Sixto Aleman was he always seemed to do just what mattered. Thanks to all of you for remembering Uncle Six. God Bless you all!

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