By Lance Melching
I wore a Murray State hat this weekend.What’s worse is that I wore it to a Murray-Eastern baseball game.
But before you question my allegiance to the cause Maroon or attempt to burn me in effigy as my editors have, hear me out.
I had an Eastern shirt on my chest as well as a Murray hat on my head.
Still, you should know that it wasn’t easy for me to wear that navy and gold cap.
This was the same Murray that had ruined the Homecoming game in 2004 by winning in overtime on a phantom pass-interference foul. Also the same Murray that claims (ridiculously) to be “Kentucky’s public ivy institution.”
Furthermore, the same Murray that wins the “middle-of-nowhere” award (sorry Morehead).
Finally, the same Murray that won’t shut up about their stupid U.S. News and World Report rankings, as if filling out an application makes them the state’s finest!
With so many reasons to dislike Kentucky’s publicly vain institution, why would I be caught dead in a Murray hat? It’s a simple story, really. even though it starts way back in 1945.
Eastern wasn’t yet a university in 1945 but a state college, and the athletes weren’t the Colonels, but the Maroons.
Turkey Hughes was the coach of the Eastern nine and he had just welcomed Ray Giltner onto the team as a slugging pitcher.
Giltner was just returning from World War II and discovered baseball was perhaps a way to pay for a college education.
As his friend Hardy Tribble tells it, Giltner was hanging out on the steps of Keen Johnson and looking glum when coach Hughes asked what had him down.
Giltner, like so many Eastern students then and now, wasn’t sure how he would pay for college.
Hughes asked him if he knew anything about America’s pastime. It wasn’t long after that Giltner was a Maroon regular and nicknamed “Big Ray” by his teammates.
Stats in the ’40s weren’t what they are today and it’s difficult to develop a complete career picture.
However, archival editions of the Eastern Progress reveal that Giltner entered May of his junior campaign batting .600 and recorded nine strikeouts over three flawless innings en route to a team no-hitter against Union College.
He was involved in several classic showdowns with Western Kentucky University as both a pitcher and hitter over his career. Most notable was a win in Bowling Green where he recorded 10 strikeouts over nine innings in a game that inspired a Western commentator to say “Eastern is proving today that they have the best ball club in the state.”
“Big Ray” graduated in the spring of 1949 with a degree in physical education and would go on to be a successful educator, civic leader, businessman and alumnus. A plaque in the Moberly building bears his name.
The story continues in the ’70s with the enrollment of an Ohioan named Erv Leidolf. Leidolf grew up as a neighbor of the famous Cincinnati Red Joe Nuxhall in Hamilton and decided Eastern was worth a shake when they offered up a baseball scholarship.
He didn’t disappoint.
In his junior season, Leidolf batted .418 which was good enough to place him amongst NCAA league leaders.
Despite the fact that he didn’t even have the team’s highest average, the .418 batting average ranks 11th all time at Eastern.
Leidolf took home All-OVC honors in 1977 before taking his geology degree to Lynch, Ky., and starting a family.
In the fall of 2003, Jamie Leidolf enrolled at Murray State. In the vein of Ray Giltner, this Leidolf (I’ll simply call him Jamie) was a standout slugger/pitcher combo at Central High School in Evansville, Ind.
Several division 1 colleges recruited him, Eastern among them, but he had connections in the Land of the Lakes and liked Murray’s proximity to his home.
This past weekend, Jamie stepped onto the diamond at Turkey Hughes field and took a hand in shellacking Eastern during Friday’s doubleheader.
Murray’s victories were completely unexpected.
The Colonels, after all, are contending for first place and the Thoroughbreds for last.
And there I was to witness it all in a maroon shirt and a navy and gold cap.
So why would I watch some kid from hundreds of miles away come into my house and beat up on my Colonels while wearing his team cap?
Like I said. it’s really quite simple.
“Big Ray” Giltner had two daughters, both of whom attended Eastern.
The youngest, Mary Beth fell in love with an outfielder named Erv Leidolf.
They married and named their third son Jamie.
Ray’s other daughter was my mother and that makes Jamie my cousin.
It wasn’t easy putting on that hated Racer cap, but what can I do when it’s all in the family?
I love my cousin and I love my school and when push came to shove, I couldn’t pick between them.
I had to hope that Jamie would hit for the cycle but the Colonels would pull out the victories.
It didn’t quite work out that way, but I still feel I made the right decision.
I think “Big Ray” would have agreed.
Eastern Progress Question of the Week
This semester, The Progress sports section and EKUPride.com are teaming up to sponsor a question of the week. Each week a question will be posted in this column and readers will be encouraged to respond on the message board at www.ekupride.com/forums.
This week’s question: The Progress is already planning for next fall. What changes would you like to see in the sports section?
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