Tom Archdeacon: Dragons fan celebrates 100th birthday in style

Nathaniel Scott is going to be busy this week.

He’ll be spending time in the front yard of his Jefferson Township home working on his pitching form with the help of two of his grand-nephews, Marqus Corney and Sidiq Anderson.

Then on Friday evening, Scott — a Dayton Dragons season-ticket holder who usually sits behind home plate — will take the mound at Fifth Third Field to throw out the first pitch before a game with Quad Cities.

“I haven’t played baseball in a long time so I have to practice,” Scott said with a grin and some exaggerated flexes of his right elbow as he sat with four family members around the dining room table at his brother’s house the other day. “As you get older you find out your muscles aren’t like they used to be, so I’ve got to get my arm in shape. I’ve seen some people throw out a first pitch and it didn’t go where it was supposed to.”

He mentioned no names, but the litany of first-pitch misfires spans politics, pop stars and pure-gold athletes.

From Cincinnati’s former mayor Mark Mallory to a high-heeled Mariah Carey to Carl Lewis, winner of nine Olympic gold medals, plenty of folks have walked to the mound and quickly shown they need to keep their day jobs.

But no one was more off the mark than the rapper 50 Cent, whose 60-foot, 6-inch left-handed heave at a New York Mets game missed home plate by nearly the same distance.

“I want to get the ball in there,” Scott said.

If he’s saying he wants to show himself to be a little more than 50, well, he already has.

He’s two times 50.

He’s 100.

That’s right, Nathaniel Scott was born March 27, 1917.

And over the past century he has seen and done a lot.

He can talk about facing segregation in school and later in the service during World War II. He can tell you about being a classmate of Rat Pack crooner Dean Martin and about being in a jazz band — the Blue Rhythm Swingsters — that toured the towns and coal camps of West Virginia and about eloping with the girl he first met in fourth grade and was married to for 47 years.

His baseball reminisces begin with the Homestead Grays of the old Negro Leagues and are highlighted by cheering Jackie Robinson at both Hudson Field in Dayton and Crosley Field in Cincinnati and include following the Big Red Machine and especially Pete Rose

And he also can share his involvements at his church, Wayman Chapel AME on Hoover Avenue, where he’s part of the Sons of Allen men’s fellowship group, has worked in the church’s food pantry and been in the choir.

All that makes him more than just the “patriarch of our family,” said his cousin, Jeri Dokes, who had gotten together with Scott’s 81-year-old brother Lloyd, his 79-year-old sister Dolores Stallings and his niece Annie Williams the other day to talk about the life of “Uncle Nate,” as she calls him.

“He’s our treasure,” said Jeri.

And that’s why the family has made sure his 100th birthday has been fully embraced and celebrated.

On March 25, two days before he hit triple digits, there was a party at Central State University-Dayton on Germantown Street that drew some 180 family members and fellow congregants from church.

“People came from as far away as Texas and California,” Jeri said.

The following day, Wayman Chapel AME hosted a dinner for him.

It was Jeri who also initiated the first pitch idea with the Dragons. She knew he was a long-time baseball fan, used to organize church groups to go to Reds and Dragons games and was a regular at Fifth Third field.

As a Christmas present in 1999, Lloyd got him season tickets for the Dragons’ inaugural campaign in 2000.

“And he’s been a season-ticket holder all these years,” Lloyd concluded.

Scott shrugged off such praise: “They’ve only been here 18 years.”

That made Annie laugh:

“And that’s only a drop in the bucket for him.”

‘A racketeer town’

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Scott was raised in West Virginia where his father worked in various coal mines.

The family had 12 kids — one was stillborn, Nathaniel said — and life sometimes was a struggle.

“You know how they say, people owed their soul to the company store?’’ he said, mimicking the old Tennessee Ernie Ford lyric. “We did.

“In West Virginia, when one mine would shut down, you moved to another and lived in another camp.”

Over the years he lived in numerous towns and camps, places like Arville, Dehue, Longacre, Morgan, Louise and Fairmont.

While his family was living in the Louise Coal Camp in West Virginia, he was required to make the arduous daily trek across the Ohio River to attend ninth grade in Steubenville, Ohio.

“Schools were segregated in West Virginia, but Louise didn’t have enough black kids there for a school,” he said. “So we had to walk three miles down the railroad tracks to catch a street car and then ride 10 miles up the side of the Ohio River until we could cross over the bridge to Steubenville.

That’s where he found himself in class with an Italian-American kid who was two months younger — Dino Paul Crocetti, later to be known as Dean Martin.

“He was a racketeer back in those days.” Scott said. “And Steubenville? It was the same as being in New York. It was a racketeer town. The street down along the river had a lot of vice. They had all kinds of gambling machines. Go in a drug store and there was slot machines.”

And he was right about Crocetti, who — before he became the beloved King of Cool entertainer — dropped out of high school as a sophomore and soon was bootlegging liquor and working as a croupier and a dice and craps dealer at places like Rex’s Cigar Store, which was a front for the mob rackets, bookmaking, numbers, pool and illegal gambling and alcohol.

“Man, I’ll tell you, Steubenville was something else again back then,” said Scott, who ended up at Weirton High a year later and finally graduated in 1935 from Lincoln High in Wheeling. Soon after that he too was working in a coal mine.

If his diploma was gathering coal dust, his early music lessons soon were being dusted off.

