Looking back at the old ball game

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It’s hard to believe that the humble little town of Pampa had a baseball team, but the Pampa Oilers played in Pampa from 1939 until 1957.

During that time, Rex Dilbeck enjoyed his best season as a pitcher.

Dilbeck’s grandson, Jeff Pitchford recently came through Pampa to check out his grandfather’s old playing grounds.

“I was doing a bucket list trip and had gone up through North Dakota, back down through Colorado, was heading back to Arkansas and I wanted to stop in Pampa, Texas,” Pitchford said. “The reason I wanted to stop in Pampa, Texas was because my grandfather Rex Dilbeck played professional baseball in 1930 and 1940 for the Pampa Oilers in the West Texas/New Mexico league.”

So Pitchford looked into White Deer Land Museum and connected with executive director Anita Gullett who had information and memorabilia about the Oilers.

“I met with her the next morning and she was extremely gracious to show me the museum,” Pitchford said. “She showed me some of the bounded newspapers from back when my grandfather was first mentioned in 1939. She also went through the city directories from 1940 and found my grandmothers’ name, Joan, and where she worked (which was just down from the White Deer Land Museum.)”

Gullett also found the address of the Dilbecks’ home.

“I got to drive over to it at the corner of Somerville Street,” Pitchford said. “Anita showed me what Pampa was like during that boom-time and where the old stadium on Brown Street was and some of the Oiler’s memorabilia.”

Pitchford has some materials that he plans to digitize and eventually get to the White Deer Land Museum. Pitchford, who is a huge baseball fan, said he doesn’t have many memories of his grandfather’s baseball stories.

“He passed away when I was six or seven and about that time I started playing t-ball and never had a chance to have a conversation with him (about baseball),” Pitchford said. “He was in ill health toward the end and I can remember going to their house and him listening to the St. Louis Cardinals on the radio.”

Pitchford has Dilbeck’s 1940 All-Star ring from his career year in Pampa.

“He was 23-7 with a 3.45 ERA,” Pitford said. “What I gather from reading about the WT/NM league is that it was notoriously known as a hitter’s league. Someone hitting 50 home runs in a season wasn’t even newsworthy.”

After the 1940 season, Dilbeck and Gus Halberg (another Pampa player) were being courted by the San Diego Padres, who weren’t an MLB yet.

“They (Padres) were in the Pacific Coast League,” Pitchford said. “Which is quite a step up. Pampa was Class D ball and San Diego was Double A. The Pacific Coast League was almost a third Major League. The Padres bought both of their contracts.

“He pitched in San Diego from 1941 through part of the 1942 season,” Pitchford said. “His best season was in 1942, when he was 11-6. He had the team’s lowest ERA at 3.29.”

In 1944, Pitchford said Dilbeck had a bad arm coming out of Spring Training that he never recovered from, got transferred to Little Rock and his career ended.

“He lived in Gassville, Ark. with Joan and did a lot of odd things,” Pitchford said. “He was a river-guide, a trout fisher and ran a little motor-court (gas station/hotel/restaurant). He was a cattle guy and liked to farm before he passed in 1977.”

Pitchford said he remembers having conversations with Joan about Pampa and raising a young family.

“Rex was married before Joan but his wife had passed away,” Pitchford said. “They had a son so Joan became a step-mom. They were all three in Pampa and Joan had enjoyed it. She said the ball players were all really nice and they had a good time and got along.

“When they weren’t playing ball the married couples would go out and eat together or go to the movies.”

Pitchford has copies of both of Dilbeck’s contracts, Pampa and San Diego.

“He was making $90/month with Pampa,” Pitchford said. “What was great for them was in San Diego, he was making $150/month.”

In the offseason, Dilbeck was a night-watchmen for an oil refinery in Borger.

Dilbeck is Pitchford’s maternal grandfather with Donnie Pitchford (husband, Stanley).

“We grew up in Mountain Home, Ark. on a cattle farm,” Pitchford said. “I work as the State Government Affairs Director here in Arkansas for the Farm Bureau. I lobby for agriculture and farming.”

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