Richard Norville had no idea his father, Richard Sr., had held onto the photograph all these years.
He’d kept it locked away in his desk drawer at the family’s Alcoa home. Norville had come across the picture of the 1959 Alcoa Little League Giants when sorting through his father’s things after the latter had moved to Florida to live with Norville’s sister, Angela.
“I said, ‘This is interesting,’” Norville said.
Finding the photograph gave him pause for several reasons, he said. Richard Sr. had been one of the Giants coaches. It felt good to see some his old teammates and think back, Norville said. Then he took another look at the name on the jersey — the Giants — and it all hit home.
Last spring, the Norville’s son, Thomas, had moved to the 11- and 12-year-old division at Alcoa, now affiliated with United States Specialty Sports Association. Like his father, Thomas was a lefty. Like Norville, Thomas would play first base and hit in the middle of order. Like his dad 50 years earlier, the team that selected Thomas in the 2009 draft had been the Giants.
“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh,’” Norville said. “Talk about coming full circle.”
Norville’s wife, Jodi, saw immediately the effect finding the photograph had on her husband. She asked Richard if she could hold onto it for a while. She wanted to replace the frame.
“I thought it was neat,” Jodi said, “and they were both Giants.”
Six months later, Norville said he got a Christmas present he’ll always treasure. Jodi had contracted local free-lance photographic artist Jenifer Clark to merge the pictures of Richard and Thomas into a collage.
“She let it lie around and lie around,” he said. “I didn’t think she was going to get anything done. She surprised me at Christmas. It was a keepsake. I’ll tell you that.”
“He couldn’t believe it,” Jodi said.
Comparing the game Thomas plays to the Giants of his day brought a chuckle from Norville.
“Back when I played everything was seasonal,” he said. “There were no travel teams. We didn’t have the distractions they have now. We got out and played baseball ourselves on the sandlot.”
Alcoa Elementary, behind which Alcoa’s two fields sit, didn’t even exist when he played, Norville said. The uniforms are vastly different. Thomas plays in some of the best athletic apparel modern technology can provide. The ’59 Giants played the game in wool, tops and bottoms, in June and July.
Thomas plays with a bat that is a true marvel of the modern game. His father’s Giants swung wood. You didn’t have the option of a trip to the local batting cages to hone your swing because Blount County didn’t have any back then.
“If we did, I never went to them,” Norville said.
It took a lot to hit one out in those days, Norville said. He was a good fielder and really knew the game, but all he ever wanted to do, he said, was to take some kid deep. Just once. His best attempt missed leaving the park by less than a foot at the right field fence.
Where the father never went, Thomas has visited three times the last two seasons. Norville, who keeps the book for the Giants, twice watched Thomas hit one out that first year. Last summer, he hit a grand slam.
“One of the things I always wanted to do when I played baseball for the Giants was knock a home run,” Norville said. “I missed by half a foot. Thomas has knocked three. He’s made my dream come true.”
Stories like the Norvilles are the essence of local youth baseball, Alcoa president Dyran Bledsoe said. The league overseas 350 players on two fields in divisions that range from 4-under Wee Ball to the Little League level. The league offers only baseball, played under the same rules professionals follow, with girls and boys equally taking part.
A teacher at the elementary school adjacent to the fields he administers, Bledsoe said it’s never been a chore coaching or organizing youth baseball. He remembers when he played on the same fields, he said. Parents who volunteer their time to keep the league running do it out of a sense of being a part of something bigger than themselves.
“I’m in a position where a lot of the kids I have at school play down there,” Bledsoe said. “You just get to know a lot of people.”
The Little League-affiliated teams at Maryville and Eagleton operate out of the same sense of community, Maryville Little League president Jeff Wallace said.
Maryville’s enrollment of better than 1,000 baseball and softball players this spring is the county’s largest.
“We went up a little bit this year,” Wallace said. “We added four teams. You get another 12, 15 kids on a team with that.”
Wallace, the league’s 12-member board, coaches and volunteers perform a formidable task to ready the park’s fields for play five days a week. For Wallace, there’s not even the draw of watching his kids play there.
“Little League used to have a rule where a parent couldn’t coach his child,” Wallace said.
The rule applied to the presidents of area Little Leagues as well.
“I was the odd man out,” Wallace said. “I didn’t have any kids. So I was president.”
Wallace, 42, who owns three businesses locally, including an insurance firm and a mortgage company, still doesn’t have any children. That withstanding, the bond he feels for Maryville Little League remains as strong as ever.
“It’s fun,” he said. “I’ve done it for so long, I don’t know what else I would do.”
Few better typify Wallace’s words than Eagleton Little League president Joel Moss. Eagleton will see 600 baseball and softball players take to its fields this summer. Moss has seen so many area youth pass through his park it takes the Eagleton boss a second to remember how long he’s been league president.
Moss and wife, Beverlie, have long since seen their son, Bobby, finish his playing days at Eagleton.
“We’re seeing kids now who are the children of kids who played with my son,” Moss said.
It’s the sense of Eagleton as “community ballpark,” more than anything else, that keeps him and Beverlie coming back year after year, Moss said. Besides, Bobby still holds a valued Eagleton Little League record, if only in his father’s eyes.
“He probably hit the longest single in Eagleton Little League history,” Moss said. “He hit one he thought was out and he trotted down to first base. The ball bounced off the top of the fence and came back in.”
Part of the zing of finding his old team photo was in how long it took to come across it, Norville said.
“My parents were from the old school,” he said. “They didn’t throw anything away.” Some things take time to really matter.