Gators Softball Team
While working at Dow in the 1980’s, it was customary for everyone to bring a sack lunch and play a game of bridge or dominoes during our 30-minute lunch-break. I was very fortunate to have an expert bridge partner, a man by the name of Rusty Koenig. At Dow, Rusty was the legendary go-to-guy for all things to do with surveying, roads, bridges, and he had a wealth of knowledge of the history of both Plants A and B in Freeport. But – only after many bridge games, did the conversation turn to Rusty’s proudest claim to fame, and that was being a member of the Lake Jackson Gators men’s fast-pitch softball team!
In the mid-1940’s, as the new city of Lake Jackson was in its infancy, many of the young men living here had just returned from the service and were
working for Dow. The only source of entertainment, other than the “picture show,” was fast-pitch softball. On March 26, 1946, several of the men decided to pull the best players from the existing Dow teams and form the Lake Jackson Allstars. “Speedy” Bullard, originally from Center, Texas, was the ace catcher and manager of the team. Top athletes from the area were scouted and signed onto the team. One example was W.T. “Dub” Holt, Jr. He was a University of Texas Letterman, who signed out of college with the Boston Red Sox – and played semi-pro ball in the Houston area. After coming to work for Dow, he joined the Gators and helped manage the team, even being awarded all-state shortstop one year. In 1947, the team changed their name to the Lake Jackson Gators, as suggested to them by the owner of Lake Drug, Art Webb, who was also vice-president of the Texas State Softball Association.
The Gators had first-class pitchers, one of whom was Gene Faull. On July 5, 1947, in a game against Harlingen, the Gators battled for 26 innings until they finally prevailed 1-0. The game started at 6:00 p.m. and lasted until 4:00 a.m. with nearly all of the fans remaining the entire game. Following the game, Gene Faull was in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” with 49 strikeouts, and Speedy had 52 other putouts, which easily could have been another record.
The Gators were Texas State Champions in 1946 (as the Allstars), 1950, 1951, 1953, 1955, and 1956. The games were so popular that close to 3,000 fans would show up to watch. Many antics and stories abound – one being they took along a small live alligator in a harness to the out-of-town games and put a suit on him with “The Gators” on the back!
In 1953, the world softball defending champions, the Dow A.C. Team of Midland, Michigan, came to Lake Jackson to play the Gators in a five game tournament. Lake Jackson beat the defending champs 3 out of 5 games, with large crowds cheering them on – a sweet victory!
In 1953, the Gators moved to Webb-Schmidt field, adjacent to Ney Elementary, named for Art Webb and Darwin Schmidt. This continued as their home field until they decided to hang things up in 1963. Many of the players were aging and wanted to leave the legacy of the Gators on a high note. And that they did. They truly are legendary in the world of men’s fast pitch softball, making our city proud as they established a winning tradition for the city of Lake Jackson.
I think Rusty would be honored to know the memory of the Gators lives on. I’m thankful to have been made aware of the story of the Gators which just happened to come up during a noon-time card game. I only wish I had asked him more about the Gators instead of how to win bridge tricks.
by Frances Hammond