Ripken in the Minors
RITM: In Babe Ruth competition you threw three no-hitters in succession. Were you splitting time between pitching and infield at the time? What led you to become a professional infielder?
Cat Whitfield: Back then there were barely enough individuals to even field a team. They wanted to have as many teams as they could so they would see how many guys turned out for the league and they would then divide you up. Some teams had ten guys, some fourteen. If you were not pitching you pretty much had to play somewhere else. The fact was my dad was 6”6. I was tall and big for my age plus God gave me ability to play baseball. Physically I was ahead of most of the kids I played with. Back then I didn’t know a thing about pitching I just threw harder than everybody else.
When I wasn’t pitching I would usually play shortstop. From the time I was born until the time I was seven years old my mother’s uncle lived with us. His name was Bill Kuhn. My mom lived with him and cared for him as a single girl. When my dad got back from Korea he married my mom.
My uncle Bill asked if he could live with us and they could stay in the house. My dad had just got back from the service and didn’t have a job so that was a deal. That way my mom could keep caring for him. He eventually got cancer and died. He was a shortstop in his youth and he was actually drafted by the Pirates if memory serves me when they really had farm teams. He went away and played one season. His mom wrote him a letter saying that she was extremely ill and that he needed to come home and take care of her. When he got home she wasn’t sick at all. She couldn’t stand him being away. He continued to play in leagues in the Pittsburgh area. The last time I was home they had opened a restaurant on the Allegheny River. My dad I went and they had all of these pictures of Pittsburgh. They had some sports pictures as well. He points to a picture with a goofy looking glove and says “There’s your uncle Bill” and underneath the picture it says Billy Kuhn. He was always a shortstop and when I was an aspiring young baseball player he would always say “Robbie if you want to be a ballplayer you gotta be a shortstop. It’s the best athlete on the field…” and he had all these personal reasons. I just wanted to be a shortstop for uncle Bill and that’s why I pursued it even at 6”4 which turned out to be a good thing. Everywhere I went from American Legion, Summer League, Pony League and Colt League teams everyone told me I was too tall to be a shortstop which made me want to be one even more.
RITM: You were a fantastic shortstop. On Aug 15, 1980, you had 16 chances without an error. You were so good you got the position and had Cal moved to third base when you were named the regular shortstop out of Spring Training in 1980. At a time when the names Bobby Bonner and Cal Ripken, Jr., were mentioned as the shortstops of the future, what were your thoughts as you were heading into the 1980 season in Charlotte after beating Cal out for shortstop? Were you thinking “What about me?”
Cat Whitfield:I was thinking that for whatever reason that I don’t understand I am third on the list. These were the thoughts in my head. It’s probably because I’m not Cal Sr.’s son and it’s probably because I didn’t play at Texas A & M. I went to Alderson-Broaddus College in Phillipi, West Virginia, which everyone thought was social disease more than the name of a college. I just felt like my story, when it was finally written, was going to be the one in the shadows or the no name guy was gonna be the guy. That’s what drove me.
RITM: In 1980 the only time Cal saw action at shortstop was because you got married in the middle of the season. Was it a shortened honeymoon? Were you in a hurry to get back?
Cat Whitfield:That’s actually perceptive. What actually happened was that Vicky wanted a June wedding as she wanted to be a June bride. I said, “Vick that’s right in the middle of the season and good or bad I don’t even know if they will let me get married in June.” I asked. That Spring Training I spoke with Giordano and Hank Peters. They came back and told me they would give me two days. I got married on June 8th. They told me they would give me June 7th and June 8th and that I needed to be ready to play June 9th. I told Vicky that was all they were gonna give me and to be quite honest I don’t want somebody else playing shortstop for a week, especially the guy playing third. She agreed and said we would take our honeymoon later. The funny part that’s not baseball related is that it was like 10 years later before we took vacation or honeymoon so we combined them in a two week cruise. I remember joking with my best man at the wedding that “if the preacher starts dragging this out you’re going to have to do something to speed it up. I got to get back to Charlotte because Ripken’s playing shortstop”. I literally flew to Pittsburgh. We had the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner. The next day was the wedding. Vickie and I were the first ones to leave the reception. We left the reception at 9:00 and it was such a draining day. I had to drive back to Charlotte to be on the bus for Nashville in the morning. We drove as far as Sutton, West Virginia. There was this little two story motel and it was 4:00 a.m. I said, “I need a wake up call for 7:00.” “Did you just say 7:00 a.m.?” and I said, “Yeah.” “You know it’s 4:00 right?” and I said “Yeah, it’s my wedding night and I have to be in Charlotte no later than 11:00.” We went in there, took each other’s clothes off, laid in bed, fell asleep and the next thing we heard was the telephone ringing at 7:00 a.m. Nothing happened. We threw our clothes on, jumped back in the Ryder rent a truck and sped down to Charlotte. I pulled up to the apartment and said, “This is where you’re living.” She was a nursing graduate and I said, “There are three hospitals in town, I’ll be back in 12 days” and “Try to have a job when I get back.” When I came back she was working at Carolinas Medical Center where she worked for 25 years in Intensive Care and Radiation Oncology. She passed away March 5, 2008, from ovarian cancer so we were together for like 28 years. Vicky passed away at the house.
