By Mike Goodson/Sports Correspondent
Etowah County has a great baseball heritage. The Gadsden Pilots were one of the most popular teams to call Etowah County their home.
Gadsden was a “Class B” team in the Southeastern League during the 1930s.
Although times were tough during the days of the “Great Depression,” the Pilots were a successful financial draw in the Gadsden area until the days of World War II.
The Pilots played their home games at Coosa Park in East Gadsden during this time. During World War II, most people either joined the military or worked in the factories and foundries. This would be the case until the 1946 baseball season, the first full baseball season after the war.
With the soldiers coming home and the economy transitioning to a peacetime economy, many Etowah County residents’ thoughts turned to baseball once again.
A group of local investors negotiated with the Memphis Chicks of the Southern League to bring a team to Gadsden to compete in the Southeastern League. The Chicks provided some of the players for this team, although the “nucleus” of the team was signed from local talent. Byron Todd was named president and he was determined to assemble a competitive team.
Todd named Dave Coble manager of Gadsden in early 1946. Coble set out to find as much talent as possible by the opening day of spring training. The Pilots reported for spring drills in Henderson, Texas, on March 1, 1946. Many promotions were held to promote the franchise in the days leading up to the season opener. The front office was very optimistic as the season opener drew near. Gadsden opened the 1946 season, visiting the Anniston Rams.
Byron “Barney” Bridgers came to Gadsden to play professional baseball with the Pilots and make to Etowah County his home. He originally signed with the St. Louis Cardinals and played minor league baseball with teams in the Pacific Coast League, the Arizona-Texas League and the Pioneer League. Acquired from Fresno in the Pacific Coast League, Bridgers quickly became a local favorite.
The Pilots played their home games at City Park, located at the present site of the Gadsden Coliseum. This park was the site of many great baseball games over the years, including minor league and high school baseball. There were also many great promotions to bring baseball fans to the games on a regular basis.
The Pilots were very competitive during this season in the Southeastern League. The team carried a .290 batting average during the 1946 season. Five members of the Pilots were among the top hitters in the league during their first season following the war. Roy Pinkston led the Pilots with a .350 batting average and 33 home runs. George Brown led the league with 52 doubles while scoring 102 runs and batting .336.
Gadsden finished the 1946 season in sixth place with a 60-76 overall record.
Lee Blaine was the voice of the Pilots, broadcasting the games locally. During this time when many fans had to “watch” the games on the radio Blaine kept the fans on the edge of their seats. No doubt anyone who listened to those games remembers the immortal words of Blaine, “open the window Aunt Minnie, here comes another one!” Followed by the sound of breaking glass.