Martin chose baseball over nursing
When Bill Martin was growing up, he had two passions.
One was helping people – something he practiced with the Russell Fire Department and later with the U.S. Army.
The other was baseball.
He was 14 the first time he was given a shot on Russell’s town team.
“The fellow that managed this team had a bunch of real good guys,” Martin said.
But one day, several team members were “on a drunk” and the coach asked Martin. “Clarence, he said, ‘Get a uniform on, Bill.'”
He joined the team to play against Conewango Valley in Chautauqua County, New York.
“I loved to catch, but he was the catcher, so I had to play centerfield,” he said. “I played ever since.”
In those days, professional teams would tour, playing against local teams – barnstorming.
“The biggest one that I can say I got into, the Pittsburgh Pirates came to Warren to play the Warren team,” Martin said.
Joe Massa was the regular centerfielder for that team. With Martin joining for the game, they had overlap at the position.
“Joe and I and (Pirates Hall of Fame outfielders) Paul and Lloyd Waner were sitting in the outfield there talking under the shade tree,” he said. “We had a lot of good conversation. We got along real good.”
He played against the Detroit Tigers affiliate in Jamestown, New York.
“I tried out in the army to get on the ball team,” Martin said. “A guy used to pitch for the Brooklyn Dodgers was our coach.”
He was also the pitcher for the tryout.
“The first ball he threw I couldn’t see,” Martin said. “I choked up on the bat and said, ‘I’m waitin’ for ya.'”
After one up high and one down low, Martin figured it was time for a pitch he could hit.
“I half-swung… I wanted to meet the ball,” he said. “I realized I’d hit the ball and I ran to first.”
He’d gotten a good piece of it.
“The centerfielder was running looking over his head,” Martin said. “He played for the International League. He caught it. Oh gosh, I wish he’d have missed it.”
It was a good enough showing.
“I made the team,” Martin said. “The next day it was posted to go to Tampa to play a ball game against some part of the service.”
That wasn’t the only list Martin’s name was on that day.
“Right beside it was shipping orders,” he said. “My name was on the shipping orders if I wanted it.”
He had a decision to make.
“If I can get up north, I’m going to take it,” he said.
The destination was Chanute Field, Illinois.
“We got on the dog-gone train, and got up near Tallahassee someplace,” he said. “Somebody’d blown the railroad tracks up.”
We were there three days.
When they were moving again, they were going the wrong way.
“The train starts out… ‘Why am I going over here if I’m going to Chanute?'” Martin said. “I wound up in Gulfport, Miss. They were just building the base there… mud knee-deep.”
He’d given up the baseball team so he could go north and ended up back on the Gulf of Mexico.