RITM: Charlotte may have had more than one rival but if I had to choose the biggest I would probably go with the Memphis Chicks due to things that went on during the season. What was it about Memphis that made things so heated during the 1980 season?
Cat Whitfield:They were probably the premiere although Savannah comes to mind. We had a lot of violent games against Savannah and we had to beat Savannah to get to the playoffs that year. We finished the 1980 season in Savannah in a 4 game series and they swept us. The very next day we are starting the playoffs in Charlotte against them.
We get on the bus in Savannah after getting beat in 4 straight games and tomorrow is day one of the playoffs. Whoever wins between us and Savannah is going to play whoever wins between Memphis and Nashville. We get on the bus and nobody is saying a word. Deek, the bus driver, who is legendary on that team, starts the bus. Jimmy says “Deek, turn the bus off.”
Jimmy stood up and faced the back of the bus. I don’t remember word for word but it was one of those speeches where I don’t know what you people think you’re doing. I don’t know who you think is coming to Charlotte tomorrow to play us but these fellas just swept you. First of all their mental attitude coming to Charlotte is we just swept them. Second of all he had counted up all the hits in the 4 days and divided it by 4 and said we’ve only got like 4 hits a game. He goes through all this statistical stuff that I don’t remember. He said, “Let me tell you something. It’s not like you’re going to go to Charlotte tomorrow and all of a sudden be this great team that you were. It’s not just like a light switch that you can flip on and flip off whenever you feel like it. They’re going to come to Charlotte tomorrow and I’m going to try to make moves and if you do not come out tomorrow with blood in your eyes it’s not going to happen. You’ve got 4 hours to think about it.” The bus started and we drive to White Castle. Everybody got something to eat and it was completely quiet for the 4 hours home.
We opened up the next day against Savannah and we sweep them. The last game we played was in Savannah. On the way back Jimmy jumps on the bus and says “Way to go, real proud of you” and he sits next to Minnie Mendoza. We were dead quiet. One of the guys, and I think it was Russ Pensiero, but I can’t say for sure. One of the guys in the back said, “Click, click, click click”. Another player says, “What is that clicking sound I hear?” Somebody else says, “That’s the sound of a light switch, evidently we can turn it on and off whenever we want. Jimmy didn’t turn around because he was class but you could see his shoulders bouncing. He was cracking up but he wouldn’t turn around and let us see his face.
