Looking back at ’63 with Tim Sommer

TimSommer1

We had a chance to sit down and talk to Tim Sommer, a right handed pitcher from the 1963 California League Champion Ports team. Get to know Tim Sommer before you see him on May 18 at Banner Island Ballpark!

Name: Tim Sommer

Nickname: Slim, The Professor, The Librarian, Clark Kent

Position: RHP

Birthplace: Canton, OH

Date of birth: December 31, 1942

High school: Norwalk High School (Norwalk, OH)

College: Ohio University

The Ports

  • What is your favorite memory from your time on the Ports in 1963?
    • My first ever airplane ride from Spring Training in Thomasville, GA to Stockton.  Unfortunately this prevented my understanding of United States geography.  When the Orioles signed Wally Bunker, he took my spot in the rotation and I was sent to Appleton, Wisconsin.  When I called my mom and dad in Ohio, my dad asked me, “How are you going to get there?”  After I told him I was going to drive my 1949 Chevy purchased in Stockton for $100, he gently reminded me there were hills and mountains along the way.  I signed my pink slip over to Ron Stone’s dad and flew out the next day.
  • What accomplishments from your days with the Ports are you most proud of?
    • Surviving long enough to receive my contingency signing bonus.  I signed what is called a “contingency” bonus contract.  Since I was such an unknown to Baltimore, they didn’t want to invest any money for 90 days.  A few days before the expiration time, I was told Harry Dunlop wanted to see me in his office.  I figured I was heading home and my career was over.  Harry had a stern look on his face when I entered.  He went on to explain that Wally was signed to a contract and a spot on the roster was needed.  It turned out he was having some fun with me because the next words informed me I was being sent to Appleton and my check would be awaiting there.
  • What favorite memory do you have about your 1963 teammates?
    • The team camaraderie from the first day we were together.  From the first day in Spring Training when the final roster was set, there was an amazing chemistry that one could feel.  I had played semi-pro ball around northern Ohio with both young and old, but never with a mixture of professionals with the same makeup in ages.  Later in life, I came to realize Harry was only a few years older than all of us but had the command respect of all of us.
  • Who was the most memorable character from your 1963 Ports team?
    Tim Sommer, Lloyd Fourroux and John Hogg

    Tim Sommer, Lloyd Fourroux and John Hogg

    • Lloyd Fourroux.  Again, having grown up in the farmlands of Ohio, I didn’t know anything about complexities of different cultures in America.  While we had kids from all over, Lloyd was the only Cajun from Louisiana.  It was a learning lesson and a treat to be around him during the three seasons we played together.
  • How involved were you and your teammates in the community?
    • I don’t recall any involvement though everything was so new to me, I may have forgotten something.  I do remember the initial “Meet the Ports” community gathering a few days before the season.  I had never been to a gathering of people this large in my life.  A wine company of the region had provided an untold number of bottles for the event.  Paul Blair, Curt Motton ,and myself went around collecting a couple of extra bottles that were stored hidden under our table on the dais.  Curt almost fell over backwards mid-keynote speech after his good share of the loot.
  • 1963 was a memorable year in American history. Did the current events at the time affect your team at all?
    • There was no affect at all.  We were a bunch of kids chasing our dreams.  Current events and politics never came up within our group even though we represented a great cross section of the population.
  • What was your favorite ballpark in the Cal League to play in?
    • Reno, NV. The bright lights of the city were fascinating.  I didn’t know anything about gambling and other things available in this city.  Being a starting pitcher, I had four idle days in between starts and if in Reno, I didn’t bother with sleep.  I was most impressed with Harry because seldom did we have a curfew.  He felt we were all men and should be responsible for our own lives.  I was just a little less responsible in Reno.
  • Who was the toughest opponent you faced?
    • Myself, worrying about surviving amongst the big fish.  I wanted a career in professional baseball so badly, I couldn’t handle any loss whether I had pitched well or not.  After being sent to Appleton this year, it wasn’t until my manager, Billy Demars, found me sitting on the front steps of our hotel at 2 AM agonizing over a loss.  He went on to tell me if I couldn’t let go of the negative feelings and look forward to the next start with the attitude that I was going to win, there was no hope for a career.  The words sunk in and this was the turning point in my baseball life.  The following year, under Billy, we won the first title for the Appleton Foxes in the Midwest League.  I was 14-2, MVP, and winner of the one game playoff against Clinton, Iowa.
  • What was Stockton like when you were with the Ports in 1963?
    • Progressive compared to the farming area I came from in Ohio.  It was almost shocking because of my limited knowledge established by growing up in Ohio, transported to rural Georgia for Spring Training, and then being deposited in Stockton by airplane.
  • What was the best part about winning the 1963 California League Championship Title?
    • I wasn’t there at the end of the season but knew I had contributed.
  • During your time with Stockton, was there a major league baseball player that you looked up to? Modeled your playing after?
    • Bob Feller.  I idolized the Cleveland Indians and can actually remember the 1948 pennant-winning team.  I believe this is what started my early belief I was going to be a professional baseball player some time ahead.

Since then…

  • Where do you currently reside?
    • Prescott, AZ
  • What major league team do you currently follow?
    • I follow the Diamondbacks.  My roommate in AAA (Don Baylor) is their hitting coach.  He also is one of the nicest persons I ever played with.
  • Spouse/children/grandkids
  • Wife: Mary, married 43 years.  Married in March of 1969 in Daytona Beach during Spring Training.
  • Children: Chris and Jeff
  • Grandchildren: Elizabeth and Allison
    • Did you ever make it back to Stockton after you were finished playing for the Ports?
      • Returned to play 1966 season, but never back after that.
  • Have you followed the Ports at all since you were on the team?
    • Occasionally after writing my book “Beating About the Bushes” reviving memories.
  • Do you keep in touch with any of your 1963 teammates? If so, whom?
    • Lloyd Fourroux and Ron Stone.
  • What are you doing now after baseball?
    • Semi-retired.
  • What has been your biggest success in your career following your time with Stockton?
    • Retired as VP of auto parts manufacturer in Elmira, NY.  I also became active in pitching instruction of local youth in Elmira.  I came to understand why Lou Gorman offered me the Kansas City minor league pitching coach job one week after I retired.
  • If you could give any piece of advice to current Ports players, what would it be?
    • Play as long as your heart tells you to.  There will be a time when you know it is over and time to move on

    Bob Townsend, Ed Hawkins and Tim Sommer in front of the Fresno Courthouse

    Bob Townsend, Ed Hawkins and Tim Sommer in front of the Fresno Courthouse

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