Banking on a Baseball Dream

Forty-seven years ago this month, Clinton native Jenks Bostic got to live a boyhood dream when he played Minor League baseball for the Niagara Falls Pirates of the New York-Penn League.

Drafted in the 16th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates in June 1971, Bostic, a catcher who had just graduated from Carson-Newman College, was getting ready to marry his longtime sweetheart – Dudley Hoskins. The couple moved up the wedding date in order to honeymoon while heading north in time to start the league season.

“We got married and immediately headed north for Oneonta, N.Y.,” Bostic recalled recently of the trip of more than 800 miles at a time when the Interstate highway system was far from complete. “Three days after we were married, I was playing against the Oneonta Yankees and I got a base hit in my first game when I was called on to pinch-hit. I got a lot of ribbing from my teammates because they knew I had just gotten married, but it was all in fun. That first hit was probably my fondest memory of my short professional baseball career.”

Bostic grew up in Jellico before the family moved to Clinton in the late 1950s when his father Paul – later to become Anderson County school superintendent – was hired as a history teacher. Bostic said his father was his first baseball coach and set a good example he has always followed.

“We were still in Jellico when he brought his team to a tournament in Clinton with three African-Americans just after the high school was bombed (1958),” Bostic remembered. “I was a kid, but he told me to stay close in light of everything that had happened during the previous years. Just about everything went fine during that tournament. The Jellico team won the tournament, too.”

While the starting catcher at Carson-Newman over three years, the Eagles defeated the Tennessee Volunteers two of three times. Bostic said Major League scouts watching those Carson-Newman-Tennessee games were focused on other players, but they also ended up scouting him. Bostic raised his stock when he hit a grand slam home run against the Vols in one of those games.

“Carson-Newman had a pitcher named Tom Jones who was drafted by the Red Sox in 1970 and then the scouts were also looking at Phil Garner from UT, who was drafted (Oakland A’s) the same year I was,” said Bostic, noting he and Garner played summer baseball together in Knoxville. “Jones and Garner were both All-Americas. I played well in those Carson-Newman-Tennessee games where probably 20 scouts showed up. I wasn’t expecting to be drafted, but the fact I played well got me noticed.”

When he arrived at Niagara Falls, Bostic was given an old Pittsburgh uniform once worn by future Hall of Famer Willie Stargell. Although it was too big, Bostic wore it to collect his first hit.

Niagara Falls was part of the eight-team New York-Penn League. Players were primarily recent draftees such as Bostic, who was one of only three college players on the team as the remainder had just graduated from high school. Bostic said Niagara Falls was a great place to play baseball.

“Our team led the league in attendance and we had close to a capacity crowd every night we played at home in a stadium that seated maybe 5,000,” Bostic recalled. “The fans were very good to us too. We got to eat in their homes a lot of nights.”

A favorite story Bostic recalls is a game where his parents were in attendance. Bostic was involved trying to tag out a runner coming home, who he thought was tagged out. However, the umpire ruled the runner was safe. Pirates Manager Chuck Cottier (a retired Major League player who had been with the Atlanta Braves among other teams) came out of the dugout and argued — eventually being ejected.

“I was yelling too and probably should have been ejected, but I wasn’t,” Bostic recalled. “After the game, a lot of us players went to a fan’s house to eat and the umpires were invited too if you can believe that. The home plate umpire told me, ‘I should have thrown you out, too, but your mother was in attendance and I didn’t want to embarrass her by ejecting her son.’”

Bostic said his mother (Bertie) was his biggest fan and was very vocal in the stands during the several visits his parents went north to watch him play that summer.

“On the night of that controversial call, my parents were seated right behind home plate and I hit a home run,” Bostic recalled. “When I hit it out, she was literally climbing the screen as excited as she was to see me hit that home run.”

Bostic also recalled a visit from Carson-Newman teammate and future Anderson County school administrator Tom Heffern when the Pirates were playing in Williamsport, Pa.

Although Dudley — then 19 — got homesick after the first few weeks and went home, she returned to Niagara Falls a few weeks later and began to adjust, enjoying the experience.

“The wives of the married players would follow the bus to the road games,” said Dudley, noting among the league cities visited were Oneonta — near the Baseball Hall of Fame — and Jamestown, N.Y. — actress Lucille Ball’s hometown. “It got to be a lot of fun and we looked forward to the trips even though we traveled hundreds of miles that summer.”

Among Bostic’s Niagara Falls teammates was an infielder named Terry Collins, who was drafted by the Pirates three rounds behind him. Bostic managed three teams over 13 seasons in Majors, highlighted by piloting the New York Mets to the 2016 World Series. Bostic’s two Niagara Falls teammates who eventually got to the Major Leagues as players were pitcher Lafayette Currence — who pitched in eight games for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1975 — and John Morlan – a starting and relief pitcher for the Pirates in 1973 and ’74.

The 1971 New York-Penn League produced 25 players who eventually made it to the Majors. Among the more familiar names are Larry Anderson, Bill Castor, Tom Hausman, Kevin Kobel, Sixto Lezcano, Mike Cubbage, Mark Bomback and Bombo Rivera.

Bostic’s dream season ended in August and he was released shortly thereafter.

“It was disappointing, but I can’t complain because I never thought I would be drafted in the first place,” Bostic said. “I had my college degree and I eventually got into banking. I will never forget that summer. It was a lot of fun and I’m fortunate I had an opportunity to live my dream.”