We had a lot of that stuff on the bus. The funniest thing I ever heard on the bus was originally said in single A. A great nucleus of that 1980 team came from Bluefield to Miami to Charlotte. There were other players that came or went or got released. We didn’t get the last little bit of flavoring until that 1980 season. The core of guys that was drafted in ’77 that went to Bluefield were Huppert, me, Logan, Eaton, Shelby, Denman, Hazewood, Smith, Will George and we all went from Bluefield to single A Miami and we won a championship there. We came to Charlotte in ’79 and we went to the playoffs. That’s when Bobby Bonner was here and so for the first time in my life I started platooning which I wasn’t crazy about. Bobby and I are great friends to this day and we were back then. We got along great and in fact we roomed together when we were fighting for the position. That was a big article in the Observer about how two guys trying to take the job from the other get along so well. We were both strong Christians and we were not afraid to profess that. We got along fine and he was an outstanding shortstop. It was funny because he would lay in one bed and I would lay in the other at midnight and I’d say, “Hey Bobby let’s play a little game I like to call ‘Tell the other guy why you think he sucks’”. He was such a good guy. I’d say, “I think Vicky is way prettier than Becky” and he goes, “Well she has longer hair but I don’t think she’s prettier”. I said, “You got these weird legs and you got virtually no lateral movement and I seem to be able to catch anything between third and second base.” He said, “Yeah but when I catch it I can actually throw the guy out” and I said, “So you think you got a stronger arm?” “Yeah I think I do.” “Well that’s not what the charts at Spring Training showed.” We’d go ok nobody wins that so let’s pick something else. He’d say, “Well I’m hitting .290 and you’re hitting .276” and I’d say “Yeah but I tend to not get the pitches you’re getting”. The point is it always ended up being a draw. Whenever anybody did say anything outside of me and him being there we tended to stand up for the guy. That’s what they didn’t understand. I truly did wish him the best and he went up to AAA. In 1980 I thought I was going to be the only shortstop but then in Spring Training here comes this Cal Ripken kid. All I know about him is that his dad is in the big leagues as a Coach.
Back to Memphis I think one of the reasons is the chemistry between the two teams and we did not like each other. Speaking personally I had several words with Doug Seminick, their catcher. I wasn’t a big guy. I’m in no shape at all and I’ve had knee replacement surgery. I’m 6’4, 239 right now. The point is I can remember crashing into Doug twice tagging up. I wish I was 239 then because I was between 185-187 at my playing weight and Doug was a 200 pound plus catcher. Anytime after that we always had words. We didn’t really like Memphis and they didn’t really like us. By the same token we didn’t seem to fare very well against Nashville. We were all thinking, whether someone said it or not, and it was said that we hope Memphis beats Nashville. Sure enough they did and we all thought we had it made. We did not want to play Nashville in a Championship series. I think we would’ve done well against them but it’s a mental thing which in baseball can go a long way.
RITM: I do not want to make light of winning a league championship but which was the greater feeling, winning the Southern League championship or beating Memphis to win the championship?
Cat Whitfield:For me personally it was winning the championship. I think it’s a fair question and I think the thing that made winning the championship so sweet was that we beat Memphis to do it. There’s something about that “History will show…” History will show that you lost to us. It’s a permanent thing and the thing that makes it so good was that it was Memphis we beat to do it.
RITM: You stayed in charlotte until 1983. Was it injuries that kept you in Charlotte?
Cat Whitfield:No it wasn’t and my knees didn’t actually go bad until ten years ago. I really never had any injuries while playing baseball. I can remember having a bruised heel at one point but I never really
had any injuries that kept me out of the lineup. I can remember getting news prior to the final game in Memphis who had been invited to winter ball and who had been invited to instructional league. My whole career I was never invited to either. When I got the news I thought “Surely this year I’ll be going somewhere.” That didn’t happen and we went out and played that game. I can just remember calling my parents from the pay phone at Tim McCarver Stadium. My dad said, “What’s the matter, son?” and I said I didn’t get invited to winter ball. My celebration lasted just on the field. As soon as I came off the field my celebration was over. I wondered why they didn’t invite me and now I’ve got to find a job through the winter. I didn’t understand it because I had always seemed to play well. I played again in ’81. When I started the ’82 season Mark Wiley was our Manager. I got along great with him. He’s a great guy. He would come out to the mound and call me to the mound. There would be a new pitcher that hadn’t been in the league before for us. “Cat, what do you think about this guy?”, “Just jam him inside, pitch him inside”, “Ok”.
I started to think oh my God have I been here for that long that they are coming to me for advice? My aspirations and dreams I could start see them start to get hacked. Not long into the start of the ’82 season I went into Mark Wiley’s office and I told him I just can’t do this anymore. It was just after batting practice. He said, “Do what?” and I said, “Play baseball.” He goes, “Cat you’re kidding me”. I told him, “all my friends are gone, Tommy Eaton, everyone is in AAA. I don’t know why I’m not. I just can’t chase another season of AA baseball. I’m not having fun and I dread coming to the park.” He asked if I had thought about this and I remember giving him a smart answer. I said, “No Mark I’ve played baseball my whole life, it’s all I’ve ever wanted and just about five minutes ago this thought came in my head that I don’t want to do this so I thought I’d tell you and quit.” I said I’ve been thinking about it since the end of Spring Training. He goes Hank Peters is on the phone and he wants to talk to you. I had been in the organization since ’77 and this is ’82 and I had never spoken with him. I saw him in Spring Training but he never talked to me. He goes, “Bobby this is Hank Peters” and I said, “How ‘ya doing?”, “Alright. Listen Mark tells me you don’t want to play anymore.” I said, “No I don’t want to play here anymore” and I told him my feelings. He said, “You realize you won’t be able to play for like another three years because of your contract and by then you will be 29, not playing baseball for three years, and nobody will want you.” I said, “If they’re all like you then I don’t want them.” He asked if there was anything they could do to change my mind.
