Their covered dish dinner included all the traditional spoils of summer — hot dogs, fried chicken, a tableful of homemade sides, homegrown tomatoes, desserts and big wedges of watermelon. And the blessing they said before it included thanks for their opportunity come together “to enjoy each other and go over old times.”
From the 1950s through the 1980s, the Vols were a powerhouse of East Tennessee League baseball. Led by coach Ernest King Carrier, they were a constant threat to take the league title.
More than a half dozen of the team members played college baseball on scholarships that launched their careers in a variety of professions.
Their first baseman, Jim Saul, amassed a 50-year career as a professional player, coach and manager, including three years of major league coaching with the Chicago Cubs and Oakland A’s.
Saul said he came home to Bristol each fall and played with the Vols “until the snow would start to fly, and I did that every year until we dissolved at the close of the 1980s.” A catcher in the pros, his Vol teammates said they kept him playing first base to keep him from getting hurt.
Their biggest rival was Greeneville Magnavox, who were known for bringing in retired pros. Their original home field was at the former Bluff City High School and a far cry better than that of the Conklin Braves, whose outfield fence was made of chicken wire and prone to wrap around players who were unfortunate enough to run into it.
The fence at Conklin and the story of one such run-in with a Vol as recalled by teammate Jim “Hammer” Jones was among the most riotous stories told on Saturday. Others included a poem Ed Carrier wrote and mailed to Jones while Jones was in the service in Vietnam.
While Jones could only recall “it was about a home run he hit” and “something he put in there about you would have thought Babe Ruth had rose from the dead,” Carrier recited the line word for word.
“When the chips are down, call on old Ed. It’s like bringing Babe Ruth back from the dead,” Carrier said to own delight and that of his teammates.
Bob Zeiger fondly recalled the Ben Ward Mountain Top Ballpark at Seven Devils, N.C., and how balls that flew over its fence disappeared down the side of the mountain.
Brent Carrier, son of Ed and grandson of Ernest, said the Vols’ last game was something he will never forget.
It was 1989 or 1990 and they were playing at home against Elizabethton, he said. Volunteer Bob Whitehead pitched a “three up, three down” first inning. The Vols went to bat. And it was 10 to 0 in the bottom of the first with no outs when Elizabethton “walked off the field and that was it.”