Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
In 1956, Lions-Hondo Little League baseball park looked nothing like it does today. What 14 young men from Roswell accomplished will never be forgotten by the people from Chaves County. All they had was a brotherhood and some hungry ball players that just want to play baseball.
Did the players know they were making history? How could they? This was before the internet or TV became really popular and social media was not invented yet. What they did is teach a town to dream, and that with being themselves and playing for each other as a team — that anything was possible — especially if you’re from Roswell, New Mexico.
If this happened today, the Lions-Hondo team would be overnight sensations with the best player, Tommy Jordan being picked to make it to the Major Leagues at such a young age. The 1956 team was a true rags to riches made for TV story.
Not many people know that the humble beginnings of the team in how they had to scrounge up baseballs from The Roswell Rockets — to look for a baseball that was hit out of the ballpark — and their Little League park was where McCoys Lumberyard is now. It was nothing but a dirt field with a lot of the players going across to the stadium to shag fly balls — so they would have balls to play with. Jimmy Valdez remembers that when they started playing each player, the team had different uniforms with white caps.
“I want to bring up that the facilities they have today are amazing to me, especially Lions-Hondo,” Harold Hobson said. “The lady they have over there now has done a great job. They have full-size fields. It all came from that dirt field full of rocks with a backstop and one bench from each side to sit on and a shabby outfield fence. I’m not sure they used pillows for bases.”
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The men feel what has been missing from all of their interviews they have done over the years is (Jimmy Valdez, Tommy Jordan and Hobson) they believe their win helped the city of Roswell baseball program grow into what it is now. With the increase in teams for each league — at the time there were only four teams per league, with three leagues: Eastside, Optimist and Lions-Hondo.
“I feel like our true legacy,” Hobson said, “was the growth of the league. The city developed the baseball program after we won.”
Their coach at the time, Dick St. John stressed fundamentals every day they played and practiced. The coach made it fun. The team never felt any pressure until returning back from Williamsport while riding the rails. When the team came back to Roswell, they were greeted by over 5,000 fans to celebrate their win. Before they won it they felt like they were a bunch of little boys having fun playing baseball.
The team played here to open the All-Star tournament, then they went to Carlsbad and won there. Next, they went to the state tournament in Los Alamos and then the regional tournament in Lubbock, Texas. From there they went to San Antonio, Texas. The player in the Little League World Series where they played three games — it was single elimination. They were the only team that year to win every game in the United States.
All of the players felt like if the game was close, the best player on the team, Tommy Jordan would bail them out with a great effort on the mound or at the plate. When Jordan wasn’t pitching, he played second base.
The team was the home team in 11 out of 12 games. In the final game in San Antonio, Lions-Hondo third baseman David Sherrod made an error that allowed a run to score. He came into the dugout crying. Coach St. John took Sherrod in the corner and consoled him and told him he was going to do good when he went up to bat. Sherrod was the first batter up in the inning and hit a home run to win the game and get them to the World Series. Sherrod’s home run hit the foul pole and bounced back for the win.
The biggest crowd Lions-Hondo had ever played in front of was 500 fans. Jordan was one of the only players to hit a home run over the dike behind the outfield. Even though they have built a new stadium they still use the old stadium. It was the 10th year of Little League when Lions-Hondo played in the Little League World Series. The players believed 8,000 fans watched the game.
In the championship game, Jordan was pitching when he gave up a solo home run to the Delaware Township, New Jersey hitter “Sweetpea Singleton” the only home run Jordan ever gave up in Little League in the bottom of the third inning.
“When he hit the ball,” Valdez said, “I took off running from shortstop and almost caught the ball in the outfield. The ball was hit so high it barely cleared the fence.”
It was in the fourth inning with two boys on base, Jordan hit a pitch over the fence to give them a 3-1 lead in the fourth inning and the win. Valdez fielded the last out at shortstop to wrap up the Little League World Series.
Most recently, Teddy Garrett died of a heart attack in April. Four other members and their manager have died as well: Randy Willis, Guy Bevill, Bill Turley and Mike Sandry. Manager St. John’s ashes were spread at the Lions-Hondo Little League Field after he died. Valdez wants his ashes spread on the same field as well because he loves baseball.
Jimmy Valdez and many of the team members have always wanted to go back to the Little League World Series and watch the games in person. Valdez’s best memory was the stuff that Williamsport gave them — bats, gloves and uniforms. He didn’t realize how important what they had done was until 2000.
Tommy Jordan Jr. Affect
Jordan’s dad, Tom Jordan Sr. played Major League baseball from 1944-48 with the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Browns. In 1948, he left to take a manager’s position in New Mexico eventually becoming the manager of the Albuquerque Dukes from 1953-54. Jordan Sr. came and watched his son play, and Tommy Jr. didn’t get a pitch to hit. Teams would walk him. He wants his son to quit and go on the road with him during the summer as he managed the Triple-A baseball team here.
“I wanted to play in the All-Star team because I was pretty much unhittable,” Jordan said.
Tommy Jr. told his dad their team would win the Little League World Series. Jordan believed that because he was unhittable as a pitcher, along with the team’s other All-Star pitcher Ferrell Dunham.
“He was easily the best player in the United States,” Hobson said. “Easily.”
Jordan became so good because his father let him play with his baseball team, which helped him become a good hitter.
After the World Series, Jordan played high school baseball at Roswell. After high school, he went on to play pro baseball for the Chicago White Sox and pitched two years in the army. Jordan played in the Army World Series as well.
Best team in the USA
“I just thought we were the best team in the United States,” Hobson said. “We were pretty much unhittable with Jordan and Dunham pitching. New Mexico has never had another Little League World Series since then.
For the people of the generation of the ’56 team, a lot of people have died and have forgotten and a younger generation has a hard time relating to the fate that happened. These men are getting older and when they pass away it will forever be a part of their obituary about what they have accomplished.
Miracles and respect from Roswell
All the men are happy with the respect and love that the city has shown the team over the years for helping win the Little League World Series.
“For me, many times over Roswell has been good to us,” Hobson said.
Valdez talked about the miracles in Roswell. He believes the first miracle in Roswell was winning the World Series. The Kentucky Derby winning horse Mine That Bird (2009) was the second one, and the Aliens was the third miracle.
“After winning the World Series, it just made us brothers,” Valdez said.
Members of the team
Dick St. John- Manager
Pete Ellis- Assistant Manager