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September 14, 2013

DODD: An all-around champion

“I never did say that you can’t be a nice guy and win. I said that if I was playing third base and my mother rounded third with the winning run, I’d trip her up.” — Leo Durocher

In a prior life, I lived to play softball. My favorite team of all time was the Grace Gazelles in the Colgate Tuesday night church league.

In some ways, the “church” league was possibly in name only. Some teams were true church teams and in my case I probably went to Grace about once a year.

I played in that league for more than a decade in my personal biggest rivalry games against St. Anthony’s team. I will freely admit from top to bottom they had a better team. We wanted to beat them so badly that certainly some of my best games I ever played and some of the best games the Gazelles ever played were against St. Anthony.

I suspect we were their biggest nemesis, while even though they dominated the league, Grace won its share of victories over St. Anthony’s during my Tuesday night career.

It was in this rivalry that the biggest bench-emptying brawl of my sports career took place just across the street from the old Clarksville police station. It took probably 15 to 20 minutes for a police car to arrive, and by that time the melee’ was over. There were no injuries and no arrests. I suspect that in every great rivalry there has to be at least one bench-emptying brawl.

Later that evening, I walked over to Danny’s Boys pub in old Clarksville where I lived. I happened upon a group of the opposing players and they invited me over to the table and we all had a laugh and reminisced about the evening’s brawl and the years of the rivalry. I suspect that every great rivalry also has a great deal of proper respect for the other team once the heat of the battle has died down.

One thing I remember about that night is that I and at least one other player acted as peacemakers on the field. That one other guy was my favorite player on the rival team. His name was Frank Kimmel.

Frank Kimmel was a great guy on and off the field. I knew him as a family man, a fierce competitor and a pretty good athlete. He was also the first guy to smile, shake an opponent’s hand and congratulate you on a victory. He also always won with class.

Frank and I enjoyed many moments of conversation on the field as I was standing on first base and he playing the same. All athletes have had on-field relationships with other players. They are a pretty special kind of thing.

I went to Louisville Motor Speedway and the Sportsdrome regularly and pulled for Frank Kimmel to win every race. I have read the results of every ARCA race in which Kimmel has ever driven. I think he is one of the least celebrated personalities in Southern Indiana for the caliber of race car driving champion that he has become.

I suspect part of that reason lies with Frank’s own personality. He is kind of a quiet, polite, let-your-performance-on-the-field-of-battle-do-the talking kind of competitor. I have never read a hint of scandal or accusation of dirty racing tactics about Frank Kimmel. He simply outdrives other drivers and has a good racing team around him.

This weekend at Salem Speedway, Kimmel will once again have the chance to become the winningest ARCA driver in history.

In what now seems like another lifetime, I was writing weekly feature stories for the New Albany Tribune. One feature I did was with Frank early on in his ARCA career. He was excited and looking forward to being a true professional race car driver. Whenever his long and storied ARCA career ends, he has an open invitation to meet with me for a retrospective column on his life and career.

If Frank and I ever do sit down to talk for a column, I suspect we might mention the old days at Colgate park in the church league. That will always be some of my favorite memories of Frank and his brother Bill.

I know on Saturday afternoon all of the younger drivers will have a goal in mind. That will be to win. And if they do, I suspect one day they will talk about beating out the winningest driver in ARCA history.

The greatest compliment that any competitor can ever be given is to be the one team or player that everyone wants to beat. There is no other feeling as good in sports than when you feel like you have beaten the best. When it comes to ARCA, one more victory will make him the best.

I will be among the biggest Frank Kimmel fans this Saturday as I have always been. If you want your kids to look up to a positive role model, tell them about Kimmel, who grew up down the road and became the best at what he did. Also tell them that Frank is a stand-up guy who did it the right way.

Frank, I can tell you that as a guy who played in literally thousands of sandlot and organized baseball and softball games, you were the first basemen for the one team I personally enjoyed beating most during my playing days.

And as a tribute to the kind of guy you were way before you became an ARCA legend, I can personally assure you that every member of the Grace Gazelles will be pulling for you to win one more race.

Good luck on Saturday.

— Lindon Dodd is a freelance writer who can be reached at lindon.dodd@hotmail.com

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