Walters reflects on fond Larks' memories
Arlen Walters loved everything about baseball. He loved the camaraderie. He loved the competition. He loved making history.
Walters played and managed for the Hays Larks in the 1950s and 1960s, when the town team was comprised of local players who knew each other on and off the field.
“I loved playing baseball; I would have loved playing in the major leagues if they would have let me,” said Walters, whose best position was center field but who also played every position for the Larks except for catcher and right field. “The last 40, 50 years, it’s been primarily college players, who play one or two years and move on. In the early days, if you were able to play, some of those guys played into their 40s.”
Walters, now 85 and living in Las Vegas, was 11 years old when the local team was named the Larks in 1946. He remembers going to the park for almost every game that summer, sunflower seeds in hand. He watched his uncle, Ed Walters — who was a star player — and his teammates play.
“They were my idols,” Walters said.
Walters played in the last game of the 1953 season for the Larks, then played full seasons from 1954 through 1957. He played a few games in 1958 before being drafted. After serving in the Army, Walters returned to Hays and played for the Larks from 1962 through 1965.
“It was a lot of fun,” Walters said. “There were pretty good rivalries. Victoria and Hays liked to beat each other. Catherine and Hays liked to beat each other.
“You knew everybody,” he added. “You knew all the people in Catherine, most of the people in Victoria.”
Walters remembered a home-field advantage at Catherine, and the fence at Munjor.
“When you went to Catherine you had to be a little careful playing in the outfield, because you could step in a bit of cow dung while chasing a fly ball,” he said. “Over in Munjor they had a snow fence for the outfield. Occasionally, a guy chasing a fly ball would go right through it.”
It was fun, but it was serious once the players stepped across the white lines.
“Sometimes a little bitter rivalry, but after the game we went and got a beer together,” Walters said. “We just had a lot of fun playing against each other.”
Walters enjoyed success at the plate for the Larks. He led the team in hitting three times, batting .341 in 1955; .405 in 1963; and .381 in his final season, 1965. Walters even hit three homers in a game, but of all the games he played in a Larks uniform, one stands out.
On July 25, 1962, the Larks trailed rival Victoria 1-0 heading into the bottom of the ninth inning. Ace pitcher Tony “Red” Pfeifer had shut down the Larks hitters, striking out 12 batters going into the ninth. But Ken Haas led off the inning with a home run to tie the game, and the Larks loaded the bases for Walters, who came to the plate with one out. Pfeifer, who had struck out Walters his three previous times at the plate, had a 0-2 count on him. Walters got a pitch he liked, and belted a grand slam to give the Larks a 5-1 victory.
“That was the best feeling I had,” Walters said.
Walters heard somebody say something as he was rounding the bases.
“On the way by, ‘Red’ said, ‘nice hit, Arlen,’ ” Walters recalled. “That’s the way we played each other.”
Walters also is proud of something he did as Larks manager. He believes he added the first Black player to don a Larks uniform. That player showed up before a game early in the 1963 season.
“He came out one evening before a game,” Walters said. “He said, ‘I would like to try out for your team.’ I said, ‘Grab a bat, and let’s see what you can do.’ I got ‘Raschi’ Pfeifer to pitch to him, and he looked good to me. I said, ‘Come on, we’ll get you a uniform.’ ”
Walters came back for the 50th Larks reunion, and is back in Hays for the 75th anniversary celebration this weekend. He still remembers that first year in 1946, when the squad became the Larks after a name-the-team contest.
“It’s hard to believe, but I was there that first year,” said Walters, who still fondly remembers his years in a Larks uniform. “Just the friendship and competition with a bunch of nice fellows.”