“Will you option me out to another AAA team?”
“Would you release me from my contract?”
“Would you trade me?”
“No.”“Hank I don’t understand. Why am I still here?”
“The truth is Bobby you are capable of playing one of four infield positions at any level and you are the nucleus of a winning team. You are a student of the game and we are not getting rid of you. We don’t have room for you at AAA and you will have to repeat AA again.”
“I’m not going to do it.”
“Ok if that’s your decision” and I said, “Yeah”.
“Ok, let me speak with Mark.”
They talked for five minutes and Mark asked if I could play tonight while he got a shortstop. I played that night and the next night they flew in Jeff Schaefer who is in Charlotte to this day. We’re good friends and we were good friends prior to that. His story is he comes in off batting practice and everyone’s like, “Schaef did you hear what happened? “What?” “Cat quit, you’re going to AA.” He played the rest of that season in Charlotte. The White Sox saw him and offered something on his contract and he ends up almost going directly to the White Sox. He ends up playing for Chicago, Cleveland and Seattle. Jeff and I talked and he said if someone would’ve done that for you, you never know what could happen. I had Bobby Bonner. I had Cal Ripken in AAA. Back then you had Belangers, Slash and Garcia in the big leagues. There’s just nowhere to go. I’ve had many people from fans to ex-players to guys that I have run into that I played against and pitchers over the past thirty years say, “I can’t believe you never played in the big leagues.” They mean that as a compliment and I’ve learned to take it as that but it hurts.
RITM: Individuals who remember going to games at Crockett during your tenure refer to you as a fan favorite. What was it about your relationship with the fans at Charlotte that made them love you so much?
Cat Whitfield: I always took time to talk to people and to sign autographs. Now a lot of guys did. I’m not saying I was the only one. To this day I see Cal’s handlers quote unquote say “Cal we’ve got to go” because he will sign until the last person gets what they want. I used to make sure that I spoke to people. I was also one of the few players that stayed here during the winter. I didn’t disappear. I was active in the community. Vicky and I were always trying to do charitable things. I would speak at churches and always refer to the Crockett Park fans as the greatest fans in the world. I can remember getting thrown out of a game for fighting. I took my shower and went up in the stands. I would sit for a couple of batters with this group of people and then I’d walk over and sit with this group. If I ever got thrown out I would go up and sit with people.
During batting practice I used fathers who would bring their sons during batting practice, kids seven or eight through 15. Somebody would hot a foul ball over and I’d say, “This ball doesn’t look like it has much life left in it. Why don’t you take it and finish it up for us”. I was always trying to give stuff away. I asked Jimmy if I could bring some people out on the field. He said, “Cat you have to stand right next to them and can’t let anything happen.” I would see a daughter or son and ask the father if I could bring them out on the field. “You can do that?” “Yeah” and I’d reach over and set them down. I’d say, “Let’s go stand behind shortstop. Get your glove.” How that made me feel! I used to say in my prayers at night, “Lord if it never gets anything more than this I really appreciate the fact because I was that kid and if that were to happen to me and now you’ve put me in the position where I can do that for some kid. I don’t know how good it makes the father feel but I’m just glad that I can do that.” After awhile it would be a group of kids and they’re going, “Cat, pick me!” That’s when I started going, “You’re breaking my heart! I can’t take all of you out there because I can’t physically defend all of you.” I’d say, “You, you and you” and always give them a ball or something. Then when I’d take them back I’d spend time with the ones I couldn’t take out. I appreciated those people coming and I appreciated the obvious respect they gave me. I wanted to make sure that they knew that I respected them too.
