During the Christmas holidays I was invited by my grandson—Logan Smith—to his high school baseball banquet that was scheduled for last Friday night at the Lufkin Civic Center.

I made the two-hour drive with plenty of time to spare and somehow found the Civic Center without any difficulty, which is unusual for me. The theme of the event was “Aces and 8’s—An evening with Champions.”

The two featured champions were former Hudson Hornet baseball star Brandon Belt, who completed his rookie year in 2011 as the first baseman for the San Francisco Giants and Tuff Hedeman, four-time world champion professional bull rider.

There were 21 tables scattered around the floor of the civic center that were purchased by various businesses and individuals for $500 each that sat 10 people and some other tables for those who purchased tickets at the door.

A silent auction of items donated by various local merchants was held prior to eating the barbecued beef dinner. After dinner the two featured guests were introduced.

Hornets head baseball coach Glen Kimble told a story of when he had lunch monitor duty with another teacher. He said the two men visited about various subjects each day to help pass the time during the students’ lunch.

Kimble was always talking about his first love of baseball while the other teacher listened politely. One day the other man said that he had a 14-year-old son who liked to play baseball. Kimble’s attention was aroused when the teacher said his son was taller than he was and that he could hit “a little.”

When he mentioned hitting the ball over the fence and onto the road several times, Kimble asked if the eighth grader was planning to play baseball the next year. The man said his son likes to pitch, too. “He’s a little wild,” the man said. “He either walks the batters or strikes them out. Nobody can hit the ball off him.”

This really piqued Kimble’s interest and then he nearly salivated when the man told him his son, Brandon Belt, threw left-handed.

Kimble got his chance to coach Belt the following year in 2005, when Brandon was named district Newcomer of the Year as a freshman. Brandon went on to play a vital part in the memorable 2005 and 2006 seasons in which the Hornets claimed Regional Finalist and Regional Semi-Finalist titles.

Belt was a four-year letterman at Hudson High School and earned District MVP, THSBCA All-Star and All-American honors as a senior. Last Friday, the school retired his No. 12 uniform.
Brandon was drafted out of high school in the 11th round by the Boston Red Sox, but opted to play for the San Jacinto College Gators, where he earned all-conference honors and the 2007 Juco World Series Big Stick Award.

He was drafted again in the 11th round by the Atlanta Braves, but instead chose to pursue his life-long dream of playing baseball for the University of Texas.

As a Longhorn, Brandon was chosen as the Big 12 Tournament MVP in 2008 and named to the 2008 and 2009 Big 12 All-Tournament teams.

In 2009 the San Francisco Giants selected Brandon Belt with the 147th pick in the fifth round of the MLB Draft. He made his professional debut in 2010 with the Class A San Jose Giants, moving up rapidly to AA Richmond and finishing the year with the AAA Fresno Grizzlies and ranked as the 26th overall MLB prospect.

Brandon made his major league debut on opening day (March 31, 2011) with the World Champion San Francisco Giants and got his first major league hit in his very first at-bat off eventual 2011 Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw of the LA Dodgers. Brandon belted his first major league home run the next night in his second major league game.

He spent time on the disabled list with a fractured wrist but came back strong in late August, hitting a three-run homer against the Astros in Houston for his hometown fans, giving him five home runs in his first 100 at-bats.

Richard “Tuff” Hedeman was born in El Paso and raised at the Sunland Park Race Track where both of his parents were employed. He began riding bulls at the age of 4 and worked his way through the ranks of bull riding, earning the New Mexico High School Rodeo Association Championship in 1980.

Tuff earned multiple top honors in collegiate bronc riding, bull riding, team roping and steer wrestling. After securing a spot in the National Collegiate Finals Championship in 1983, Tuff turned pro and began touring and claiming titles with the legendary Lane Frost.

Tuff won three World Championships, his first in 1986 when he set a world record with $137,061 in earnings, his second in 1989 and the third in 1991. Shortly thereafter Tuff co-founded the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) and earned his fourth world title in the 1995 PBR World Championships.

On May 18, 2005 Tuff was elected president of Championship Bull Riding (CBR) and continues to serve in that capacity today.

Several items such as an autographed 16×20 framed photo of Belt’s first home run, his autographed #9 Giants jersey, baseball cap, glove and autographed baseballs by Belt, Kershaw and Josh Beckett were auctioned off in addition to a golf package at Rayburn Country and a weekend condo at New Braunfels.

Championship Bull Riding donated 2 VIP tickets to the Tuff Hedeman El Dorado Shootout in Bossier City, La. on April 21, 2012, an autographed Tuff Hedeman sponsor shirt and an autographed hat.

Before the items were bid on, auctioneer Damon Motley asked if anyone wanted to win a lot of money. He instructed everyone interested to stand up and take a $5 bill and raise it over their head. Somebody came by a collected the money, and then Motley took out a coin and told everyone who wanted heads to put their hands on their head and those who wanted tails to put their hands on their butt.

He flipped the coin and it came out heads, so those with their hands on their butt were told to sit down. Motley gave everyone standing their choice of where to place their hands and continued the process until there was one person standing. He put his hands on his head and the coin came up tails, so the booster club earned another $545.

The silent auction earned $3,200 and the live auction netted $9,945. The baseball booster club ended up netting about $17,000 and told the Hornet baseball players that when they go to the playoffs this spring it won’t be in the yellow school buses, but on comfortable charters.

And grandson Logan, who is only one of a couple of freshman to be selected from the informal fall workout sessions to the Hudson baseball program, appears to be following in the footsteps of his dad Brian Smith, who played baseball at LCM, and his Pa Joe, who played both high school and college baseball.

KWICKIES…Hayden Reed, LCM’s state champion shot putter who I had the pleasure of meeting last week, bettered his record set last year at the Texas A&M Relays with a heave of 61 feet, 11 inches this past weekend. He is committed to attend Alabama on a track scholarship and will sign with the Crimson Tide later this month.

Apparently Orange native Wade Phillips’ quick fix to the Houston Texans’ defense hasn’t gone unnoticed as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers asked for and received permission to interview the defensive guru this Friday for the vacant head coaching position. The one glimmer of hope Texans fans have for keeping Phillips in Houston is that the interview takes place on Friday the 13th.

Several Orange area distance runners will be entered in the annual Chevron Houston Marathon Sunday.

Biologists released 16 young whooping cranes last month into the White Lake area of Southwestern Louisiana, about 40 miles southeast of Lake Charles, in hopes of re-introducing the critically endangered species to its historic breeding grounds in the marshy vastness of coastal Louisiana. Of the 10 juvenile whoopers that were reared in captivity and released in that area last year, only three survived. Their biggest nemesis were idiot hunters. Of the 600 whooping cranes worldwide, 300 of the tallest North American bird winters in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Corpus Christi. Louisiana was the home to the whooping crane until 1950 when the species neared extinction. Biologists removed the birds for their own protection.

JUST BETWEEN US…If you’re a Tim Tebow believer, the wild card weekend went pretty much as expected. The Houston Texans outplayed Cincinnati, the New Orleans Saints continued to roll with Detroit the latest victim, the New York Giants completely shut down Atlanta while Tebow penetrated the Pittsburgh Steelers’ No. 1 defense to give Denver the upset overtime victory.

Here’s hoping this week’s major upset involves the 7 ½-point underdog Texans over the Baltimore Ravens 24-20, 3 ½-point favored New Orleans downing San Francisco 34-17, Green Bay outlasting the 9-point underdog New York Giants and Tim Tebow’s magic ending as his 14-point underdog Denver Broncos succumb to the New England Patriots 35-27.