Donny Baseball: He loved his teammates and the game!
Don Drown passed away August 19. He was 86.
Don left a baseball legacy with the folks he played with, those he played against and those with whom he shared an abiding passion for the game.
Roy Hobbs asked a number of his baseball colleagues for remembrances of Don for this Player Spotlight in the Bullpen E-newsletter.
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Thom Lach: Don Drown attended probably 30 or more camps in Cooperstown during my involvement with Legends of Baseball. I remember that he stood out when he came to camp for the first time because he appeared too bowlegged to play, but I was wrong.
The more I got to know him, I realized that he was one of the kindest, soft-spoken men I have ever met. He and his wife were over the road truck drivers and drove a produce route from VT to CA, but he always timed his trips to be back in Cooperstown for the Legends tournaments.
Unlike most, he grew about three inches when he got older because he finally took the time to get his knees replaced. His first game back, he hit 2 triples over my head in right field and ran to third as if he were in his 30s again.
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Marc Owen: When I met Don, he was the coach of Naples 50+ teams. Noreen Kunsler and John Showalter got me on his team and referred to him as “Donny Baseball.” You could tell everyone thought highly of him from that name alone.
He really ran structured practices for the older guys and did things like bring pitching machines with rubber balls to batting practice, put the guys through a workout with a little bit of everything. Don made things fun but at the same time had very high expectations and was very successful with his teams.
We also played in Cooperstown, NY, close to where he was from in Vermont and Connecticut. As he got into his 80’s he not only hit and managed but also caught. He was not at all afraid to catch real pitching.
Last year in fact Don caught Kirt Bennett (who throws pretty hard and lots of breaking stuff ) at least 3 games that week at his age. He was also catching last year when my 25-year-old son threw a rocket from short left-center to home with Donny catching and covering home without his mask on. The ball went whizzing by his head as the runner was barreling home. We all thanked god that the ball went by safely without incident.
The truth is though it was extremely impressive to see a man in his 80s catching, hitting and competing like a young man. Don truly loved baseball and the teammates around him.
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Greg Wagner: In the early days of Legends of Baseball, back in the days when doctors Ed Berkich and Ralph Lach ran the show, Don had the opportunity to play baseball for a week with his son and grandson as teammates. I want to say this would have been in the late 1990’s. I don’t remember how the team did that week, but I do know that to Don the wins and losses didn’t matter. Three generations of his family on the same team was what was most important and extremely special.
In April of 2013, Drown and I were on Kevin Marden’s team at the Spring Fling in City of Palms Stadium and it was hotter than Hades. We played double headers every day for 3 consecutive days and Don insisted on catching every inning of every game.
Toward the end of Game 2 on the 2nd day, late-70’s-year-old Don was showing signs of fatigue, was weaving back and forth and was turning an alarming shade of purply-red, so the plate umpire stood Don up and gave him the eye test, called Kevin out and told him to put Don on the bench!
Despite Don’s protests, Kevin literally sat Don down on the bench and made him take off his catcher’s gear. Kevin himself caught the last couple of innings that day, much to the chagrin of Don.
But guess who caught both games of the following day’s double header…..Don Drown. Of course.
My third most vivid memory of Don was his undying love for his wife Jill, who passed away somewhere around 2003 or 2004. Don’s world revolved around Jill and anybody who ever knew Don and Jill as a couple were madly in love with both of them.
When Jill died, Don was understandably devastated, as were all of us who knew Jill and were familiar with the special relationship Don and Jill had. Don often lamented that if one had to go why can’t both go at the same time? …
Baseball of course was a huge part of Don’s life but rest assured baseball came in 2nd place behind Jill. A very, very distant 2nd place.
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Kevin Marden: I met Don at the Cooperstown tourney in 1999. He was such a great personality and always had positive feelings toward the game of baseball. We also had somewhat of a professional connection since I was in the trucking business and he was a truck driver.
Don got on my team and he managed to pitch at least 1 inning in every game along with batting about .450. His greatest contribution however was him backing everyone on the team with that positive attitude and a smile all the while.
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John Showalter: The very first time I met him, he was watching me pitch in the 30+ night league in Fort Myers. He walked up and said, “Hey, excuse me can you talk a minute?”
Okay … “Would you like to come play on my Naples 50 and over team?”
“No,” I said, “I’m not sure I’m ready to play in the old men’s league yet.”
“I have a really good defensive team,” he said. “I just need a pitcher. We might be the best if we had pitching.”
He got to me the next game his team played and said he got a waiver for me to pitch at age 53. We went on to go 36-0-1 over the next 3 years. It wasn’t until 10 years later I found out there was never a vote on a waiver.