1,750 miles one way. That’s the journey I’ll embark on beginning Friday. Sunday I’ll be arriving at my destination: Colcord, Oklahoma, population about 800. It’s a pilgrimage to see a long time friend, a friendship formed as many of mine have over the years, through sports.
Dick Mcquesten loves baseball. Boy is that an understatement. Over the past fourteen Augusts you’d find Mcquesten seated in front of the press box at Mansfield Stadium during Senior League World Series week. He can talk baseball with the best of them and certainly isn’t bashful about sharing his thoughts on the game. I’ve been involved in a number of these lively conversations along with the rest of the stadium staff.
The friendship blossomed from those days at the ballpark. We also spent much time together watching NCAA basketball tournament games in my home. I had also been known to sneak in a little halftime entertainment when he’d least expect it. Oh, he would usually make a significant contribution to the table spread at our gatherings. I can still taste that triple chocolate cake of his all this distance away.
Perhaps best known as “Splash from Charleston” on Dale Duff and Clem Labree’s morning show, the only thing larger than Mcquesten’s passion for baseball is his heart. You see, Splash loves baseball because the game has loved him back. The game, particularly those involved locally with our national pastime, loved him when he needed it the most.
Dick Mcquesten didn’t have the Norman Rockwell portrait childhood. He grew up in a foster home where those who cared after him saw sport as a wasted pursuit. There was much work to be done on the farm. The baseball seed was planted when he was nine years old in Carmel. A man with a kind heart named Charles Nute took him under his wing. Mcquesten loved the game right from the start and played youth baseball under Nute;s tutelage until he turned fourteen. During that time no one in his family ever saw him play.
Mcquesten came to a fork in the road of life’s journey at the age of fifteen. He was faced with giving up the game that gave him purpose and meaning. There was work to be done on the farm. He couldn’t be wasting valuable time playing a child’s game. Rather than give in, he left for Rhode Island where some of his fondest memories came on the diamond for his American Legion squad.
If you spent much time at all with “Splash” at Mansfield Stadium, accompanying him would often be his granddaughter Samantha Snyder. Sam was a hit at the ballpark and would get involved in any way possible. She became an honorary member of the Mansfield Stadium grounds crew, rake in hand. At the high school basketball tournament she formed relationships with many fans, coaches, and officials. Snyder went on to have a standout softball career at Foxcroft Academy with her grandfather in the stands cheering her on. Sam was the apple of her grandfather’s eye. To this day he beams with pride when speaking of her many accomplishments.
In early March of 2012, as baseball loved Dick Mcquesten as a youngster, he needed baseball to love him again. Driving down an icy hill in Charleston, Sam lost control of her vehicle and slid into the path of an oncoming logging truck. She was killed instantly at the age of twenty. To this day, I vividly remember the time of day, where I was, and what I was doing when he made that heart wrenching phone call to me.
In the dark times of life are when friends are needed the most. It was those friends, met through the sport of baseball, who gave Mcquesten comfort in his time of despair. Seated in the packed funeral home the Saturday following her death were Mansfield Stadium’s field director Ron St. Pierre, stadium manager Dave Mansfield, longtime youth baseball volunteer Jim Owens, as well as myself.
Such a staple was Sam at Mansfield Stadium, St. Pierre had caps custom designed to honor her that spring. The hats were black with a red visor which had the Mansfield Stadium logo on the front. On the side was Sam’s softball number 14. Ron presented “Splash” with a hat upon a visit to the ballpark that spring. A black pennant also flew atop the grandstand for the duration of that 2012 season.
“Splash” and I have probably become even closer in our friendship since that fateful day. Just over a year after the tragedy he moved to Oklahoma to be closer to some members of his family. We probably talk once a week or more on the phone. Hardly a conversation passes when he doesn’t mention one of the loves of his life, Sam.
Because baseball has so loved “Splash”, he gives back to the game in every way possible. He always has a heart for those youngsters who may have a tough home life or are disadvantaged. He is the first person to take time to show a kid the proper way to throw or swing a bat. He’s given to so many kids over the years, providing money for gear they otherwise could not afford.
When we spend time together over the next week we’ll once again be doing so over the game of baseball. Living only 45 minutes west of Fayetteville, Arkansas, we’ll be in the stands to catch the University of Arkansas Razorbacks take on the mighty Florida Gators. The Double A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals is also close by so I imagine we’ll take in a game there as well. One thing is for certain: he’ll point out a subtle nuance on the field I’ll probably fail to see at first.
“Splash” has become a friend to many in our sports community over the years. From his frequent calls to Dale and Clem, to holding court from his usual seat at Mansfield Stadium, you never have to guess where he stands. Now living some 1,750 miles away I know that his Maine friends are still near and dear to his heart. I know I can say the same thing about him. Looking forward to seeing you again, old friend.