By David Goddard. Photo by Adam Brimer.
Baseball and summer go hand in hand, a slice of Americana that’s held true through generations.
That connection is no different for Randall Crowell, a civil engineering graduate of UT Knoxville, especially when you learn he was a pitcher for the baseball Vols, having led the team in wins, strikeouts and innings pitched during his senior season.
What makes the fact that he’s still hurling pitches truly stand out is when that senior campaign took place: 1960. Crowell, known as “High Pockets” to his teammates, played for Coach George Cafego, who most remember for his College Football Hall of Fame career under Gen. Robert Neyland.
Though his fastball might have lost some pep, Crowell, who turned 78 in June, puts on the cap and glove for summer league games near his home in Halls Mill, Tennessee,10 miles west of Shelbyville.
“My fastball was never really that great anyway,” says Crowell (Knoxville ’60). “What I always did and still do is get the ball over the plate. The curve is still my best pitch—still the best pitch in baseball, too.”
Crowell’s league plays a 12-week, two-games-a-week schedule in Huntsville, Alabama, where he began playing after deciding the Nashville league he took part in previously just wasn’t competitive enough.
While labeling it as “senior” might seem to indicate a drop-off in play, the fact that the particular definition for his league is anyone over 45 means that Crowell is sometimes facing down players who are more than 30 years his junior.
“Sometimes you get a ringer or two digging in at the batter’s box and looking at you like, ‘There’s no way this old man’s gonna get me out.’ When I strike them out and they sulk back to the dugout, man, that’s worth 100 bucks to me,” Crowell says.
Between his stints as a baseball player, Crowell spent almost 30 years utilizing his civil engineering degree at various places around the world. He helped build water treatment plants, roads, drainage and other infrastructure improvements “from Florida to Europe and a lot of places in between,” he says.
Crowell is anything but retired. He grew up on a farm and took up farming again about 15 years ago, quickly becoming somewhat of a sweet sorghum expert in the area.
“We plant it, cultivate it, strip it, smash (squeeze) it, bottle it, eat it, all of those things like they used to do 200 years ago,” says Crowell. “I’d say, when it comes to harvest time, we have an outpouring of local people who help, and on our big day, the first Saturday in October, over 600 people come to view our activities.”
But don’t look for him to hang up his spikes anytime soon. “I’ve been working on remobilizing my knuckleball and using it more often,” says Crowell. “It takes a lot less out of you, physically, to throw. If I can start throwing it the way I want, I might play 20 more years.”