RITM: As part of the Charlotte community just how large of a loss was it when Crockett Park burned down?
Cat Whitfield: It was a huge loss. It was like a funeral. When I got word that it had burned down I was like, “You have got to be kidding me!” “How much was left”? “Cat there is nothing left.” “Oh my…” If they would’ve said to me Crockett Park burned down to the ground. Also, the White House burned to the ground. I would go, “You’ve got to be kidding me. Tell me about Crockett Park!” I dropped what I was doing and went there immediately. They were still hosing that thing down and cleaning up. There were as many people there as if there was a game there. There were people everywhere. I was walking through the crowd and looking at everything. I remember that burn smell. It was wet nasty. It was a tragedy and people still talk about it. It’s like, “That was the year Crockett Park burned down”. “What year did you get married?” “I got married the year Crockett Park burned down to the ground. It’s like Hugo came through here. People associate things with tragedy. Now time is moving on and marching forward. Being a salesman I go out on leads to sell porches and decks for Archidech. I’ll go up to a half a million dollar house with a couple that is 35 or so and ask if they remember Crockett Park. “No” and I’m thinking “What!?!?! When did you come to Charlotte?” It’s always offensive to me. You don’t remember it? There’s a whole generation that’s moved here after the fact and all they know is the Charlotte Knights in Fort Bell. They do not know there was all that history here. You can go into Pittsburgh and find someone who doesn’t know the Pirates exist. Based on what my dad and I talk about maybe they shouldn’t!
RITM: 17 consecutive losing seasons this year?
Cat Whitfield: Unbelievable and that’s all I ever wanted to be was a Pirate.
RITM: You were part of the WBTV sponsored blue bordered set in 1980. Do you remember anything about the process of producing the cards? Do you remember anything about the night they were given out or anything associated with the cards?
Cat Whitfield: Very little but I do have some memory of it. I remember them saying they were going to do these cards. Who knew that they were going to end up being what they are today. We were going to put our uniforms on and take this team picture, take individual pictures and the Pepper Girls. I remember contemplating if I should wear my glasses or not. I thought that people always see me in them when I play so I’m going to wear them. That’s about all I remember of the taking of the pictures.
The night they handed them out was no different from any other night as far as a player. We were all aware that it was baseball card night. After the night was over there were several extra cases and Frances put them in the clubhouse. I grabbed like ten packs just to have it because I knew that I was always going to be where I could hand them out to my friends and my sister and my college team guys. I thought it was some net thing that I could give away or add to the Christmas present that year. I literally gave them all away. No I had to have taken more than ten because I remember opening at least four or five packs, pulling my card out, and throwing the rest of the cards away. Then I would just send my card in a letter or Christmas card to friends to the point that my sister has a pack today that’s opened. My dad has a pack that’s opened and a pack that’s unopened. He brought the opened one to the ’80 reunion and got everybody to sign their card. So he has two packs. One unopened and one opened with signatures.
RITM: Was it a small crowd that night? Marshall Hester did not remember the crowd being a large crowd that night.
Cat Whitfield: I don’t remember. I do remember that there was a lot of cards leftover. How many do you want? I don’t remember if it was a bad crowd or not. Marshall may very well be correct.
RITM: In addition to the WBTV set the Charlotte Police Department sponsored an orange bordered set. Were any of the players aware they had done these cards?
Cat Whitfield: I had no idea those cards were done until a year or two ago. I just knew of the WBTV cards.
RITM: You were the first baseball player inducted in the Alderson-Broaddus Hall of Fame. How big of an honor was it when they called to tell you?
Cat Whitfield: It was extremely significant. It meant a lot to me and I’ll tell you why. Alderson-Broaddus College is obviously a small Baptist college stuck in the hills of Philippi, West Virginia. It has always been very strong in basketball and soccer with a decent baseball team. I came there from Garrett Community Collge in McHenry, Maryland, and transferred in as a Junior. It was because of playing against Alderson-Broaddus College that I got to meet the coach. I was just captured by Jack Funk. He just seemed like he could be my father. Of course I’m young and impressionable. I played summer baseball in Sandusky, Ohio, trying to decide where I was going to transfer to. I waited too long and everybody had filled their rosters. If there was any scholarship money to give out they’d already given it out. I called Coach Funk. He had been in touch with me and obviously wanted me to be there but I said I was undecided. I called and said, “Coach, if you want me to come I’d love to come and play for you”.
