Friendship forged over baseball

Posted 3/16/23

All stories start with a story. So it is with this one – the story of two friends who for 20 consecutive years traveled to Omaha, Neb. to watch the College Baseball World Series.

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Friendship forged over baseball


All stories start with a story. So it is with this one – the story of two friends who for 20 consecutive years traveled to Omaha, Neb. to watch the College Baseball World Series. 

The story starts with Billy Parr, a retired technician for Southwest Electric Power Company (SWEPCO), who loved baseball and loved kids, and in the early 1970s began to coach a Little League team – the Longview White Socks. 

He recruited a co-worker at SWEPCO to join him coaching the team. That man, Charles Cain, became a life-long friend. 

Last month services were conducted for Charles Cain at the Myrtle Springs Baptist Church just north of Quitman. Cain passed at the age of 76, and he is yet being mourned by many in the Quitman community and beyond. 

His widow, Nancy, graciously approved the telling of this story.

“He was a fine man,” she said, “He would be honored and humbled.”

The friendship between Cain and Parr began some 50 years ago when coincidence put the two men together at SWEPCO. Each had relocated, with their wives, to Longview. Their friendship burgeoned through their love of baseball and their time together coaching local Little Leaguers.

It wasn’t until they were in their 50s, however, when the College World Series entered their lives.  

Parr’s wife, Diane, was at that time a distributor for Schlitz Brewery in Longview (that was before the Schlitz Brewery became the Stroh Brewery before it closed). One of her biggest clients had moved to Omaha and had told her, “If I can ever do anything for you and Billy, let me know.”   

Acknowledging her husband’s love of baseball, Diane reached out to her contact in Omaha and asked if it would be possible to get two tickets to the College World Series. That was in 1997.

After some effort – it still is not easy to get tickets – the Parrs attended the College World Series that year. They flew to Kansas City for a mini-family reunion, then drove to Omaha.

As Diane recounted, “Billy was in wonderland.”

Two years later the Cains accompanied the Parrs to Nebraska and the series. Diane and Nancy went along for the first few years, as it was quite an adventure. But, as they explained, the trip became a boys’ trip.

That began the two-decade run of an annual pilgrimage of Charles and Billy to the World Series. 

Parr sat back in his chair at his home in Longview and talked about his friend.

“You never know someone until you spend time traveling together,” he offered. “And,” he continued, “I never heard Charles Cain utter a cross word.” 

That admission is something to consider, as the trip to Omaha usually took, at least, 13 hours. Considering the time spent together on the job, while coaching youth baseball, and then on 20-years’ worth of week-long pilgrimages, that simple statement means something.

They usually alternated who would drive. The route was basically straight north, up the Indian Nations Parkway to Henryetta, Okla., then onward on the two-lane US Hwy 75. Through Tulsa, past Buffville and Sabetha, Kan., skirting the Missouri River just outside Nebraska City, and on to Omaha, the route stretched 720 miles. 

What did the two friends spend the time on during those long drives to and from Nebraska?

“Well, we always seemed to get turned around a time or two, so we had that to figure out,” Parr said. “And we told a few stories. But after 100 miles or so, we would forget which stories we had already told.”  

What awaited them in Omaha was excellent baseball, to be sure, but also a group of like-minded baseball fans who grew to be knitted together like family.   

Parr explained the kinship that grew among the families who would annually attend the World Series. He recounted how twice he bumped into other families from Gregg County who were fellow repeat attendees.

One family, the Babins of White Oak, came to accommodate the two in guest rooms at a home of their extended family at what Parr and Cain came to call “The Babin Inn.”

Much of the fellowship centered on food prepared at the tail-gating area. Food and family.

As Parr explained, it was not any specific event which kept he and Cain coming back, it was the whole experience. “We had our baseball families up in Omaha.”

Learning about the life that Charles Cain led, his kind nature, friendly disposition and desire to help others, it is easy to understand how he could adopt a new circle of friends. 

And there was baseball as a bonus. Their preferred seating was about ten rows back along the first base line. After the World Series went from a single game championship to a best-of-three series, Parr and Cain would head up and watch four or five days of the quarter and semi-finals, then pack up shop and head south in enough time to watch the finals at home.

A week in Omaha was ample time for a few laughs to be sure. Parr recounted how struggling with an “easy-to-assemble” folding shade tent led to years of ribbing by the baseball family, which included the tailgating area security guard. 

On one particularly hot day, Cain broke one of their standard rules and bought a bottle of water from a hawker in the stands – for $4. (The two had cases of water iced down in the back of the truck in the tailgate area). He then started up and dramatically stated, “Billy, I have to leave…we have thousands of dollars of water in the back of the truck!”

The experience built a long list of good friends, many from Louisiana, across Texas and from locations of all the regular stand-out college baseball programs – like Mississippi and Notre Dame.

The string of consecutive series was broken – like many things – with the pandemic in 2020. Cain and Parr made their last trip together in 2021. The following year, Cain’s health prevented him from attending. 

That is not the end of the story. The Parrs’ adult daughter, Shelia, sensing the importance of the pilgrimage to her father and realizing that his travel partner could not make the trip, asked her father to take her to Omaha in 2022. He did.

And Charles Cain – a man who never had a bad thing to say, who was the “old man” of the original Quitman Fishing Team, who loved baseball and loved teaching kids – will be remembered for a long time.

Parr paused and said, “If I could be remembered as half the man Charles was, that would be something. He’s got a good seat for the next series.”