“When I was growing up, my mother sent me to a lady who taught piano, but I didn’t like it and quit. But later a guy came around from Alabama and he started picking up guys for a band. He got my brother James on the saxophone and me on the trumpet and we played all over. We did pretty good for coming out of coal mining country.”

It was during this time that he got reacquainted with a girl — Virginia “Ginny” Henderson — he’d first met in fourth grade in Morgantown: “I sat next to her and I remember always looking at her, but I didn’t know then I was gonna marry her.”

The idea became clear when he was in his early 20s: “I’d drive to Morgantown to court her. We went to nightclubs and enjoyed each other and to me, she was it.”

By then the country was in World War II and he said Ginny wanted to get married: “She knew I was going off to service and might not come back. So we didn’t tell anyone and went over the state line to Maryland and got married.”

“They eloped,” beamed Lloyd.

They told no one of the marriage afterward either and then Nathaniel was drafted into the Army and ended up in an all-black unit sent to Macon, Georgia

“Well, I’ll tell you, when you left the North and went that far south back then it was different altogether,” he said. “I’ll never forget when the train stopped in Macon, the commander of the base got up on a truck bed with a bull horn and had us line up along the train. We had our rain gear on and it was raining like mad in Georgia. That red clay was jumping two and three inches (from the rain drops).

“The first thing he said was ‘You boys are from the North, but you’re in the South now. When you in Rome, you do as the Romans do.’ ”

That meant, he said, “Colored” restrooms, water fountains, the whole scenario of segregation regardless that he and his fellow soldiers were in U.S. Army uniforms.

Ginny, meanwhile, had moved to Dayton with some other young women and was working on the war effort at Wright Field. After two years in the service, Nathaniel joined her in Ohio, got a job at Frigidaire and eventually spent almost 40 years at the plant and its parent company, General Motors.

Active social life

Most of the rest of the Scott family didn’t move to Ohio until 1949 so Dolores — who is 21 years younger than Nathaniel — said she only knew him as a bigger-than-life figure when she got here.

While Ginny and Nathaniel had no children of their own, they embraced other kids fully, a fact to which Dolores will attest:

“He used to come by our house every Saturday morning and each time he’d give me 50 cents to go do whatever I wanted. And I, of course, wanted to go to the movies, have a hot dog and be able to ride the bus back home — all with my little 50 cents.

“I’d go to the Palace Theater on West Fifth or downtown to the Lowes next to Rikes, the Victoria or the Keith across from the Arcade.”

Lloyd had a similar story:

“He took me to see Jackie Robinson down in Cincinnati. It must have been ’47 or ’48 and I was about 12 or 13 years old.”

He beamed as that childhood day was rekindled in his memories: “He had a Plymouth convertible with a rumble seat. His wife Ginny sat up front with him. My father, bless his soul, rode in the rumble seat with my uncle and they had the wind blowing in their faces the whole time. I rode up in the back window, all stretched out.

“That day was a thrill I’ll never forget. Jackie played the game of his life. He hit a home run and was stealin’ bases.”

Nathaniel grinned: “Jackie would make pitchers walk him and then he’d steal one base and then the next. It was timing really. He’d take off and they didn’t have a chance. I loved seeing him run.”

Lloyd looked over at his brother and smiled: “Another thing we had in common was music.”

“They did duets,” Annie said.

Lloyd nodded: “I played the piano, the organ, the French horn. He was on the trumpet.”

Nathaniel said he also played in a group at Sinclair when he took classes there.

He and Ginny often traveled, right up to her death in 1989.

As he thought about his wife the other day, his eyes began to glisten and his voice momentarily choked on emotion. Finally, he just tapped his chest and the only words that came out were: “Heart…My heart.”

In the years since he’s been involved in various projects, especially the family’s food cart at Courthouse Square.

“It was for a scholarship fund for our family, Annie said. “We provided small grants to family members in school. We funded it with the food cart, selling hot dogs, BBQ chicken wings, sloppy joe sandwiches, chips, stuff like that. The retired people in our family ran it.”

Although Scott may be retired, he stays on the move.

“He’s got a real active social life,” said Jeri with no exaggeration. Besides Dragons games, he goes out to dinner and the movies and is thinking about getting a new Cadillac.

He said he takes just “three pills and two eye drops” a day.

As for secrets of getting to the century mark, he thought a moment, then said:

“Well, No. 1, I was never a person to smoke and I never did drink a lot of whiskey. And I always had good treatment from people.

“One of the big things, if you want to live long, you can’t have a lot of worries. If you have a wife at home, you don’t want to have something going all the time and be mad at each other. That’s a lot of stress on your heart and it’ll kill you.

“Same if you have a girlfriend. Don’t get one that will make you worry.”

Whoa! So does he have a girlfriend?

For the first time in the lengthy interview, Scott was at a momentary loss for words. Finally, he just shook his head and laughed and mumbled: “I’m not gonna….”

Seriously though, one of the biggest things for his health has been that he’s stayed active mentally and physically, his family said. A big part of that has been his involvement at church, where he’s even sung on some occasions.

And it’s then that he has drawn on those old Blue Rhythm days.

“When I sing at church, I kinda put a little swing into it,” he said with a slight dip of his shoulder for emphasis and a grin filled with delight.

“All the ladies in church…they like that.”

That made the whole family laugh and it proved that Nathaniel Scott doesn’t need the mound at Fifth Third Field to show he can still make a pitch.

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