THE WEEKLY - Once more for King and Court

The last members of The King and His Court will retire with a final game in Walla Walla.

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An autographed cover of program for the 1951 season of The King and His Court shows the Walla Walla Valley-based softball team's players. At the top is founder and pitching phenomenon Eddie Feigner. Left to right below him are original team members Kenneth White, outfield; Gordon, Meilicke, short stop; and Meade Kinzer, catcher. First baseman Jerry Jones, lower right, joined the four-man playing rotation in 1949.

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In this undated photo, Walla Walla Valley native Eddie Feigner, who died in 2007 as the undiputed king of fast-pitch softball, gets ready to release another rocket. The four-man world traveling exhibition team he founded in 1946 – The King and His Court – will play its last game this month where it played its first, Walla Walla's Borleske Stadium.

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Eddie Feigner

It all started as a bet in a Pendleton bar in 1946.

No way could a softball team beat a baseball team, a patron wagered Walla Walla Valley native Eddie Feigner.

So began a more-than six-decade run of the legendary King and his Court four-man softball team, whose founding members were friends from College Place: Feigner pitching, catcher Meade Kinzer, shortstop Gordon "Mike" Meilicke and outfielder Kenneth White.

In April 1946 the four originals loaded into their Ford station wagon from Teague Ford, with equipment from Scotty Cummins Athletic Supply, and headed out across America for exhibition games and charity events. Local slugger Jerry Jones, a first-baseman, was added to the rotation in 1949, and many other players would come and go over the ensuing decades as they barnstormed the United States. They also took their mix of formidable pitching, batting and fielding athletics and fan-pleasing clowning to troops stationed overseas.

What they did made sports history.

"There is only one Eddie" says Scotty Cummins. "I believe he is the greatest player who ever lived."

In one game in 1967 -- which showed that with a bullet of an arm like Feigner's on the mound a softball team could devastate a big league baseball lineup - Feigner struck out Major League All-Star sluggers Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Brooks Robinson, Maury Wills, Harmon Killebrew and Roberto Clemente in order.

Come Aug. 27, the last members of the team will retire with a farewell game at Borleske Field in Walla Walla, where The King and His Court founders first demonstrated their pitching, hitting and fielding skills and antics against nine-man teams.

I'd heard about the upcoming game through my job with the Walla Walla Sweets West Coast League baseball team.

But not until mentioning the game to my dad, dying of cancer, did the picture start to form about The King and His Court and the importance of this upcoming last game.

For the next few months we both became obsessed with Feigner and his team's accomplishments.

The best statistics we could find, his own bookkeeping numbers, is that he had 238 perfect games, 930 no-hitters, more than 1,800 shutouts, recorded 8,300 wins and had more than 132,000 strikeouts.

A Sports Illustrated article noted that his deadly accurate fast pitch had been clocked at 104 mph.

"His windmilling right arm seldom failed to work wonders; from about 45 feet, a blindfolded Feigner knocked a cigar out of Johnny Carson's mouth on 'The Tonight Show,' " the article stated.

The article also quoted a Feigner boast: "I once struck out a man on one pitch. He swung and missed three times at the same changeup."

Feigner played his game for 54 years still pitching after two heart attacks, four strokes and a major knee injury. After his death at 81 in 2007 The King and His Court continued his tradition.

My dad first saw them play in 1951 when he was 8 years old and his dad, my grandfather, played against them. He saw them again in the early '60s when he was in high school and took me and my siblings in the late 1970s. My dad and I both enjoyed our few months of obsessive behavior towards the King and his history and I started to think that we cannot be the only ones. As I began to reach out in the community to find out more about our local hero and his team the stories poured in.

Each call I made led to another call to another call until I found Bud Kinzer, whose two uncles, Meade Kinzer and Gordon Meilicke, played on the original team. Meilicke, now living in Oregon, is the only survivor of the original four.

"They had a lot of fun touring and playing around the country," Bud Kinzer said. " One time when I was 15 years old my uncle Meade let me take batting practice against the King. He told me when to swing -- during the King's wind up -- and I would still miss.

"Once I didn't even see the ball go by. Later I found out the King didn't even throw it. My uncle could slap his mitt so hard that it sounded the like the ball hit it."

Bud Kinzer was invited by the team to be their driver the summer he turned 16 so they could sleep on the road. He said his mother told him, "No way are you going with those hooligans." But that didn't stop him from hanging out at local practices and watching games that were in the area.

Pete Reid was a student at Whitman College when he played for the Pacific Supply All Stars in the summers of 1947 and 1948 and played against The King and His Court.

"I batted four times and my only hit was a foul tip," he said. "The King pitched from second base and on his knees. I do not remember anyone on the team getting a hit during those games."

Reid's son Dan puts Feigner in a league of his own.

"I have great memories of watching summer baseball in Walla Walla," he said. "Over the years I've seen Ozzie Smith, Kurt Russell and Tony Gwynn play at Borleske Stadium, but nothing stands out more than watching Eddie Feigner pitching rocket strikes to a batter while standing onsecond base. Watching The King and His Court play was a once-in-a-lifetime event that I'll never forget."

King and His Court player names are different now -- Rich Hoppe, Charlie Dobbins, Mike Branchaud and Ron Davenport -- but the formula is the same: great athletes, great softball and a little horseplay.

Over 65 years the team performed for 20 million fans in more than 4,400 cities and 104 countries. So it's only fitting The King and His Court will play its last game where it played its first. At Borleske Stadium they will play against a team of local athletes and celebrities managed by former Major League baseball player and Walla Walla Sweets co-owner Jeff Cirillo.

Present and former players will be honored. There will be stories and memorabilia shared. And there will be a last hurrah for a sports institution: The King and His Court.

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