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Matthew Pate | A memorable booming business

In last week’s column I discussed several encounters I’ve had with famous people. I also talked about visits with a few people in the more shallow end of the celebrity pool.

In response to this, a number of readers felt compelled to share with me their own “Elvis” sightings. Thank you for those interesting anecdotes and tales of almost Elvis.

As I neared my word limit for last week’s column, I realized that I had omitted one of my more memorable celebrity encounters. Again, though, the performer wasn’t exactly an “A list” kind of act.

Growing up in southeast Arkansas, I have always traveled the 30 miles or so to Little Rock for “big city” entertainment. Museums, malls, movies and just the hustle of someplace bigger than Pine Bluff was always a strong draw.

While nobody in my family ever watched sports on television, occasionally we’d go see the Arkansas Travelers minor league baseball team play at the their home stadium, Ray Winder Field.

Ray Winder is now gone. Progress demanded that it be demolished for a parking lot. The scoreboard still stands, but the score that needs to be settled there likely won’t be reflected on the board.

Just as a side note: Dickey-Stephens Park is a fine new facility, comfortable and commodious. It just lacks both the soul and the history of the historic park it “replaced.”

On these hot southern nights at Ray Winder, you could sit in stiff wooden folding seats that were thickened by decades of repainting. There were big draft fans, inadequate restrooms and all the amenities of 1930. It could not have been more wonderful.

As anyone who’s ever been to a minor league baseball game can attest, the lure of pretty good ball playing will only fill the stands so full. As such, parks rely on a host of novelty acts, goofy giveaways and silly promotions to bridge the gap.

For me the most memorable of these acts was a performer billed as Captain Dynamite. Much like the famed aerialist, Karl Wallenda of Flying Wallendas, the Captain was eventually joined by members of his family.

Captain Dynamite’s act was a pretty simple one: Between the games of a double header, his minion would place a coffin near second base. The Captain, dressed in a shiny green jumpsuit with yellow lightning bolts and a matching motorcycle helmet would emerge from the dugout. He would lie in the aforementioned coffin and after a short count, detonate a thunderous explosion. I recall one instance where a 15- or 20-foot fireball accompanied the report. The thick smoke cloud would clear and the Captain — now several feet from his starting position — would stagger to his feet, whereupon the crowd would go wild.

I’ve often wondered what it was that initiated this as a career choice. It was clearly a career. He performed at Travelers games (and many others) for decades.

What I am more certain of are the details of my meeting the Captain after his show. I was in college. So, I must have been around 20 years old. He had to be in his 70s. The Captain had taken up a station near an exit to the malodorous men’s restroom, where he shook hands and autographed things.

It took a little while to get my turn. As I got closer, I noticed a little drip of blood sliding down his weathered cheek. I stuck out my hand and said, “I really enjoyed your show.”

He squinted and replied, “Huh?”

I suppose all that blowing up takes a toll on one’s hearing. I repeated my compliment more loudly.

What came next, I’ll never forget. The Captain grabbed my hand and jerked me in very close, my nose almost against the blood.

In not a quiet tone, the old man said into my ear, “Well it doesn’t matter because we’re all going to hell anyway!”

He then gave me a little push backward and laughed manically.

A quarter century later I still don’t know what that meant, but I sure got my money’s worth.

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