All-American honors, title for Whitehead

By Jeff Birchfield

   Playing ball for the better part of his life has brought Bud Whitehead many rewards. The year 2003 was very productive as the grandfather earned All-American honors and a National Championship as a member of the Tri-State Titans senior softball team.
   Bud, a member of the prestigious Georgia Peaches team last season, was grabbed up by the Titans when the Peaches disbanded. That alone, to be among 14 of the best senior softball players throughout the south, was quite an honor
   "We were all hand-picked to be on this team," said Whitehead, who lives in Carter County. "I felt very lucky to be picked. There were guys from Kentucky, Arkansas, all kinds of places. They were some of the best softball players in the country. We had some guys who could run like high school kids."
   Seven states were represented on the roster of this Chattanooga-based team that included a couple of players with major league experience. Whitehead was one of two Tri-Cities area players for the Titans, along with Lonnie Horne, who hails from Jonesborough.
   Once getting the shot with the team at the left-center field slot, Whitehead made the most of it. He recently hit over .700 at the SPA Winter National Championship tournament, which the Titans won, and was selected to the All-American team. In addition, the award earned points for being a Hall of Fame selection.
   "I felt pretty good to make All-American in that group," said Whitehead. "There were some amazing, high-caliber ballplayers out there."
   Along the way to the title game, the Titans beat teams from Miami, Atlanta and Pensacola, Florida. Tri-State went into the final day of play with five wins against no losses.
   That final morning of the tournament in Plano, Texas they were soundly beaten by a team from Dallas, 15-3. The evening session featured a rematch of the two teams. It was a completely different story the second time around. The Titans needed only five innings before the mercy rule was enacted.
   "Dallas beat us early in the morning, but they had to beat us twice since we were undefeated going into the final round," Bud explained. "We beat them 16-1 that night in five innings."
   The tournament itself was dedicated to an outstanding player from this area, Howard "Hotdog" Dale, who recently died while standing in his usual spot of third base at a senior tournament in Hendersonville, N.C.
   A friend of Whitehead's, he and several others wore a special armband in memory of Dale. Bud actually wore two ribbons throughout the tournament, another for his brother Bob, who also passed away recently.
   Bob was the one who first got Bud interested in sports, and the brothers played together several years on baseball, softball and basketball teams throughout this area.
   "It was important to commemorate "Hotdog" and Bob," said Bud. "I had knew Hotdog for over 20 years. He called me right before I left going to Plano. Bob, I have so many good memories of playing ball with him from the time we were kids."
   Part of the fun of playing in the national tournaments is a camaraderie amongst the ball players as Bud explained that crosses all social and economic boundaries.
   "I've made so many good friends," said Bud, noting that many players are ex-military like himself. "I've made friends with white players, black players, Hispanics and even some Indian chiefs.
   "We have everyone playing from millionaires to poor boys. The mayor of Pensacola, Florida was playing in that national tournament. He's real big into it."
   Bud's wife, Betty, accompanies him to the different tournaments and often acts as a chauffeur as well as his dinner companion.
   "We usually will go out and find a nice fish house or somewhere to eat," said Whitehead. "We have a good time. There's no wild partying or anything. The players on the team are all really disciplined."
   They also take time on the road to give thanks where it is most important. Besides taking part in prayer before each game, Bud mentioned how he appreciates the service of Gideons leaving their Bibles when he gets to the hotel. Also the team ends all of their news with the statement, "To God be the Glory."
   A lifetime of softball playing has given Whitehead several great stories to tell. His favorite moment playing ball was when he first started with a national touring team, the Chattanooga Choo-Choo's, and made a spectacular play in the shadows of a famous person's home.
   "We were playing a game in Tupelo, Mississippi," said Whitehead. "Elvis Presley's house was a hundred feet from the backstop. We toured it before the game. In the bottom of the seventh (inning), we were up by one run and they had men on second and third with two outs.
   "They hit it deep line drive to left center field. I made this tremendous diving catch where I laid out and caught the ball. The guys carried me off the field. That was probably the best experience I ever had playing with a traveling team."