Gaddis looks back on baseball career with Ole Miss, Red Devils

June 24, 2022 | 12:05 am

Updated June 24, 2022 | 12:22 pm

Photo courtesy of Barry Gaddis

Watching Ole Miss compete in the College World Series nearly 50 years to the date since he took the mound for the Rebels, former Red Devils ace Barry Gaddis has taken the time to reminisce on his athletic career and journey through life while enjoying his college alma mater’s current success.

Gaddis’ love for baseball started right here in Owensboro where he grew up, back in a time where the days of modern technology were non-existent. So with little choices and looking for something to do, Gaddis chose America’s pastime.

“I grew up in a simpler time,” Gaddis said. “We didn’t know we didn’t have things. There were no cell phones, there was no internet, there were no electronics. Baseball in the summer, football and basketball in the winter and fall, that’s all we did… Why did I pick baseball? Because it was either that or ride my bike.”

This led to Gaddis starting to play in the Southern Little League. He was thrown straight into the fire from the jump, as there were no age groups back then — so he was playing with 8- to12-year-olds.

Gaddis went into baseball wanting to pitch, but given that he was small in stature the opportunity wasn’t there yet. But he took that as motivation and made sure he would be prepared if he got his chance down the road.

“I had asked to pitch all through little league, but I was always small,” Gaddis said. “None of the original coaches would give me a chance, but I understood it… So when they wouldn’t let me, I’d practice in my backyard.”

Gaddis was able to pitch to his dad in the backyard, who built a mound for Gaddis to throw from. This was a huge deal given that the yard was his father’s prized possession.

“My dad cared more about his lawn than he did a lot of other things, so for him to put a pitcher’s mound in the backyard had to be a big sacrifice,” Gaddis said. “A big old pile of dirt on his beautiful grass. I didn’t know it at the time, but thinking back on it, my gosh what a sacrifice. We had a pitching rubber and a home plate at the other end.”

His father caught for Gaddis until he was 13 years old, when taking pitches to the shin became a little too much. But it was at that age that Gaddis finally got his chance in little league.

“My turning point was at 13 years of age getting to pitch 10 of the 20 games we played instead of waiting until I was 14 or 15,” Gaddis said. “I pitched half of the games and I was on a very good team, and at the end of the year I happened to have the winningest record in the whole league.”

This experience allowed Gaddis to see that he could consistently throw strikes, while also realizing he had an extremely effective curveball for his age. This success often led to his name being in the newspaper, garnering attention from the Owensboro High School coach.

Gaddis was able to join the varsity team at 15 years old, something that was extremely uncommon at the time. It was there that Gaddis continued to find himself playing against older and tougher competitors, starting with a trip to Florida that no team in Kentucky high school baseball had made.

“My sophomore year was the first time that any Kentucky team ever went to Florida for spring break,” Gaddis said. “Our legendary coach Jack Hicks initiated that in the whole state… We learned the hard way. We had a short bus and we went from town to town… We were the Marco Polos of Kentucky baseball being in Florida.”

While Gaddis and company had been in gyms and were waiting out poor weather like rain and snow, the teams in Florida had been playing for months under the sun. It may not have been the most successful trip, but Gaddis believed that it prepared them for what was to come.

“I have found in my lifetime whether it’s athletics or not — I don’t care if it’s racquetball, or tennis, or pool or whatever you’re doing — you need to expose yourself to somebody better than you so you’ll get better,” Gaddis said.

The trip worked wonders for Gaddis and Owensboro, as the team went on to grab a state championship later in the year. They weren’t able to make it back to state for the rest of Gaddis’ high school career, but he continued to rack up the strikeouts.

But in a day and age where it wasn’t as easy to find talent, Gaddis wasn’t sure what his next step was. So on his graduation day, Gaddis went to his coach and asked if he would be able to continue to play baseball anywhere.

His coach began to list off a number of schools, but Ole Miss stood out. At the time, Gaddis had a friend that continually talked about the Rebels at lunch, including talking about then-Heisman candidate Archie Manning.

In a matter of a few days, Gaddis found himself at Chautauqua Park pitching and practicing an array of things for New York Yankees scout Willis Hudlin, who had a 16-year MLB career himself. Following the workout, Hudlin made a call to the Ole Miss head coach at the time, Tom Swayze. 

Swayze gave Gaddis’ father a call, and just like that a visit was in order. They got in the car and made the long trip to Oxford. While they knew they were on a recruiting visit, they weren’t expecting any of what was to come.

The first person Gaddis met when he arrived on campus was Archie Manning, who was still there during the summer for photo shoots and much more. The two still text to this day about Ole Miss and much more.

But as far as the workout went, Gaddis impressed Swayze and he finally got to see the payoff of all the sacrifices and hard work that he and those around had made.

“We went down there for a visit and we ended up in the guy’s office and he started naming things,” Gaddis said. “We want to offer tuition, we want to offer books. I thought that sounds pretty cool but what does that add up to? He finally said, ‘in the NCAA that’s what is known as a full athletic scholarship.’”

The rest was history for Gaddis. He went on to become the first 20-game winner at Ole Miss (22 wins), is Top-10 in career wins, and helped the Rebels become District III Champions in the College World Series in 1972.

Flash forward 50 years later and Ole Miss finds themselves in the College World Series again, with another Gaddis in the rotation in John Gaddis. While there’s no relation between the two, Barry found it all too coincidental as he got to meet John when he threw out the first pitch at a game in March.

“It was scheduled two years ago by myself, but COVID knocked us out of that,” Gaddis said. “They asked me again and it happened to be the 50th anniversary year of our World Series team, and it was a lot of fun.”

Gaddis has enjoyed watching John and the Rebels’ success, as they most recently secured their spot in the College World Series Final for the first time in program history. Outside of watching, Gaddis has been away from the game for some time as a coach/instructor, something he found as a calling after wrapping up his time at Ole Miss as a graduate assistant while finishing pharmacy school.

“I told God then when I got back home, I would like to coach or teach pitching to young boys at least for every year that was spent on me,” Gaddis said. “I did that. I was at Southern Little League for a few years, and I coached American Legion pitchers for a few years.”

Gaddis said he’d been on the other side of the mountain, and he wanted to tell kids what was over there and how to get there after enjoying a successful playing career. So, he proceeded to give lessons to athletes for free if they proved to him that they wanted to grow as a pitcher badly enough. 

Gaddis went on to own a pharmacy in Owensboro for 13 years as well, all while raising his two daughters. He now has spent the last 10.5 years as a volunteer and is on the board of directors at the Boulware Mission, where their goal is to help displaced individuals become self-sufficient through education, treatment, and services. 

And while Gaddis may no longer be involved directly with the game of baseball, it’s evident that the love for it is still there and that he’ll be rooting for the Rebels and John Gaddis as they look to bring some hardware home.

June 24, 2022 | 12:05 am

Share this Article

Other articles you may like