Longtime White Hall Little League coach Dickie Lunsford sits in the press box overlooking the field named after him on Friday as White Hall prepares for the Southwestern Regional in Waco, Texas. (Special to the Commercial/Bo Rogers)
WHITE HALL — Dickie Lunsford made a promise … and he kept it.
At 11 years old, Lunsford was asked to play baseball by Theo James. The only thing James required of Lunsford was that when he was old enough, he would coach a team as repayment.
“He told me I could play on his team if when I got old enough I would coach a team of Little League-age kids for one year to pay him back,” Lunsford said Friday afternoon as the White Hall Little League team practiced in preparation of the Southwestern Region Tournament in Waco, Texas. “So I did my year and the next year my two brothers were 11 and 12 and I came back because of them.”
Whatever kept Lunsford coming back after that has continued for the past 47 years as the no-nonsense manager of White Hall Little League resumes his storied career with the organization, something he has done since age 22.
He is so much a part of the league that in Aug. 2010, the baseball complex was named after him. He is also so much a part of the league that current White Hall outfielder/pitcher Ruston Smith questioned Lunsford’s living situation.
“I thought he lived in the press box,” Smith said. “I really didn’t know who he was at first. I just knew he was out here all the time.”
Lunsford took Smith under his wing, similar to many other young athletes in the area, and groomed him to be the all-star he is today. During Friday’s practice, Smith accomplished a life-long goal of hitting a home run. Lunsford was watching. His candid response was quite simple as the ball cleared the fence.
“That’s the first home run he has ever hit,” he said with no excitement in his voice.
The lack of excitement in his voice is far from the excitement Lunsford feels inside, despite jokingly calling the kids “nasty little critters” in a past conversation with The Commercial. Regardless of what he says, Lunsford does it for the kids.
“He practically built this field,” said Cory DeJarnette, who played for Lunsford on an AAU team and helps coach this year’s regional-bound program. “Without Dickie the league wouldn’t be where it is. That’s for sure.”
And while Lunsford isn’t as vocal with his players in his latter years, he still makes and impact and passes on his wisdom.
“He is a winner … I can say that,” DeJarnette said. “He really hates to lose. He doesn’t say a whole lot to the kids but when he stands up and says something they all listen. They know he means business. He knows baseball better than or as good as anybody in the country.”
Lunsford was a student of the game from an early age. He started collecting baseball cards and listening to professional games on the radio. He could write the lineups and recite statistics of teams just from listening and turned that hobby and passion into a lifestyle as he matured, owing a sports memorabilia store in Pine Bluff for many years.
“I’ve only had two jobs my whole life,” Lunsford said. “I couldn’t work for anyone else. I would get fired because I couldn’t keep my mouth shut.”
But he could recognize talent. He could put it on the field that he built. And he has cultured a community to rally around the league. Now, he is going to Waco for a third time. And this time he believes the results will be different than last year’s 0-3 performance.
“We lost two games by one run,” he said. “But we didn’t have the pitching we have this year. We could score runs but we couldn’t keep them from scoring. This time I think we can … This may be my last chance right here.”