Monday, January 4, 2010

Chapter 5: How the it All Began...Running over Baseball

The Delbert & Alta Mae Taylor Family

The Beginning

Over the years people have asked how my family got into the sport of running. To tell our story you have to understand where we came from and how we grew up…I'm the youngest of 5 boys in my family...We actually started with roots in baseball. My dad (Delbert) coached little league baseball in Pleasant County, West Virginia in the early ‘70’s. It was an age when there were no cell phones or video games. Our television set got 2 channels, one out of Clarksburg and the other out of Wheeling. When the weather was just right we got a 3rd but that was seldom. We lived in the country about 3.5 miles from the town of St. Marys. At the time our entire county had less than 2,000 people in it.

St. Marys and Pleasants County was an awesome place to grow up. I would never trade it for anything and feel fortunate to have grown up there. It was safe and neighbors looked out for each other. It wasn’t uncommon to get together for a cookout any day of the week and the summers were highlighted with fairs and social events at the epicenter of the community, our county park. We had 1 high school within the county…St. Marys High School still stands as the only high school within the county and continues to be the home of the Blue Devils, even though our colors are purple & gold.

Family Sawmill and Work Ethic

My mom (Alta Mae) has a sister, Ina. They grew up on their parent’s farm on Kings Ridge where Ina lives to this day. It’s a beautiful farm with tremendous views of the hills and ridges within the county. I did not get the chance to know my grandmother Rawson since she died just after I was born…My dad grew up as 1 of 9 children. It was big family in a tough world. The great depression devastated many people’s lives. My grandfather, Lee Taylor, was a timber man. He logged and cut stave bolts for a living using horses, an axe and a crosscut saw. It was a tough way to make a living and a rough life without question…A life that required a person to work from daylight to dark 6 days a week. My dad and 2 of his brothers (Art and Harold) continued in the timber business and passed the occupation on to their son’s…my brothers and 1st cousins are now 3rd generation timber cutters.

As my dad and my uncles grew up they worked hard for what they had. They were fighters in every way and believed in settling things with their fists. When someone did them wrong by lying, cheating, stealing or just saying the wrong thing they would take care of it themselves. They did not call the police to settle it…They did not contact a lawyer. They went and spoke to the person, eye to eye. If the issue couldn’t be resolved by explaining it, then the last option was to smack the person or to “tag” them as my dad still puts it. He passed this on to his boys and we quickly learned to settle things the same way. This approach got us each into a pinch more than once.

When my dad was in 8th grade my grandfather laid off the men that worked for him and my dad quit school to work in the family business. A couple years later my grandfather had an accident while working in the timber. He was crushed by a tree and nearly died and spent several months in the hospital. It was a time that you couldn’t survive without some money and with granddad unable to work my dad stepped up into his role. My uncle Art then dropped out of school to work with my dad and support their family. My dad has never stopped working even now at the age of 74 he loves the timber business and his sawmill. He is the hardest working man I have ever met. Not just because he’s my dad, but his work ethic is remarkable. If he is not working he feels guilty. Even though he worked hard he always kept his priorities in place. Nothing came before family. Nothing.

He and my mom met on French Creek in Pleasants County one day while they were both fishing. By the time my dad had gotten to “the fishing hole” my mom and her sister were already there sitting on the large rock in the edge of the water. My dad thought they should leave but they refused. I understand my dad asked again, but this time he was not very nice about it. Again, my mom refused to leave. I’m not sure which side of my family is more stubborn, the Taylor or Rawson side. Regardless, it is a good quality for a distance runner and I believe we got a double dose. My dad gave her one last chance to get out of his fishing hole and she refused. That’s when he pushed her off the rock and into the water. Somehow, a few years later in 1955 they got married and started a family. In all they had 5 boys and 1 daughter. My sister, Delberta passed away 2 weeks after being born and would have been 2 years older than me. With 5 boys (Michael, Clifford, Matthew, Vernon and me) in our family, I am the youngest…They’ve been happily married for 54 years.

