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Louisa icon of America’s pastime teaches life’s lessons through baseball

Posted on Thursday, July 18, 2013 at 9:58 am

Dicky Purcell addresses his 10/11-year-old team during a practice on July 12 in preparation for their upcoming appearance in the state tournament.

Dicky Purcell addresses his 10/11-year-old team during a practice on July 12 in preparation for their upcoming appearance in the state tournament.

It’s a calm evening at the local little league baseball field in Louisa on Friday, July 12.  The sun is right where it should be, slowly dropping behind the horizon to create another celestial summer masterpiece.

The ambiance is quiet, interrupted only by the crack of the bat and the usual infield chatter, just as it should be on the baseball diamond. Dicky Purcell, a stalwart of a manager for the 10/11 year-old little league team, stands behind third base, his chin resting in his right hand as he scans the field, making sure every player is in correct position.

Purcell is in charge and at his spot on the field, just as it should be.

Every year since 1966, Purcell’s summer has revolved around Louisa Little League baseball. Ever since his father introduced him to the sport as a youngster, Purcell has dedicated his life to teaching others the game.

“My dad was a big baseball fan,” Purcell says, with a distinctive southern accent on the word “baseball” that indirectly seems to reveal his intense passion for the game. “I just really loved it. I went to spring training for the Yankees in 1956.  My mom and dad went to St. Petersburg in Florida, and that’s where the Yankees trained.  I got all their autographs.  I’ve got an autographed baseball with Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and all those guys on it.”

During that trip, in which the twelve-year-old Purcell got to experience almost every thrill the game had to offer, a fire was lit inside him for the game that has yet to burn out. He served as a bat boy for the Kansas City Athletics and Milwaukee Braves for a few spring training games and was able to get countless bits of memorabilia signed by major league players.

“It was so different back then,” Purcell said. “I was one of the few kids out there to get autographs because all the other kids were in school.  You’d give them something and they’d just sign it for you.  It wasn’t like it is today. I also remember that when I was down there again that spring, it was amazing. I got to be a batboy for two days, that was really a thrill.”

And while Purcell immersed himself in the game, he lacked the physical gifts to play the sport at the high school level.

“The only sport I played in high school was basketball,” Purcell said.  “I didn’t really play baseball.”

To get his dosage of baseball, Purcell became the manager of Louisa County High School’s baseball team under manager Norman Smith. In that role, he chased foul balls, kept track of the bats and equipment, and occasionally kept score.

Purcell got his first shot at coaching baseball in Louisa in 1960 as a 16-year-old newly licensed driver. Purcell’s summer league team took on opponents from Stanardsville, Madison and Orange, among other places. Back then, he served not only as the team’s manager, but as the players’ makeshift chauffeur.

To read the entire story, see the July 18 edition of The Central Virginian.