In the 1960s and '70s, the best softball in Rockland was played by the men of Nyack’s Apollo XII—a collection of mostly African-American players and a few white guys thrown in for their speed and fielding.
They played the games at the old Deer Head Inn, West Nyack's most infamous watering hole—now, ironically, a church. In the 1960s, great teams from around Rockland came to the Deer Head's annual fall softball tournament run by another NHS graduate, Judge Victor Alfieri. Teams like the Orange Lanterns from the Orangetown Recreation League played, along with Industrial League teams like Holt Contracting or the Grant Pulley boys plus the leading teams from Spring Valley and Haverstraw Leagues. They all came to face Apollo XII.
At times, the men of Apollo XII were all but unbeatable. Mostly graduates of Nyack High School, they were all-around sports stars. Many of them started playing softball in Memorial Park, in the old "Jewish league," with guys like Jerry Bernstein and Pete Peterzell, Doug "Bear" Johnson, Lou Tillinghast and Bill Desmond.
In those days, the Apollo Social Club was located at Depew and Railroad Avenues next to Mr. Easter's wood yard. Mr. Humphries, who owned a hamburger stand on Franklin Street next to Willie Wanamaker's shoe store, was the team's sponsor and adviser. The idea of forming a softball team is usually credited to Teddy Davis who, while managing the team, also played a pretty good first base.
While Apollo had an all-star team, two of their players, now members of the Rockland Sports Hall of Fame, led them to many of their victories. The team's star pitcher was John Jemison. He totally dominated games with his blistering fastball, a big slow hook curve and what most describe as the greatest "drop" ever thrown by a pitcher in the history of Rockland County Softball. With certain pitches, you’d never even see the ball. You could dig in at the batter's box, get set, watch his motion, and see his arm come around—but where was the ball? Great hitters in the Deer Head league used to attribute the vanishing ball to low, late afternoon sunlight coming from right field as you faced the mound at Deer Head Field—but that didn’t explain games that were played at midday. Jemison had an unbelievable record of 2,146 wins and only 145 losses over a career of more than 30 years. For the record, not all of Jemison's wins came while pitching for Apollo; he often played three or four weekend games for different teams.
Another stalwart of Apollo XII was Jim "Nose" Brown. A 1952 graduate of NHS, he played softball for four decades, dazzling opponents with his searing line drives and his unflappable clutch hitting. He was known all over the county for his prodigious home run power and still holds the record for hitting the longest homer at Suffern’s softball field. Some old time Nyackers might not recognize him as Jim Brown; to many he is simply Nose. His cousin gave him that nickname as a kid and it stuck. He says, "I've got friends I’ve known for 25 years and I swear they don't my real name."
Jamison and Nose led the Apollo XII teams to five straight major tournament championships, three in the Deer Head tourney and two in the Haverstraw tournament. In 1974 Apollo XII accomplished the triple crown of Rockland Softball by winning the Deerhead, Orangetown Recreation and Haverstraw tournaments where Nose Brown was voted best hitter.
Besides Teddy Davis at first base, Jemison on the mound and Nose Brown catching, some other members of the team were Jim Beaner, Carl Brooks, Eddie Carter, Harry Crayton, Arthur Miller, Barry Powell, Bob Reckstein, Ron Royster, John Ryan, Emil Schwob, Jerry Widabee, Turk Washington, Ernie and Eddie Watkins and their coach, James "Bo" Welsch, with his ever-present stogie.
Those were great days of watching Apollo XII win games while enjoying a cool brew on a summer evening. If I close my eyes I can almost hear the call: "Batter up!"