As our family grew my dad took a sawmill job in Hundred, WV as the sawyer. He worked and made a name for himself in the timber business and then in 1969 my family moved from Hundred back to St. Marys. My dad took a sawyer’s position with Babcock Lumber Company just across the river in Ohio. Eventually he got into position to purchase that sawmill and convert it into his own business, Hardwood Lumber Company. He built it literally with his own 2 hands. He built the company through hard work, honesty, integrity but hard work was the backbone and foundation for his company. Other than his two brothers (Art and Harold) and my own brothers I only knew one man, Carl Evans that could work hard enough to hold a job with my dad. My dad, to this day, has no patience for lazy people and even less patience for someone looking for a free handout or someone that steals from others. My brothers and I continue to feel the same way. My dad would not tolerate someone sitting down on the job…that also applied to his 5 boys. We went to the sawmill early in our lives and by 9 years old I remember shoveling sawdust from under the saw box in the summer. I also remember going to school followed by cross country or track practice to arrive home in time to work from 6-9PM on the sawmill stacking lumber under the lights. After working on the sawmill until 9PM it was time for homework and bed. By the weekend it was a relief and a vacation to go to a cross country or track meet. Dad believed in teaching us about hard work and I’m grateful for him doing so. Let me repeat, my parents had no patience for laziness when we were growing up. If we were not working on the sawmill then we were expected to be mowing the yard, cutting brush or taking care of the livestock. The foundation was being laid…Having a great work ethic is a cornerstone to our family success in the sport of distance running.

Little League Baseball

My family moved back to St. Marys in 1969 and shortly after we got new neighbors. The Binders lived near us. There were two sisters and their mother along with three children…Brad, Jenny and Stephanie. Brad, along with my brothers loved to play baseball (He eventually got a full scholarship to play baseball at Marshall University...It's probably good that they moved before Jenny and Stephanie got a little older. My brothers were ornery when it came to girls.). There were no flat spots where we lived, so they hacked out an area below our house and played. I was too little to play with them but they sent me running after the foul balls. There were trees that served for each base and a hole between the trees that went into the Binders yard which served as the outfield. The hole in the trees was the only hope you had for hitting a home run. This rough baseball field helped them learn how to hit and how to catch. They played for hours and hours when they were not working on the sawmill. My oldest brother Mike played the outfield. He could run a ball down quicker than anyone and if it was a fly ball forget it. He would catch it….Cliff was the placement hitter. He learned how to position himself to hit the ball to an exact location. To this day if you ask him to hit a ball down the 3rd base line…1st base line…between 2nd and 3rd…he can do it. Matt was the homerun hitter in the family. He could clobber the ball. Baseball was the game…It was our family passion.

I recall every Monday night watching Major League Baseball as a family. We’d sit down and dad would fix popcorn and we’d watch the game on one of the 2 TV stations we got reception for. My dad and brothers knew the players stats by memory. The players were loyal to their professional teams and each year it wasn’t a question of who would return to the team, it was who they would pick up. During this time my dad started coaching Little League Baseball in the late spring. Mike, Cliff, Matt, Vernon and I all played LL at some point. Dad’s Hardwood Lumber Company was the team sponsor and I got to serve as bat boy for Mike, Cliff and Matt's teams. As the years rolled by we became more and more engrained to play baseball. Cliff and Matt made the county Little League All-Star Team and Matt’s final year of little league he had over a .700 batting average. Think about that stat for a second.

High School Baseball
As Mike and Cliff moved into high school they went out for and made the baseball team but they did not see much playing time at all. They were disappointed in the fact that they did not get to play especially since they felt they out practiced and out hustled people in the high school starting lineup. About this same time (1972) the 1st ever Major League Baseball strike began. These two things combined to change the path of our family.

As the spring went into summer and summer into early fall the MLB strike continued. Our Monday night family tradition was not to be. There was no MLB to watch…the players were on strike and forgot about the fans. My dad told us that he would never watch another professional baseball game if the strike continued. Well it did continue and eventually the entire season was cancelled. After the strike MLB would never be the same. The players started to jump from team to team based solely on who was willing to pay them the most....Team management seemed worse and dropped players right and left. There was no loyalty to the team by either and true to his word my dad never watched another professional baseball game…that was 36 years ago. Neither have I...Call us stubborn.

The following spring my brother Cliff went out for the high school baseball team. He faced the same thing Mike faced the year before. He made the team and sat the bench frustrated that he did not get the chance to prove himself. My brother Mike was so fed up with it that he decided he would not even tryout for the baseball team. He elected to go out for the track & field team with the belief that it was a sport that he could prove himself and that he would not be at the mercy of a coach to "give" him playing time. He would earn his position off hard work, just as we had been taught growing up. Through head-to-head competition he would prove himself. The athletes he faced would not be able to hide behind a family name. If they were going to beat him they would have to do it…man-to-man.

