As most softball players know having some fun while playing this great game is only a plus when it comes to playing the game of slo-pitch. I had a lot of fun and met a lot people and players over the years. But no one could carry on and have so much fun as Fred The Head Miller did.
I met Fred in 1981 when Mr. Neale, Ted Stepien, Skip Felice, Dick Koval and especially Buddy Langdon decided to put a team together from the Cleveland area to take on the big boys of slo-pitch softball. Cleveland had been one of the hotbed cities in the late 60's and early 70's when softball really took the country by storm. Cleveland was always awarded one automatic berth to the ASA Men's Open tournaments. Teams like Swing Inn had finished in the top 3 a couple of times. It wasn't until Pyramid Cafe won the prestigious award in 1975 on Cleveland's home soil at Brookside Park. Pyramid Cafe National Champs. I can still hear Chet Oblock telling Dave Neale everytime he saw him. Hey buddy. National Champs. He would flash his ring in his face. It was something that all of the softball backers in Cleveland wanted.
So in 1981 with Ted Stepien putting the money behind the team to try and win a National Championship all the pieces were in place. Koval brought over some of the Non Ferrous players, Skip Felice brought a number of players from his Teamster 293 team. Mr. Neale mixed those players with some of our Hillcrest Tavern's team and after all the players moving we had a heck of team. We were looking for an exceptional shortstop at the time and someway Mr. Neale talked southern superstar Charles Wright to leave Ken Sanders and come to Cleveland and play with us. Talk about a pickup. Charles was the ultimate player. 2 years prior to this team being put together Ted Stepien, who had a team in the Professional softball league bought a player from the Kentucky Bourbons (for $10,000.00) by the name of Fred Miller. Fred who was originally from Florida and had played with Jerome Ernest when he had a team called Buddy's out of Florida had become quite the power hitter and was setting the softball parks a fire with his home run power. Ted actually hired Fred to play softball and to model men's clothing for a firm in downtown Cleveland. Fred did that a year and then Skip Felice gave him a job on the beer trucks delivering beer. If you knew Fred like I knew him you would know that he thought at this point in his life what a great job. Playing softball and delivering his favorite beverage, beer...
Fred was a very well put together athlete who had played football at Florida State. He was a running back and once in a game against Florida he got hit real hard and the doctor told him he should quit playing football. He said he should quit because if he gets hit again like that he could lose the site in his one eye. So Fred decided to quit and became a cheerleader. As I said Fred was a big boy. He stood 6'3" tall and weighed in at 250. He was the perfect size to hit softballs a long way. Add that with a good swing and away you go. Fred used the same kind of bat I did. It was a 10 inch barrel with a concentrated end load. Usually 34 and 36 ounces. I have to tell you that Fred use to say he enjoyed being a cheerleader more than playing football because he was dating all of the cheerleader girls. Ha! Ha!
I only got to play with Fred for a short time because the next year we split up again and some of the players stayed and we played in the Pro league with Stepien and the Teamster player went back to having their team. But for one year I had more fun with Fred than I have ever had. I plan on writing a book very soon on my softball career and talk about all of my travels playing softball in every state except Alaska. So I want to tell you all about one day while playing with Fred.
It was in late August and we were playing in a NSPC qualifier in Hartford, Connecticut. All the big teams were there. Howard's, Ken Sanders/York Barbells, Gartenhaus, (who was the host team) Steele's, and a number of other teams. They held the tourney in a baseball stadium in downtown Hartford. Gartenhaus Cafe who was the local team in the event was right down the road from Hartford in Plainville, Connecticut. We had i game on Friday and two more on Saturday to set up the winners bracket game against Howard's on Sunday morning. Freddie was a very unique person. He came from Florida and it just seemed like nothing ever bothered him. I had drank Jack Daniels in my life before but never met a guy like Fred who loved the stuff. Fred had a set way he would travel to all of the tourneys. He never wore any underwear. He only had 2 tee shirts and a pair of jeans to go in his suitcase. The first time I roomed with him he opens up his suitcase and there were his clothes to go along with 2 bottles of whiskey and he would have some of those tiny liquor bottles in there also. I said to him "that's all the clothes you brought?" He looks at me with a smiles "yep!"
So this weekend was no different than any other one. In the bag this week was a half gallon of Jack Daniels to go along with his wardrobe. Ha! Ha! When the second game ended that afternoon we went back to the hotel where we showered and then proceeded to have a couple of cocktails. After we have consumes about 1/2 of the bottle we decide to go try out the Gartenhaus Cafe. It was told that there was to be a party there that night for all of the ball players in the tourney. I can't remember who drove but it wasn't either one of us. We make out way down to the local watering hole Ha! Ha!..
As soon as we get through the door we are up at the bar and ordering drinks and having fun. They have a live band who is playing some funky music that sounded pretty good. Now we are in the bar maybe an hour when all of a sudden Fred says hey I am going to ask the band if I can play the bongos in the song. I forget what the song was but they agreed and the next thing I know Fred is up on stage with his tee shirt that says Mustache Rides No Charge He had shaved his head earlier in the year and now he was bald headed and looked like Mr. Clean. Just as Fred gets into the rhythm of he song somebody throws him a Rick James wig that he promptly throws on. Now I am thinking to myself at the bar, boy would be in trouble if Mr. Neale could see us now. It's not that hard to get in trouble when you are with teammates at a softball tournament. Don't ask me why but they seem to go hand in hand.
