He never delivered a game-winning hit. He never fanned an opposing batter. He never made a game-saving catch. But ask members of O’Donnell’s men’s fast-pitch softball team about the contributions of James V. O’Donnell during their string of successful summers and you will hear him spoken of in MVP terms. Only instead of “most valuable player,” the team’s sponsor is recalled as its “most valuable person.”
“You couldn’t ask for a better person,” said Jim Hoskins, who played 12 years for O’Donnell’s ball club.
For his meritorious service to the sport, O’Donnell, who passed away in February 2003 at the age of 52, will be a posthumous inductee into the Missouri Amateur Softball Association’s Hall of Fame in February.
“I don’t think there’s anybody more deserving than him,” said Hoskins.
“It’s something he deserves 100 percent,” said Kirk Wilson, who played for the Hannibal team from the late 1970s until 1990. “Jim is the consummate sponsor, backer, philanthropist, however you want to call it.”
Two people who knew James V. best - his wife of 32 years, Linda, and his oldest son, James J. - say the honor would have been accepted with humility.
“He would be very proud and humbled to receive this honor. Jim would most certainly point out that he was only carrying on a tradition that started long ago in his family of helping to support local teams,” said Linda, in a statement issued by the family.
“I think he would have gotten that sheepish grin and been a little embarrassed at first,” said James J. “He would have been the first to tell you that this is a true reflection of the folks who have been a part of O’Donnell’s teams over the years that helped him achieve that honor. There were some great, great guys and some great coaches and managers who represented our community well and O’Donnell Funeral Home over the years. He would definitely share this honor with them because they’re very much a part of it as were his contributions and efforts.”
Wilson recalls how James V. took care of his team.
“Other people had to be jealous of what we had. We were treated ridiculously well by a man who didn’t have to do anything,” he said. “He bought our uniforms and paid our entry into tournaments, which was way more than most sponsors did then and nowadays is unheard of. He would spend $1,500 or $2,000 on a weekend for a bus for us. That’s stuff he didn’t have to do.”
Page 2 of 2 - First class manner
James J. is not surprised by what his father did for his team.
“Anything dad went about he tried to do first class and do it right. He knew it was representing the community. He knew it was representing the town, so he wanted to do it in a first class manner,” he said.
With a chuckle, Hoskins recalls when James V. attempted to make the transition from sponsor to sponsor/player.
“He came down and tried out one time. He realized he’d better stick with basketball. He was a lot better basketball player than he was a softball player,” he said. “It was a fun time for him trying out, trying to hit the ball and wanting to be involved.”
While he might not be on the lineup card, Jimmy V. was frequently on the team bus heading to various tournaments.
“There was nothing that Jim enjoyed more than traveling with the fast pitch teams and supporting youth leagues in the Hannibal community,” said Linda.
“He always tried to go if he was able to, especially to the nationals. It was a joy to have him there,” added Hoskins.
Wilson, who submitted the nomination in September, is delighted James V. was selected unanimously.
“That tickled me more than anything else,” he said. “Even this long after we were playing his reputation still is around. We’ve only got one (ASA) commissioner around here. To have all the rest of them in the state to vote means it must have been well deserved.”
“I’m tickled that dad is getting that recognition. It’s something that he would have never, ever sought out,” said James J. “It’s something he would have really relished sharing with those guys and his friends over the years.”
The Missouri ASA 27th annual Awards Banquet will take place at Seven Springs Winery in Linn Creek on Saturday, Feb. 16, starting at 6 p.m.
Tickets are $25 apiece and must be purchased by Feb. 1.