The Challenge

As the season progressed Cliff came home more and more aggravated and frustrated following games that the SMHS baseball team lost while he sat the bench. Nothing he could do, he was not put into the lineup. Late into the spring my oldest brother Mike came home from a track & field meet with just the opposite attitude. He was excited and thrilled that he ran the mile and wasn’t that far off the school record. Our family is extremely competitive. Anyone that knows us would say that’s an understatement. To this day we like to win and we like to be around winners. We believe sports are about winning and losing...they are not about participation. Work by the rules and win! It goes back to growing up in a large, competitive family. Back then we were even more competitive. As Mike walked through the house joyous, Cliff was just the opposite. Then Cliff and Mike started to argue. That’s when Cliff said he could outrun Mike. Of course Mike said no way he could do it and anytime he wanted to give it a try, come on. The next night Cliff joined the track & field team. Two weeks later Mike ran the Mile to place 4th while Cliff placed 4th in the 2 Mile at the regional championships and set the SMHS school record which I believe my brother Vernon broke a few years later. That one challenge…that one sentence can be traced to our long career of running and continued passion for it.

17 of 25 athletes
The following spring several of my cousins joined the track & field team. At one point the SMHS team had 25 members and 17 of those team members were Taylor’s. In 1976 two of my brothers, Cliff and Matt joined two first cousins (brothers Dale and Kevin) to win the state meet 4x880 Relay and set the meet record. Their record still stands since the English measurements were retired when the events changed to metric. I remember sitting in the stands at old Laidley Field watching them compete. They were undefeated in the 4x880 during that season and the state meet would be no different. By the time my brother Matt hit the finish line as the anchor they had a 170M lead over 2nd place. I was 11 years old at the time. Hearing the crowd roar and seeing the look in my brother’s eyes while they raced. Their eyes were piercing. The focus…the intensity…the passion…the LOOK...that determination to win. I knew then and there that I wanted to be part of that. I was a sponge taking it all in and wanted to be like my older brothers.

After they won that 4x880 race, state championship titles became expected by us. Ultimately, each of my brothers were crowned state champion during their running careers. Mike won his state titles after graduating and competing in road races. Quickly my brothers turned from searching for a state title as the ultimate goal, to our family expecting nothing less. We were constantly trying to outdo each other while being supportive of each other. Its funny how it happened and how quickly we all changed our expectations. It was a matter of “my brother did it, so I’ll do it.” No one in our family ever spoke about it in that way, but we refused to lose. We may have seemed ok when someone beat us but trust me; we were not ok with it. We took it personally and I know I privately vowed to not let it happen. I vowed to never go into a race unprepared to give it my best effort. Our sport of choice was directly connected to our own ability to push into a level of self achieved discomfort and to embrace pain. Each of us believed we could handle more pain than the athlete standing next to us on the starting line. After all, it was fun to test our limits and see what we could endure. It was not a cocky belief that we wore on our sleeve for all to see. It was a quiet, self confidence that we dealt with internally…that personal battle that every distance runner faces with the “man in the mirror”. Can you push beyond your limits and embrace the personal pain that is inevitable with every distance race title.

By the time I got to high school following my 4 older brothers (Mike, Cliff, Matt and Vernon) and numerous cousins, my race battles were nearly won just by the reputation of my brothers, cousins and the name "Taylor". I don’t think I realized that until years later. By the time I entered 9th grade my brothers taught me that there were three qualities you had to have to become successful as a distance runner and they hold true to this day:
1) You must be willing to work…no lazy person will ever have success as a distance runner…
2) You must be competitive…competitive to your soul…In races you must have a purpose and your purpose must be engrained deeper than that of your competitor.
3) You must be willing to embrace pain and push through it until you enter another realm. Once you have been there and achieved self awareness at that level you will want to return to that place. The “runners high” as some people call it is indescribable and will call you back for more.

This foundation was the beginning which led to racing around the world…but that’s another story.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you, for a look in to what has made you a great coach and an even better man. You have instilled your passion, belief, courage, and competitiveness in to more people than you will ever know. Keep fighting the good fight!!!!!!!!

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  2. Steve, enjoyed the story, thanks for sharing. I now know that it was you, not me, who should have been in journalism in high school.

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