The Way It Was – “Poke”

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Editor’s note: This is another column in Bill Boyd’s new series, “The Way It Was,” about growing up in Marysville. Bill continues to work with the Union County Historical Society to obtain information for his stories. With Marysville and Union County celebrating Bicentennial anniversaries in 2019 and 2020, respectively, these articles help depict what life was like in those early years.
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In the early to mid 1940s, Marysville High School had a football and basketball coach named John Ehlen. In his third year of coaching, he decided to add baseball as another sport. Several high school boys had urged him to do that, but I think a major factor in his decision was a new MHS student, a boy named Noel “Poke” Howard.
Poke lived on a farm near Woodstock, but had recently enrolled in Marysville High School. He had a reputation of being an outstanding baseball pitcher. He was so good, in fact, that Coach Ehlen believed he could build a very good team around him. And that’s exactly what he did.
MHS had no baseball diamond where the team could practice. So Coach Ehlen built one. He had sod removed in the center of the fairgrounds racetrack. Then he brought in dirt to build a pitchers mound. And voila … Marysville had a baseball diamond.
I sometimes visited that baseball diamond to watch the team practice. At first, there wasn’t any kind of backstop behind home plate, so balls were often hit or thrown out into the tall grass. That was perfect for me, because I could retrieve the balls and throw them back to the coach. You can’t imagine how much fun that was for a 12-year-old boy. I think I fancied myself as part of the team.
The school’s athletic budget in those days was pretty slim. In fact, it was so slim the team didn’t have uniforms, but they all dressed alike, in blue jeans and sweatshirts. What they lacked in appearance, however, they made up for with their play. There were no records kept of the game scores, but they did really well, thanks in large measure to Poke Howard.
As much as I was impressed with his pitching skills, I was impressed even more with his sense of humor and his demeanor. He could make friends with just about anyone. I don’t think I ever met anyone who didn’t really like Poke.
The boy who played first base on that team was Bob Shanks. He and I worked together at Scotts for years. He still lives in Marysville, and I talked with him recently. His favorite memory of Poke wasn’t on a baseball diamond. It was in Poke’s car following a game the team played in Columbus.
Poke, Bob and three other hungry players pulled into the drive-thru of a White Castle restaurant. As they waited in line, Poke started wondering about what was the largest order ever placed at a White Castle drive-thru. Then he decided to go for the record. When it was his turn, he ordered 100 hamburgers. That’s right … one hundred!
That was pretty pricey, for I think those hamburgers sold for about 8 cents each. The five boys came up with $8, and Bob told me they eventually ate them all. It took quite a while, but they did it. The last ones were finished off after they were back in Marysville.
When Poke graduated from MHS, he went to Miami (Ohio) University, which had an excellent baseball team. He became the pitcher on that team. Their biggest game of the year was with Ohio State, which also had a very good team. OSU had a highly regarded pitcher named Pete Perini, who was also a star on the football team.
That OSU-Miami baseball game was billed as a “pitcher’s duel,” and it turned out to be exactly that. It was “Pete versus Poke,” and in the end, Poke won 1-0.
A bit later, Pete pitched for the Boston Braves, and Poke went to Detroit for a tryout with the Tigers. They liked Poke’s pitching, and they signed him. He played for their farm team until he was injured, and his baseball days were over.
Today, there are still people who remember Poke Howard as a very good pitcher. But when I think of him, the first thing that pops into my mind is the thought of those five boys sitting in Poke’s car eating all those hamburgers. They must have been really hungry.
Those wishing to contact Bill Boyd can e-mail him at bill@davidwboyd.com



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