Smashing debut for Whitehead as member of Georgia Peaches

By Jeff Birchfield

STAR Staff
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   When the Georgia Peaches 65-and-over softball all-star team asked Bud Whitehead to join them, they had heard of his strong arm and good defensive skills. What might have been more than they expected was when the Carter County resident hit almost everything in sight.
   Whitehead debuted with the collection of all-star players recently at a Senior Softball USA tournament in Fort Myers, Fla. with smashing success. He went an amazing 17-for-21 at the plate, easily making the all-tournament team and earning Most Valuable Player honors.
   To those who know Bud and his family, it's not surprising that he would enjoy that level of success. The name Whitehead has been synonymous with athletic excellence in Carter County for several decades. Bud's oldest brother, Bill, was named the outstanding player on Happy Valley's 1948 and '49 six-man football squads, while another brother, Paul, played on the Warriors' 1950 state championship basketball team.
   Then, there is the story of Bud and his brother Bob, who played with and against each other for over 50 years in various sports.
   "All we ever did was play ball," said Bud. "We started out playing at the old Watauga Academy Field in Butler when we were in elementary school. Then we went on to Happy Valley and played basketball, baseball and football all for Charlie Bayless."
   Bud continued to be involved in the Warrior program, heading the Happy Valley Sports Club for eight years. He has a lifetime of athletic accomplishments, including playing on a Kingsport Seniors team that won state championships in both basketball and volleyball for five consecutive years.
   However, baseball was the sport that most consumed Whitehead.
   "I still remember the first high school game I ever pitched," Bud recalled. "It was against Hampton and we beat them 3-2. After I graduated, I played in France for two years when I served in the U.S. Military. Once I transferred to Vanderberg Air Force Base, I played a couple of years on some semi-pro teams out there.
   "Then, I played everywhere. One year when the Appalachian League wasn't playing at Cardinal Park, we had a semi-pro team playing there with a bunch of Carter Countians. Bob and I played on it. Jack Street, Raymond Lowe, Cotton Hodge, Ken Denny and John Holtsclaw were all on that team. I remember Sinclair Oil out of Johnson City backed us and we played against some other good teams that had guys like Carmen Dugger. Overall, there were about eight or ten outstanding teams in that league."
   Whitehead continued playing baseball until the age of 45, when it was time to switch over to softball. It was a smooth transition, as he had already been involved in softball, managing his church's team at Sinking Creek Baptist for over 15 years. Once Bud turned 50, he found a group of players he expected to end his career on the diamond with.
   "I started playing softball 50 and over with the Johnson City Seniors," said Whitehead. "I played with them until going with the 65 and over team based out of Atlanta this year. I hated to leave the Johnson City team as I have so many good friends on that team. But, it was an honor for the Georgia team to ask me to play for them. They had heard about me over the years and they called saying they needed an outfielder. It was time to move on. I wanted to see if I could hold my own against that level of competition."
   To emphasis the point Whitehead is making, the Georgia Peaches play a schedule usually ranked among the top ten in the nation as far as competition.
   "I had played against a bunch of those guys from Atlanta," said Whitehead. "So, I knew there was a bunch of good players in that league. It's not an old folks league. They have several guys who have played pro ball. They have teams from California, New York, Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida, all over the place. Some of them go to Florida in the wintertime to stay sharp and they end up playing ball about nine months out of the year."
   If there is a downside to playing in this league may be the constant traveling across the country, about which Whitehead joked, "I hope I can keep up with them." While the team has kept him playing defensively out at left center field, another adjustment that Whitehead is making is going from the two and three hitting positions to now batting clean-up.
   Through his life, he has been supported by a strong family structure.
   Besides the aforementioned closeness of the Whitehead brothers and their sisters, Bud's wife, the former Betty Laws has been a constant by his side. He has two children, a daughter Vanessa McKinney and a son Vince Whitehead, who also played ball at Happy Valley. Bud is also proud to mention that his grandson Brandon received all-star honors on this year's Warrior football team as well as being a straight A student.
   Asked if he will retire from playing one day soon Whitehead responded, "I played baseball until I quit pitching at 45. Now, I feel as strong as I ever did mentally and physically. As long as the Good Lord lets me and I'm able to play and to compete I will. I play basketball in the winter to stay in shape.
   Playing sports has been a big part of my life. I just thank the Lord that he has given me the strength to do this."