From cow pasture to Bearcat Stadium, Bob “Shag” Bryson built a true-to-life field of dreams where summer action is hot and community support is enviable
For many, the smell of freshly cut grass is a sign that spring has arrived. But to Bob Bryson of Schultz Creek it means it’s once again time to dust off the ball cap, find the mitt that could surely use some mending, start the tractor, and rake a winter-torn dirt infield.
Yes, friends, it is time for the umpire to yell, “Play ball!”
In this tiny community in Greenup County just south of South Shore, year after year, you can find Robert “Shag” Bryson tending to his chores and enjoying every minute of it.
The raking of dirt around home plate, the smell of a fresh pouch of opened chewing tobacco, the crack of the bat, and the roar of the crowd (well, almost) as folks come from hundreds of miles to play baseball at Bearcat Stadium in Schultz Creek.
Like most kids growing up across the Bluegrass, retired school teacher Bob Bryson wanted to be a big league baseball player just like his childhood heroes Frank Robinson and Vada Pinson.
Living in a rural area, Bob spent his time kicking cans along dusty dirt roads or swimming in the deep, cool pools of Schultz Creek. Then came the spring day of 1966 that would change the McKell High School student forever.
A fellow by the name of Daye Hall stopped by Bryson’s General Store and told the young lads who were playing a pickup game in the cow pasture adjacent to the store that he bet he could bring over a group of similar-aged boys from a nearby community and beat them in a game of baseball. And so it began. That evening Bob discussed the unused cow pasture with his mother and father. The next day a bush-hogged field held the first of what would be many baseball games.
Like any high school age young man of the 1960s living in a rural community, Bob had after-school chores that needed tending. With his parents owning A. H. Bryson & Sons General Store, he was required to devote some of his time behind the counter of the family-run business. But when there was free time, Bob spent both his time and what little money he could scrape together improving the grounds of the “ballpark.”
Using a tractor with plow and disk, an infield area was cut and raked from the rough pasture. Soon the empty potato sacks that were used for bases were replaced with real bags. Summer evenings and weekends would show the grass to be filled with bicycles from area hollows, and area youth would be doing whatever they could to get a game together. The ballpark became the center attraction in the rural community.
When Bryson was still a young man running the hallways of McKell High School, a teacher, Mr. Cropper, asked, “What time is the big game this weekend for the mighty Schultz Creek Bearcats?” And the name stuck like gum to a desk. Up and down the Ohio River in Greenup County, those who could hitch a ride would show up on any given summer evening to play a game of baseball.
Since the first pitch was thrown at the diamond, an estimated 8,000 different individuals have had the privilege to play at the stadium, such as David “Catfish” Munn, who happened to be ambidextrous. “The great thing about Catfish was he could throw a doubleheader for us,” states Bryson. Catfish Munn would pitch a game right-handed, then throw the next left-handed with the same control on the ball.
Cousins Paul “Oink” and “Protein” Jackie Timberlake, and Carl “Bunk” Morman were just some of the memorable characters of the ballpark throughout the 1970s.
And let’s not forget the ladies. Bonnie Bryson, Bob’s sister, was the catcher for the Schultz Creek Bearcats between the ages of 14 to 17.
This park has seen its share of major leaguers too. Matt Anderson, who was the # 1 draft pick for the Detroit Tigers, once threw the heat at Bearcat Stadium.
“A former teacher of mine phoned me once and asked me to take a look at his son,” Bryson recalls from the dugout. “He brought the kid out, and I pitched him a few balls, and most landed over the 360 sign in center field.” The kid turned out to be Pat Borders, who a few years later earned World Series Most Valuable Player honors with the world champion Toronto Blue Jays, and won the gold on the 2000 U.S. Olympics baseball team.
Terry Craft used to umpire tournaments at Bearcat Stadium in the 1970s, and went on to be a major league umpire who retired from the game only recently.
With all the nicknames the kids have on the diamond, it’s only natural that Bob would also have a name: Shag. “The name was not for playing the outfield or shagging fly balls,” as Bryson recalls. “When I was in school the kids would call me Bison instead of Bryson, and after a time they would call me Shaggy Bison. Over time, it became just ‘Shag.’ ”
Over the next 40 years, Shag played every position on the field and developed tournaments for as many as 18 area ball clubs. In the summer of 1988, the Bearcats had their busiest season with Bryson as a player and coach. “That year we played 81 ballgames and won 48,” states Bryson. But it was 1992 that saw their best season, winning 53 out of 64 games. “I’m not saying I was Orel Hershiser, but I did have 22 innings of shut-out ball while pitching that summer,” he says, as a wide grin begins to show.
On any given weekend, the ballpark can be a place where first-timers stop by to catch their first game or where fellow players pull up and park to reminisce about the time they played Bearcat baseball.
Such was the case for Billy Clary, a local kid who grew up within a line drive shot of Bearcat Stadium, who brought his two boys for a chance to run on the field. “Clary hit seven homers off of me back in ’85, so the next year I moved the fence back five feet,” says Coach Bryson.
Today, Bob Bryson lives with his wife Linda (their two children Joe and Sarah are grown) within sight of the man-made structure that took shape over the past 40 years. On any given day, you can see a man working on the field, still trying to improve the rough edges of the once cow pasture region of Schultz Creek.
CATCH A GAME
There’s no charge to come watch a game at Bearcat Stadium, with the season running May through September. From South Shore, turn South on State Route 7, travel two miles, turn right on State Route 784, and follow approximately six miles. For more information on when the Bearcats are playing, call the Bryson General Store at (606) 932-9975, Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m.- 5 p.m. The store is closed on Sunday. After church, there is a baseball game going on next door.