By Maurice Patton
MT. PLEASANT — Having a field named in his honor was the furthest thing from Eddie Bassham’s mind when he accepted the baseball coaching assignment at his alma mater, Mt. Pleasant High School, in 1976.
He was just glad to be out of the local box factory.
But just like he grinded his way to a college degree that allowed him to teach and coach, Bassham grinded through a career that included more than 600 victories, three state tournament championship game appearances – and, as of Saturday, a field he helped construct that will bear his name.
“So many times, people sadly don’t get their recognition till they die,” said Wayne Lindsey, a member of the Tigers’ 1998 Class A runner-up squad and current member of the Maury County Board of Education. “We all hope we have Coach around for a long time, but probably what I’m most proud of is that it was able to happen where he gets to enjoy it with his kids and his family.
“Anybody that’s spent any time around here, there was never any question that if a name got stuck on that field, there was no debate what name it needed to be. There’s nobody more deserving.”
While the honor was well earned, a sticking point was Bassham continuing to earn it.
A Maury County Schools guideline for naming facilities for individuals requires that they be retired for a minimum of five years. Bassham is currently retired for the third time, replaced last summer by Kennedy Mathis after previously vacating the Mt. Pleasant helm in 2004 and 2015 – and subsequently returning.
The school board voted last June to waive that requirement.
“The last time they called (in March 2019), my wife kinda questioned my mentality,” the 70-year-old Bassham recalled recently. “But I saw the situation they were in. I knew, some of the kids that were playing, their fathers played for me. So I said I’d go over and do what I could to help ’em out.
“It makes you realize just how old you’ve gotten, but it’s an honor and a joy to be able to do that. I still have a good relationship with all those guys. A few of them came and helped during those two years. Their kids were there. It was good to be able to do that.”
Staying close to the game he grew up playing and loving drove him to re-enter the classroom once he took a hiatus after his high school graduation.
“I graduated from Hay Long (the predecessor to Mt. Pleasant) in 1968,” he said. “I had the opportunity to play ball out of high school, but I turned it down and took a job working at the box factory, Ohio Valley. After two or three years, I became a machine operator and they put me on evenings. I went in one night and told (wife) Lynn I wasn’t going to do this all my life, I was going back to school and go to coaching.
“I went out to Columbia State. I’ll never forget it. I talked to Coach (Dave) Hall and Coach (John) Painter, and as I went out the door, Coach Hall said ‘he’ll never make it’. I was already married, working 40 hours a week. But that kinda pushed me or helped me – ‘yes, I am going to make it’. It kinda helped me carry through because it got rough at times, working till midnight and getting up at 5:30 or so in the morning, especially when I got to driving over to Murfreesboro, still working those eight-hour shifts as well.
“But I toughed it out and I made it, and I’m glad I did. I was blessed with the opportunity – Coach (Billy Joe) McHaffey was leaving that year, and I went over and talked to Mr. (Jack) Lightfoot, the principal at the time, and he hired me right out of college. I finished up college and started here that same year.”
Over the next 30 years, Bassham put together a program that often found itself among the best in the state, advancing to the Class A state finals in 1989, 1998 and 2004.
“We had some really good runs those years – other years as well, but those years especially,” he said. “We had some good pitching, some overall good teams. Ezell-Harding in ’89, Goodpasture in ’04, those teams could beat anybody. They were really good baseball teams.
“Now, Coalfield in ’98, we felt that was the year we had a really good chance of winning it. … I think that year we really had the best team in it. It just didn’t fall for us.”
Goodpasture was coached by former Columbia Academy standout and current Bulldogs coach Richie Estep.
“I remember that ’04 year; they were (38-2-1), we were like 40-5. We knew it was going to be a showdown,” he said.
“I’m thrilled that they’re doing that. He put in many years there, he’s worked very hard. He deserves every bit of (the recognition).”
The field that will bear Bassham’s name isn’t the one where he spent the largest part of his career. Prior to the construction of the current on-field facility, the Tigers played their games at the city park – much to the inconvenience of the home team and that of the nearby residents.
“That field was kind of small. We had some (drainage) problems. We got to banging so many houses over there, the city got complaints. The field had gotten old, the lights,” he said. “There were a number of factors. We decided we needed our own facility.”
Bassham acknowledged the efforts of a number of individuals and businesses that were instrumental in bringing the new field to fruition by 2002 – including Bob Murray, Gene Sullivan, Wayne Shearer, Mack Emmitt, Tomlin Construction, Bill Lovell Electric and others.
“I know for two years solid we came over every weekend,” he said. “We’d plan the project for the day, the ladies would provide food and we’d stay all day on Saturday and some would come back on Sunday. We didn’t hire any companies or anybody; with the city itself, with the community, it all came together as it did.
“We’re certainly proud of it.”
Meanwhile, the community – and his family — is proud of him. In fact, there will be three generations of Basshams on the field Saturday.
Eagleville, the Tigers’ opponent for Saturday’s 3 p.m. game, is coached by 1995 Mt. Pleasant graduate Brandon Bassham. His son, Keydon, is a junior outfielder/pitcher for the Eagles.
Preceding the game, a 1 p.m. reception will take place in the school cafeteria. The dedication ceremony is set for 2:30 p.m. on the field. All former players will be admitted for free.
“To be a part of it, having my team come over and play that day, with my son on the team as well – we get to be here as a family and see that, and I’m very grateful and appreciative,” Brandon said. “I’m glad we can play a part in it.
“It’s well deserved – over (600) wins, three state runner-up finishes in 15 years speak for themselves. Working on the field. Just the mentor he is. When I’m with him, players from way back come up and speak to him. He may not know the name, but he knows the face and when they played. You’re talking about over 40 years ago for some of those guys. That just speaks for who he is.
“That’s what makes me the most proud.”
Listen to an interview with Eagleville coach Brandon Bassham: