Posted by Mike London
SALISBURY – On Friday, May 14, 1971, Claude Bernhardt, East Rowan’s leftist, gave up one of the great pitching feats in the county’s history – and lost.
It was almost 50 years ago, but it was memorable enough that people are still talking about it.
Bernhardt, a junior, ran for coach Phil Harbinson for the third time in eight days, but the Mustangs were in a race for the North Piedmont Conference championship and the other front hurler, CM Yates, set an 8-1 record had and was the leading batsman of the team, was sick.
Bernhardt was a tough thrower, and it’s hard to hit a gas-throwing south paw. Last Friday, he had beaten 18 South Iredell hitters while throwing a one-hitter. That was his second one-hitter, and he’d thrown a no-hitter. He did not allow a earned run during the entire 1971 season.
On Tuesday he had eased and thrown 6 2/3 innings, allowed two hits and beaten 18 North Stanly Batters.
It was now the last Friday of the regular season. East, who finished first with a 13-2 record with Davie County, played third at North Davidson while Davie played against North Iredell. If both win or both lose, there is a playoff game to determine who is promoted to postseason in the Western North Carolina High School Activities Association.
The game was scheduled for seven innings. Bernhardt had a no-hitter until seven, but it was still 0-0 when North Davidson ace Rodney Link, who lost two 11-inning thrillers to Davie, was on his game.
Coach Pete Jones’ Mustangs and Black Knights were still tied 0-0 after eight and nine and 10 and 11 and 12 and 13. After 13 Bernhardt had still not allowed a hit. North Davidson had put a runner on a walk, a wild field, and a pass to third base, but he had been restricted for a failed squeeze game.
East, who scored seven goals but couldn’t put them together, failed on the 14th and got no further chance.
Bernhardt took out the first man in the inning, but Danny Link’s single ended the no-hitter. Bernhardt knocked out the next man, his 22nd strikeout, for a second time, but a Mike Maxwell single put Knights in first and third place. Then Link hit on a passed ball.
Bernhardt had thrown 13 1/3 innings of no-hit ball with 22 strikeouts, only to lose. He had fanned 58 batters in eight days, but East’s season was over.
But Bernhardt’s story was only just beginning.
The 1971 Rowan County American Legion season began. The training had started. Bernhardt, understandably with a heart condition, did not go to training the day after the end of the East season.
Bernhardt tells this story as one of the 67 authors of a new book “His field, our dreams: A life in baseball with the legendary trainer Joe Ferebee”.
The sales of the book will benefit Pfeiffer’s baseball program.
When Bernhardt returned to training, there was a meeting in Ferebee’s office where Ferebee taught the lesson of the importance of being there with your teammates for every training session, regardless of the circumstances. Bernhardt would prove to be instrumental in the Rowan County’s state championship this summer. He turned one of the great hill seasons in program history – 11-2 with 158 strikers.
As a senior at East Bernhardt was 11-2 and obviously threw almost every game. This time he won against North Davidson on the last day of the season when the Mustangs ousted Davie for one game for the NPC championship. Then East won the Piedmont and WNCHSAA championships.
In the summer of 1972, Bernhardt struggled with his shoulder, the cumulative effect of all those innings at a young age. Ferebee rested him often in the summer of 1972 and he went 5-2.
Ferebee was still recruiting Bernhardt to play for Pfeiffer, although the shoulder had to be operated on at some point and his arm never returned to normal.
Bernhardt would never catch the blazing heat he had in high school again, but he raised some for Pfeiffer and played first base and outfield. Ferebee remained loyal to him, and Bernhardt remained loyal to Ferebee. He graduated from the Pfeiffer class in 1976.
“I still loved the game and learned a lot from Coach,” wrote Bernhardt. “He was a great coach and a caring man. I always had the feeling that I had let him and the team down because I couldn’t serve like before the operation. I knew that was the main reason why he gave me this scholarship and asked me to come to Pfeiffer. But in all of my years around him, I could never tell that he ever felt this way – on or off the field. “
“His Field, Our Dreams: A Lifetime of Baseball with Legendary Coach Joe Ferebee” is full of such memories, most of them from Pfeiffer, but also from some of the American Legion teams from Salisbury and Rowan Counties. Randy Benson, Coe Brier and so on and so on.
The book started some time ago, so some of the more magical memories come from players who have passed away in recent months, like legendary left-handed Tom Eaton and Braxton “Brack” Bailey, a .290 hitter for seven seasons with the LA Dodgers . Farm system. Eaton and Bailey were roommates in their Pfeiffer days.
Bob Gulledge, a former East Rowan and Pfeiffer player and a close friend of Ferebee who died in 2020 at the age of 101, compiled the book.
Alongside a long list of players, Marty Brennaman, voice of the Cincinnati Reds for 46 seasons, wrote the preface, while Bob Rathbun, voice of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, contributed.
Books can be ordered at http://community.pfeiffer.edu/ferebeebook.