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Heads nodded in approval when long-time Wilson insurance agent and community sports supporter Chuck Finklea was honored with the Wilson chapter of the Hot Stove League’s Lifetime Achievement Award in the early stages of the chapter’s 44th annual banquet in the Recreation Park Community Center on a Tuesday evening when a hot stove would have been welcomed outside.
Listeners stirred with the acceptance remarks from retired Charles B. Aycock High head baseball coach Charles Davis upon being proclaimed the recipient of the Clyde King Excellence in Coaching Award.
The stats of East Carolina University’s Bryant Packard, honored with the Trot Nixon “Gamer” Award, wowed.
Also impressive were the numbers posted by Fike High right-handed pitcher Chad Bean, the recipient of the Clint Faris Memorial Award as Wilson’s most outstanding amateur pitcher in 2018.
Entertaining were the presentations from head coach Ty Bissett and Troy Blaser of the Wilson Parks and Recreation Department, respectively, on winning the North Carolina Christian School Association 2-A championship and the North Carolina Little League Ages 8-9 state championship, respectively.
Welcomed back were former major leaguers John Donaldson, Billy Harris, Jim Holt, Monty Montgomery, Alvin Moorman, Richard “Dick” Such, Marion (Tim) Talton, Mike Wallace, Floyd Wicker and Butch Davis along with Clifford Layton of the Negro League.
Remembered with tributes from Hot Stove president Keith Barnes were Pete Bock, Bill Davis, Woody Durham, Walker Mabry, Gene Summerlin, Norma King and Rainey Wilkerson Jr. — area personalities from baseball and other sports who passed away in 2018.
However, a turnout of some 350 waited some two hours to hear from featured speaker Lonnie Chisenhall, who played multiple positions for the Cleveland Indians for parts of eight seasons before recently signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The audience wasn’t disappointed.
Obviously nervous, Chisenhall, a Newport native who played for West Carteret High and Pitt Community College, appealed with his message and especially delighted his listeners with his question-and-answer session.
The featured speaker, introduced by long-time baseball broadcaster Tony Riggsbee, was accompanied by his wife, Meredith. They are the parents of three children, ages 7 and under. Chisenhall’s visit was arranged by Barton head coach Jim Chester.
“I didn’t realize there were going to be that many people here,” Chisenhall opened. “I would much rather play before 30,000 people.
He quickly explained “why I’m standing up here” is the influence of his grandfather, father, three kids and his wife.
“My grandfather was tough as nails,” Chisenhall declared, but added that he built him a baseball field.
Of his father, he said: “We never talked about baseball. He didn’t care whether I went 0 for 4, 0 for 5 or made three errors. My kids didn’t care if I was 0 for 4 or made three errors; they looked forward to my going home every day.
“I was obsessed with professional baseball and the lifestyle. The first three or four years kind of flew by. With the second kid, things kind of slowed down.
“When you are young, it’s a game and you don’t know where it’s going to take you. I loved competing and knew I wanted to be the best.”
With the Indians, Chisenhall played in 688 games, compiled a .268 average, slammed 64 home runs and drove in 296 runs. He played all three outfield positions, third base and second base.
Riggsbee suggested versatility became Chisenhall’s hallmark and Chisenhall welcomes the label of a versatile player.
“Put me anywhere; I’m a baseball player,” Chisenhall expressed. “Find a spot for me. Versatility is what the game means to me today.”
Chisenhall further noted: “Professional baseball is not the easiest thing in the world for a family.”
He added jokingly: “My wife is home with three children ages 7 and under, and I’m in Florida catching rays, fishing and playing baseball.
“Baseball gives a lot but it takes a lot away. You try to enjoy it. But things don’t change at home and that helps.”
Chisenhall hinted he was looking forward to retirement, explaining: “I thought I was going to have to make a decision. I am very fortunate to be continuing to play major league baseball (with the Pirates). We’ll see what we can make happen in Pittsburgh.”
During the question-and-answer session, Chisenhall indicated he most savors the 2016 season — when the Indians played in the World Series.
He quipped the toughest pitcher he ever faced was Madison Bumgarner in his junior year of high school.
Chisenhall emphasized he considers himself old-school, but admitted stats and data have been kind to him.
When asked about his approach against a pitcher throwing fastballs at speeds 95-to-100 miles per hour, he responded: “The 95-mph fastball goes farther.”
How about hitting a curve ball?
“I wait for the fastball,” Chisenhall responded with a grin.
For the youngster with the ambition to play major league baseball, Chisenhall offered: “If you like doing anything other than playing baseball, it’s going to be tough.”