Otto Velez baseball card
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Baseball a Fish and Otto

Now back to radio stuff . . .

In 1961 before I became Daddy Cool at WCAW in Charleston, WV, they were looking for something to put on the air from 7pm til 10pm. In midsummer, a big storm hit Puerto Rico. It destroyed the ballpark of the San Juan Marlins so the International League had to find a field for the team to play their home games in. Charleston didn't have a team at the time, but they did have a ballpark. Watt Powell Park became the home of the Charleston Marlins (what a name!) WCAW decided to carry the team's home games.

As I remember it, the broadcast had very little promotion and the crowds (if you could call them that) were mostly real hardcore baseball fans and families with kids looking for a cheap night's entertainment. Everyone seemed to have a great time! Especially the fish guy - he looked like a cross between Tennishoe Ernie Ford and Cletus from the Simpsons. He sat in front of the press box drinking Everclear out of a brown paper bag and from time to time would yell, "What the hell is a Marlin?" And about half the crowd would yell, "It's a big snooty fish!" But I digress.

WCAW had no news department. News every half-hour was rip and read, a very common practice in those days. Of course we didn't have a sports guy. They found one someplace just to do the Marlins games. I'm sorry I can't remember his name, but Paul Howard, the PD - a great guy who kept me out of the unemployment line by finding stuff for me to do when there wasn't much - asked me to help out at the games. I said sure! I read all the copy; most of the spots were live. They put a cart machine in the booth and I brought all the intros and a few recorded spots with me every night. So I guess I was sort of the producer!

I would also do a little color ("The third baseman for Jersey City tonight looks like Ernest Borgnine," or "This crowd is sure excited. A lady in the second row just threw up in some guy's hat!")

This was my introduction to minor league ball. I grew up in a major league town, so the look and feel of small town baseball was very new to me. I loved it. The Marlins were a St. Louis Triple-A team and a pretty good bunch of players. But there were a lot of Spanish-speaking players on the team. That was unusual in those days, and the umps weren't up on their Latin swearwords. But they knew that when a Hispanic player was unhappy with a call and let loose with a long string of Spanish words (even though they were smiling) they probably weren't asking, How's your sister? So one night they brought in a guy from Berlitz (maybe he was from East Berlitz; I don't remember but the wall was still up.) Anyway, before long the words, "You're outta here" rang out in Spanish.

After a few games WCAW realized that Marlins Baseball didn't have enough listeners to put in your hat (even with the help of that excited lady in the second row.) But those games were enough to make me a minor league fan for life.

My son Steve is also a fan and we have had lots of fun visiting minor league parks all over the country. In fact, 44 years after the "Snooty Fish" came to Charleston, my grandson Charlie was born. And the first thing I bought him (he was 6 weeks old) was a game-worn jersey from the Charleston Charlies - an International League team that played at Watt Powell Park in the early 80's (ain't eBay wonderful.) The jersey is a little large, but he'll grow into it. It was last worn by a player named Otto Velez - a former Yankee who at the end of his career was with Cleveland. He was known as "Otto the Swatto" - no kidding!

- Adam Jones