Remember when I was telling you about Fred's eye. Ever since he quit football he learned a trick where he could open up a beer bottle with his eye socket. The next thing I know Fred is betting someone he can do this and while he is still trying to play the bongos he is trying to get the beer cap with one hand. He is successful and tells the guy who dared him to guzzle the beer. Fred tells the guy was he ready to start drinking? Because he was going to start opening up as many beers that he could and make sure he drank everyone. I had to intervene and tell Fred to settle down and concentrate on playing the bongos in the band. He looked at me with that smile again and said your right. So he goes right back into his groove on the bongo and the placed loved him. I am telling you he stole the show.
Now as time goes by and it's getting late we decide to head back to the hotel. Obviously someone drove us. I think it was Herman Rathman. There was another person that night that came out with us and his name was Jim Decore. Everybody called him Deke. Deke was a Freddie look alike because he was a big boy and his head was bald. So all 3 of us head back to the hotel thanks to Hammerin Herman. When we arrived at the hotel which was a very nice place. It was one of those high rise hotels that had 15 floors on it. Now we are acting silly in the lobby of the hotel when all of a sudden that place gets swarmed with Knights of Pythias people. Don't ask me why but Fred and Deke get this great idea to grab the fire extinguishers from their racks and they proceeded to start spraying everyone. They hop on the elevators and going from floor to floor just hammering people with the extinguishers. They were soaking anybody that was out in the hall. They are going up and down the halls knocking on doors(remember it is 1:00 in the morning). When someone would answer they would spray them down. One person opened the door with their Pythias hat on Fred knocked it right off of him. Now during all of this hell raising the coaches staff have all been in bed since 11:00. I went to my room right away because I knew someone was going to get in trouble and I didn't want it to be me. So off to my room I go. I was rooming with Steve Blanchette and Fred both. We would go 3 guys to a rooms sometimes.
Once back at the room I waited for Fred to get done and get his butt in the bed. Finally Fred shows up and he is completely drenched. I tell Fred to get his clothes off and hang them up so they will dry. Once he has taken all of his clothes off there is a knock on our door. Fred jumps up opens the door and low and behold Deke is there with one last extinguisher and he shoots Fred right in the face, shoots into our room and then takes off. Fred proceeds to chase him to the end of the hall and then realizes he's naked and comes back to the room. Now he is back in the room, his clothes are all hanging up around the place. Finally it seems that we have gotten things quieted down some when Fred starts into a rant about our coach Mr. Neale. He starts telling me how he used to be a great hitter. That since he met Mr. Neal he has been slumping. He says he is tired of it and will speak his peace tomorrow. I said "what you gonna do?" He says "when I see that old man tomorrow I am going to knock him out. He said his career is ruined now. I was egging him and told him that's what I would do. So he went on a few more minutes on what he was going to do. He was talking pretty loud also. Blanchette is trying to get to sleep and can't. Right when Fred was at the moment where he was going to do this and do that there is a loud knock at the door. I said "oh,oh" Mr. Neale says "Macenko?" Open up this frigging door. I look over at Fred and his eyes have popped out of his head and he says to me "whatever you do Mike, don't open that door." I am laughing so hard that I can't even sit up. I says what do you mean don't open it up. I says Fred you can get that all taken care of tonight. He says to me again, Mike please don't open up that door. Me being a instigator from time to time know that I have to open up the door I might be on the bench the next day. I was lying on the floor trying to sleep so I got up and answered the door. Mr. Neale came in with his usual "hey Mike what the frig is going on? I said nothing Dave. He says nothing. I got the lady from the front desk calling me to tell me there is a guy running around naked on the 11th floor. I says Dave it isn't us. Just then he recognizes Fred on the bed wrapped up in 3 of the hotels blankets. All you could see was his head. He looked like a big budda. Dave says Fred you got your clothes on. Fred? YES he said. Dave looked up at his clothes hanging everywhere and knew what was going on. He said I better not hear another peep out of this room tonight. Fred says no problem Dave. Now Dave closes the door and down his room he went.
All I can say is that Steve and I laughed so hard it was unbelievable. We finally rolled over and went to sleep. Needless to say this was just one day. The next morning the hotel handed dave a bill for 8 extinguishers to be refilled. Dave had Ted Stepiens credit card for the teams travel expenses so I know that bill got washed away. Probably on one of those Knights Of Pythias hat. Needless to say but we both woke up the next day to go play some more softball. Like I said I had so much fun playing with Fred. This is just one of the many stories that I have while I was a teammate of Fred. Fred passed away in1991 from a heart attack at the age of 38. The Florida State head football coach Bobby Bowden said Fred was one of a kind. Fred's family had him cremated and sprinkled his ashes over the FSU football field. That was my man Fred..