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Ah, Well I Remember

Pete Butler

Pete Butler. Photo courtesy of UNC Archives

May 01, 2017

In spring 1967, Jackson Field was one of the busiest places on campus as the home field of the Bears’ baseball team. Their winning record pulled in crowds for every game.

That year, the Bears would win their 24th straight Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference title and would again go to the playoffs.

The major reason for the outstanding record was coach Pete Butler.

A tough, dedicated and wily baseball coach, Butler recruited well because of his success, and his teams went to the NCAA playoffs 13 times. After retirement, he was named to the National Collegiate Baseball Hall of Fame. He died in 2006. Butler-Hancock Hall on the UNC campus was named for Pete and for John Hancock, the wrestling coach.

But it was Pete’s tough reputation both on the playing field and in the classroom that made for great talk around campus.

I was in one of his statistic classes in Gunter Hall, but I got to know Pete Butler a little better than most students that year because I was sports editor on the Mirror newspaper staff. I interviewed Pete several times and learned he wasn’t quite the grouch that his reputation hung on him.

Until a game in April 1967. Just before the game, Pete found out his center field scorekeeper was sick. He asked if I could take his place. It paid something like $2.50 for the game, so I accepted.

My job was to stand by the center field scoreboard, and at the end of each inning, hang the number of runs scored. There was no electronic scoreboard.  There were pegs on the scoreboard, and each number was on a plank that I would hang on the pegs.

All went well until about the fifth inning, when the Bears scored 10 runs. They didn’t have any board with two numbers on them, so I just took a “1” and a “0” and hung each by one peg. They overlapped each other, but I couldn’t think of what else I could do.

Then I saw him. One of the players for CSC jumped out of the dugout and came running around the edge of the field. He was running fast, and didn’t take long to get out to me at the scoreboard.

He was out of breath.

(Puff, puff, puff) The player was trying to talk and catch his breath. “Pete says,” (Puff, puff, puff) “to get your head out of your ass.”

(Puff, puff, puff), and he ran back to the dugout. (The acceptable practice was to change the board to nine and add a run in the next inning.)

And that’s my greatest memory of Pete Butler.

Some things just make you proud.

–Mike Peters ’68