Forty years ago, the Cleburne Yellow Jacket baseball team made a memorable run to the state championship game. And the 1979 Jackets will celebrate their 40-year anniversary of that memorable time by being honored before a Cleburne Railroaders game on June 15.
“I have been waiting years for this group to become seniors,” said Jay McCarty, Cleburne’s head baseball coach and athletic director in 1979.
That is when the senior-laden team recognized the high expectations that would be satisfied only by a trip to Austin for the state championships.
The Railroaders will honor that memorable 1979 team at The Depot at Cleburne Station at the June 15 game against Sioux City with pre-game recognition and a reception in honor of the players and their families.
The Jackets began that year with a 1-2 record before they caught fire with a 26-game winning streak, including defeating a future major league pitcher twice, before going on to play for all the marbles. Cleburne ended that season with a 30-4 record.
That team did more than win on the baseball field; they helped bring a sense of community to the city of Cleburne due to the pride that everyone had in the team’s success.
In addition to McCarty, the team consisted of pitchers Eddie “Smoke” Pruitt, Allan Lockett, Louis Palafox, Perry Rosser and Doug Mathis, catcher Ricky Longoria, first baseman Scotty Self, second baseman Kelly Sarchet, third baseman Perry Rosser, shortstop Spike Owen, left fielder Tony Potts, and center fielder Perry Ginn. Curtis Jaggars and Jay Wilson were utility outfielders and Bill Porterfield, Louis Palafox and Albert de la Guardia were utility infielders. De la Guardia also served as a player/coach as he coached third base for the Jackets.
Ginn said that the team was close to McCarty: “He watched our group play baseball all the way back to little league all-star games when we were 11 and 12. It meant a lot to us that the head coach of the Yellow Jackets took such an interest in us.”
Rosser said they had a strong confidence within their group.
“Never once did we take the field thinking we were going to lose,” Rosser said. “We weren’t borderline cocky; we were cocky! We knew we were going to win.”
Of these, seven advanced to play baseball at college or beyond. Owen was a three-time All-American at the University of Texas and was drafted by the Seattle Mariners before also playing for the Boston Red Sox, Montreal Expos, New York Yankees and California Angels.
Pruitt played for Midwestern State University and then in the New York Mets’ minor league system. Porterfield played for Murray State and Oklahoma State and in the Texas Rangers’ and Chicago Cubs’ minor league system.
Five more played collegiate baseball: Ginn at McLennan Community College and Lamar University, Self played for Ranger Junior College and McLennan Community College, Rosser played for Ranger Junior College and Longoria played for Hill Junior College. Sarchet played basketball for Midwestern State University.
Of these that played college baseball, two advanced to the pinnacle of their respective divisions. Owen played for the University of Texas in the College World Series in 1981 and 1982 and Ginn played for McLennan Community College in the 1980 and 1981 National Junior College World Series.
Some of the year’s highlights included:
Coach McCarty focused on strategy because he loved to “get into the head” of the opposing team.
Coach McCarty gave the team “Think Austin” T-shirts at the start of the playoffs and the team wore those T-shirts to batting practice to intimidate the opponents.
During the playoffs, the Jackets took fielding practice with what Coach McCarty called a “phantom infield” with an invisible ball. He would act like he hit the imaginary ball and the fielder would make a heroic play on the ball and then rifle the ball to first base for an out. This ploy totally rallied the team and rattled the opponents.
Cleburne’s devoted fans outnumbered the Westlake fans in Austin for the bi-district playoff.
Whenever Cleburne traveled to Austin — for both the Westlake game and for the state tournament, Coach McCarty told the players and families they were staying at the “Charriott” — making the word rhyme with “Marriott.” In reality, they stayed at the Chariot Inn, but he wanted the team to feel they were in an upscale hotel.
Sarchet hit a double off the center field fence in game one to drive in the first and only run the Jackets needed.
Fathers of Jacket players traveled to scout other teams in advance. This paid off in the Bridge City series in the regionals, because that team had a pitcher who would sometimes change to a submarine pitch that started low and would then rise. By knowing and anticipating the pitch, Cleburne’s betters were prepared for the change-up and beat that team by 10 runs in each game.
The Cleburne-Pecos game was the first game of the 4A and 5A playoffs and Owen led off as the tournament’s first batter. In an effort to beat out a close play on a grounder, Spike dove headfirst into first base and barely beat the throw. His energy led other players from all teams to start diving headfirst into first base. His dedication was contagious.
Cleburne extracted revenge against Pecos from an early season loss by pulling the entire infield to the left on the team’s best batter, who was a pull hitter. The shifts paid off as the batter had a rough day at the plate.
KCLE radio broadcast the entire season’s games. When the Jackets played at nighttime, KCLE’s engineer set up a receiving station with speakers in the McDonald’s that was then on Main Street to carry the game. Fans parked blocks away to walk over and listen to those games live, especially Cleburne’s regional game 1 at Austin Westlake.
KCLE’s broadcast team consisted of play-by-play man Zack Owen (now the morning show host on WACO-100 in Waco) and Mike Lehrmann, who retired one year ago from Grandview Bank.
After sweeping district with a perfect record, the Jackets defeated Waco High in the zone playoff and then Austin Westlake in bi-district three-game series. Pruitt threw a one-hitter that led the Jackets to defeat future Boston Red Sox pitcher Calvin Schiraldi. Then Cleburne Times-Review sports editor, Pete Kendall, wrote “The best baseball game I ever covered was also one of the shortest,” because of all the strikeouts. Pruitt struck out 11 batters with his specialty that he called a “drop ball.” Schiraldi struck out 13 Cleburne betters.
Schiraldi returned to win the second game in that series and the Jackets swarmed Westlake in the third game.
Cleburne defeated Bridge City in two straight games in the neutral site of Brenham in the quarterfinals to advance to the state tournament.
Pruitt tossed a two-hitter in a 5-2 win over Pecos in the semi-finals, earning a spot in the title game against DeSoto, another team that was riding a hot streak. The only difference between the two teams was an unearned run that cost the Jackets as they fell, 2-1.
At the June 15 game, the Railroaders will introduce the 1979 team on the field and Grandview Bank is providing complimentary tickets and food for the players and their families, as well as the broadcasters from KCLE radio. Missing, yet attending in spirit, will be legendary former sports editor of the Cleburne Times-Review, Pete Kendall, whose passion for covering the Yellow Jackets was relentless, and Pete Smith, who enthusiastically covered the Yellow Jackets for the Johnson County News. Also missing will be former Jackets baseball coach, Jay McCarty.
Where are they now?
Albert de la Guardia: National Accounts Manager, Applegate, lives in Flower Mound
Perry Ginn: Regional President of American National Bank in Fort Worth
Curtis Jaggars: Producer at Hamilton Realty Finance, Dallas
Rick Longoria: Project Manager for Trinity Roofing & Construction in Dallas
Doug Mathis: Professional Rodeo Announcer traveling 50,000 miles/year, calls Cleburne home
Spike Owen: Played 13 years of Major League Baseball and coached, now retired
Louis Palafox: Supervisor at TDG Security
Bill Porterfield: Financial Planner at Lincoln Financial Advisors, Colleyville
Tony Potts: Sales at Fun Town RV in Cleburne
Eddie “Smoke” Pruitt: Pitching instructor for the Stix
Perry Rosser: Owns and manages Rosser Funeral Home in Cleburne
Kelly Sarchet: Works on the flight line for Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth
Scotty Self: General Manager at Rambo Contracting
Jay Wilson: CPA in Cleburne and former Cleburne ISD trustee