Me and my parents went down there and I played my Junior year for Alderson-Broaddus and for Coach Jack Funk. We did pretty well. We didn’t win anything but I set like a ton of records. A couple I’m told still stand. He never had a shortstop that could hit a homerun and I hit like 14 or 15, 17 or something like that. I got drafted after that. After that Junior year when summer came I went back out to Sandusky, Ohio, to play in this summer league that I had been playing in out there. It was a good league and they played like 85 games a summer. I didn’t know of any place that did that. I just wanted to play baseball and be seen. We had a pitcher on that team at Alderson Broaddus named Steve Lesser who was eventually drafted by the Orioles. There was a scout from the scouting bureau who watched us some. Dick Bowie, a guy from the Orioles, came to see Steve pitch. Coach pulled the guy aside and said, “Steve is a great pitcher and everything and I don’t know if you are looking for infielders but there’s a guy playing in Sandusky, Ohio, that played for me. You need to see this kid.” He promoted me to the point where he came out and saw me without me knowing he was there then they drafted me in the 21st round. A lot of it was because of Jack Funk’s salesmanship. Steve Lesser and I were drafted. Steve played the rookie league season and got released and I continued on all those years.
After Bluefield I went back to A & B to continue my education. I was fortunate because they had four 10 week terms instead of regular college semesters so I was able to get that winter 10 weeks in between the end of the season and spring training and I got my degree in education. My roommate that whole time was this kid from Elkins, West Virginia, named J.D. Long. He was a pitcher/first baseman. I loved the kid. He was a Freshman coming in when I was a Junior. He just didn’t know nothing about life or anything. It seemed that no matter what we did I was teaching him. I’m not talking about baseball. “This is how you act when you are eating in front of people”. “J.D., we are going to the Valentine’s Dance. You can’t wear those shoes!” Coach Funk had a daughter named Linda who was a Senior in High School. J.D. goes, “Cat, what do you think about Linda Funk?” “I think she’s pretty good looking but I can be her dad!” I said, “You better be careful because that’s the coach’s daughter but I think she’s a good girl and I know you’re a good kid. Heck, you don’t know how to do bad things”. As time went on he asked her out. They’ve been married to this day with three beautiful daughters. I saw them in March when Coach Funk passed away. The memorial service was schedule at the college Chapel at Alderson Broaddus. They had to move it to the Coliseum. That’s how many people came and they were not all baseball players. That guy was a great man, a great great man. He meant the world to me.
Once he graduated J.D. started teaching at one of the schools in Philippi. We would talk maybe once every two years or if they were coming to Myrtle Beach we might see each other. He started, “Cat it’s not fair that that you can’t even be in the Hall of Fame I found out”. “What Hall of Fame?” “Alderson-Broaddus.” “They have a Hall of Fame? Where is it?” “Well they haven’t really ever assembled one. It’s on paper. They’re going to do at least a room or something but the rules state you have to play at least two seasons and attend the college for two years. You played one season and got drafted so you were ineligible to play your senior year.” He said, “It’s funny because you hold like every record there.” Sometimes life turns bad. Sometimes it turns good. Over the years J.D. works his way back to the college and he’s now a college professor. Then he works his way up to coaching women’s volleyball. Now he’s worked his way up to where he’s the Athletic Director at Alderson Broaddus College. Now he calls a special Hall of Fame meeting and he stands up and says, “Here’s an article from the Bluefield newspaper. Here’s one from the Miami Herald. Here’s one from the Charlotte news. Here’s one from the Charlotte Observer. Here’s one from the paper in Rochester. Here’s one from the Baltimore Sun. Do you see what they all say; Alderson Broaddus College. He was more of a diplomat for our college than anybody ever. He went on with this political Richard Nixon type thing. At the end of it they all voted and said, “Put him in.” so they broke or bent the rule and put me in the Hall of Fame. That meant the world to me. Of course back then Jack Funk is still alive and everything’s great.
