Sometimes good guys do finish first. Sometimes they even finish first in the world!
To find proof of this Gonzales does not have to look any further than Mr. John Henry Wilkerson, a member of the Texas team that won the Over 50 World Softball Championship last September in Las Vegas.
John Henry’s team, which included fellow Gonzales players Bobby Avant, Steven Cantu and Robert Guerra, hammered their way into the championship last round with an undefeated record. In the finals, they took on a team from Ohio that had advanced to the finals through the losers bracket. The Ohio team won the first game, and the men from Texas were in a winner-take-all final.
“After we lost the first game, I thought ‘Whoa, these guys are good,’” John Henry recalled. “But we came back in the second game and beat them pretty handily.
“I think winning the Worlds was probably the highlight of my competitive ball-playing career,” John Henry added. “The guys from Gonzales and I had won back-to-back National Championships in the ISSA championships, but there was something really special about winning that world title in Vegas last year.”
Another reason John Henry and his teammates will never forget about last year is because they were in Vegas playing for the world championship on the day that the mass murder shooting occurred at the Mandalay Bay.
“We were in a different part of town when the shooting occurred,” John Henry said. “We had heard something had happened, and a lot of that part of town was locked down. Everyone was shocked and surprised.”
Now John Henry Wilkerson will have a chance to go back-to-back at the Worlds in Las Vegas this weekend. His new team, which now is composed of 55 and older players, will play this week and weekend to try and win another world championship.
“I’m really looking forward to it,’’ John Henry said. “I like the competition, but I really enjoy the camaraderie of being around the guys and the other players. After a game, heck, you might find two or three teams hanging out, talking, drinking beer and enjoying each other’s company.
“At our age, you really appreciate the moment more because you never know when you might be done. It’s one of the hard parts of going to these tournaments on a yearly basis because you always hear of someone who passed away during the last year.
“Plus, this year I’ve got more incentive at the Worlds,” John Henry stated in a very quiet voice. “I’m dedicating this year to my brother Pete (Wilkerson). I played a long time with both of my brothers Pete and Harlo, and I’ve even played with my nephew Ryan and his friends. But this year I’ll be thinking about Pete.”
If the Texas men win, John Henry will be a big part of the story. Last year he was on the All World Tournament team, and in the past he has been various tournaments’ most valuable player going all the way back to 2013. He has a nice collection of medals and rings, but the modest man from Gonzales never shows them off or brags about them. In fact, this newspaper had to ask John Henry five or six times to agree to do this story—that’s how humble he is.
John Henry Wilkerson is a man’s man, but he is a very sincere and down to earth person. He started playing baseball when he was a kid and in high school, and then played ball after high school. In 1976, he was invited to a rookie camp by the Cincinnati Reds, then the Big Red Machine of Major League Baseball. He went to the camp but did not make the cut. Nevertheless, he was given an opportunity to try out professionally for the defending World Champs, the Reds.
John Henry continued to play ball, but as his kids started growing up he turned to coaching in order to help that generation of Gonzales boys learn the skills and joys of playing baseball.
“I coached a lot of the kids growing up in Little League for at least 10 years,” John Henry said. “Then when they got older, I was asked to play with them and that was a real joy for me.”
John Henry is justifiably proud of all he and his teammates have accomplished, yet he marvels at people he plays against. Last year in Vegas, as he was getting on an elevator, he ran into a fellow competitor wearing a different uniform. The man was 92-years-old, and he was playing in the 80 and older division. John Henry wished him good luck the next day, and the man responded with, “well first I’ve got to be able to get up in the morning.” John Henry laughed when he related the story, but his admiration for someone playing at that age was genuine.
“I think that’s why I appreciate these times more and more,” John Henry said about going to Vegas. “None of us know how much time we have left or when it will be our final game, so I try to take it all in.
“Besides, I don’t think I’ll be around long enough to play with my grandkids,” he laughed.