By Emily Hyatt
For residents of Angelina County, football, with its Friday night lights, has gained ground as the favorite sport in Angelina County over the last few decades, but baseball remains a favored pastime for young and old, a position it has held since the turn of the twentieth century. This love of the game transcended racial lines, and Angelina County residents both white and black participated in amateur, semi-pro, and professional leagues as players, sponsors, and spectators. Sawmill towns were famous for their baseball teams, and many like Diboll supported white and black teams during the early and middle twentieth century. Diboll's white team, the Millers, were well known as a worthy opponent and traveled through East Texas playing other sawmill teams as well as teams from larger towns like Lufkin. Diboll had a team for African American players as well, known at different times as the Diboll Dragons and the Diboll Eagles. Both teams had a reputation for good players and would travel by car to play opponents around the area. They would also play games against all-star teams that would travel through East Texas.
One of Diboll's African American baseball players was Mr. Rueben "Jellie" Samuels (shown in the photo wearing his Diboll Dragons uniform and holding his son Curtis). Although he found work as a planer in Diboll's mills, Mr. Jellie moved to Diboll to play baseball and was an important part of the Dragons and Eagles teams from 1940-1950. A native of Louisiana, he "hoboed" to Diboll to join the team after Diboll's team soundly defeated his Shreveport team in 1940. After riding the bench for a year, he proved his worth as a left fielder and hitter and even served as field captain in 1950. Mr. Jelly loved the game and loved to win, but he had another love - peanut patties. His teammates would give him a patty each time he hit a home run, and he would keep them in his pocket. Mr. Jellie took those peanut patties seriously: he tells of a time he was sliding into second base on a double when his patty fell out of his pocket. He went back for it and was promptly thrown out! He recalls the ribbing he took from his teammates, but makes no apologies for rescuing his peanut patty!
Fans and players of Diboll's African American baseball team especially remember the all-stars from Minot, North Dakota. The Eagles scheduled an exhibition game with the North Dakotans, a game the visitors were eager to play as an easy warm up to their more anticipated opponents in Beaumont. According to the Buzz Saw, the Minot team was one of the "finest teams in the nation." Mr. Jelly remembers this game and the crowds. Reporting after the event, the Buzz Saw remarked that the crowd may have been the largest ever at a baseball game in Diboll, with fans coming from Corrigan, Camden, Lufkin, Nacogdoches, and Jasper to watch the all-stars wallop the locals. The crowd and the North Dakotans, were in for a surprise. Led by ace O'Ree Brazil, the Eagles beat the visitors 1-0. Mr. Jellie says the team was ecstatic and the ticket receipts from the night totaled an unheard of $600.
The Eagles were not as successful several days later when the Minot team traveled back through town for a rematch, losing that game 17-0. The game started late due to a misunderstanding between Diboll players and the manager and not all of the players took the field. The stadium lights had to be extinguished at 11:00 p.m., so there was only time for 5 innings of play - plenty of time for the Eagles to be thoroughly trounced.
Winning or losing (but mostly winning) Diboll's baseball teams provided an outlet for entertainment for the town's residents. Players and spectators alike remember the days when Sunday afternoon was for baseball and hold those memories dear.
For more stories about baseball in Diboll, visit www.TheHistoryCenterOnline.com.
Rueben "Jellie" Samuels with his daughter
- Mr. Samuels is holding his son, Curtis.