We went up to the Hall of Fame dinner. My dad came down and my aunt. I found out it was like a $100 a plate dinner. I went over to Coach Funk and I said, “Coach, we don’t have 300 bucks.” He goes, “Cat, you don’t have to pay!” Of course all the money went to athletics. It was a wonderful night. That night I told them a story that was probably when it comes to that college the dearest story to my heart. We were on a bus trip one time. It was AA. I had my headphones on and I was listening to Black Foot being a rocker. One of the guys tapped me on the shoulder and I pulled my headphones down. They said, “Cat, what was the name of that college you went to? Was it like Adlason Blabbus or something?” I turned around and I go, “What are you guys doing?”
“We’re just talking about where we came from.”
“What was the town? It was like Flightville or Flippo?”
“No, Philippi, West Virginia”
“That must be a huge place, Cat” and they’d all laugh.
“I went to the University of Miami. Did you have an electronic scoreboard?”
“No the coach’s wife stood up between the innings and would just yell out the score.”
That was the truth.
“Did they have plastic seats or bleachers?”
“No you sat in this bank next to the road.”
Russ Brett goes, “So if somebody like blew a tie rod or had a flat tire they could’ve wiped out the whole crowd?”
“Did you have Astroturf or grass infield?”
I saw that they were having fun at my expense and I went along with it because most of the time I had fun at their expense. Before any of them would ask me “What was yours like?” they would tell me what theirs was at Clemson or Arizona State. They would explain how nice theirs was.
“So Cat what about your fence?”
“It was a snow fence.”
“Did it have how many feet it was?”
“No it was just a snow fence.”
“You could’ve been hitting 200 foot homeruns. How do we know?”
“It was in the little program.”
“Oh you had a program!”
They were just getting on me. At one point when I thought I couldn’t take it any more I said, “It’s true. I didn’t go to a college that was as well scouted or as nice and had the facilities you had. As far as my education Alderson-Broaddus isn’t that well known. I didn’t play as many games as you guys or have the baseball reputation but I want you to know something right now. I’m on the same bus as you are.” I remember Russ Brett because he was the one after me the most. He said, “You know what the kid’s got a point. Tomorrow who’s gonna be on this bus and I know he’s been on this bus for three years. I’ve been with him since Bluefield and he’s here every year.”
When I told that story at that Hall of Fame thing the place went crazy when I said, “…but I’m on the same bus as you.” It’s turned out to be something I use in my life in different scenarios where I don’t have to explain all of that. If you just say to someone, “Yeah, but I’m on the same bus as you.” If someone is trying to elevate themselves over you but you’re both in the same situation it’s irrelevant.
A year later they finally got my plaque and my bronze thing. Sure enough Coach Funk’s wife Judy found a picture of me that she happened to like. That was back in the days of Mike Schmidt playing third for the Phillies with that permanent, that afro look. I figured wow that’s easier to care for so I went one weekend while I was at college and I had a perm put in my hair. So I had this Mike Schmidt look and it couldn’t have been for two months. She used that picture on that bronze thing and I look like Mike Brady of the Brady Bunch.
RITM: Not a lot of people can say that they were a teammate of two different Hall of Famers from two different sports. What’s your connection with Joe Montana?
Cat Whitfield: Joe and I grew up together. Obviously Joe played football and I didn’t play high school football. I played what would be called Pop Warner. We were on the same team then. During the school seasons we would play against each other but in the summer league we were on the same team. Because we were both decent athletes we did other things like play street hockey and football. We played tackle football back then. There was no such thing as flag football or if there was we didn’t know about it. We certainly wouldn’t have played it. We were all the sons of mill workers. If it snowed enough, five to six inches, we would play tackle in the street. If it wasn’t snow we’d play up at the preacher’s yard. It was just all out tackle football, no pads, which I know was not exclusive to us. We would go to American Legion baseball practice and someone would have a football. Somebody would say, “I think Cat can throw It farther than Joe” and Joe would go, “No he can’t” so we’d heave it and somebody would stand down there where it hit. There was a period of years where I could throw it farther than him but he was a pitcher on our team and he could throw faster than me. It was weird. I used to always tell him, “I’m going to be in the big leagues before you’re ever in the NFL”. It was just a thing between us and we all know how that turned out. We were friends and we did a lot of things together. Once he went to Notre Dame and I went to Garrett Community College we kind of lost touch although we followed each other. I remember getting a call from Mr. Montana about congratulations on being drafted. That was pretty much it. I’ve talked to him since, obviously, but we’re not in close communication only because it’s so hard to get hold of those guys. Joe Montana and Cal Ripken I know them both.