SALISBURY — James P. “Pinky” Trexler can be anywhere in Salisbury, and it’s not unusual for someone to yell across a grocery aisle or from the other side of the street, “Give me a Pinky dog.” “It makes you feel good,” says the man who has made hot dogs for Rowan County American Legion baseball games for 57 years.
Wednesday night — “Pinky Trexler Night” at Newman Park — was no different. Trexler, 93, came to the ballpark early and cooked up 100-plus hot dogs to have at the ready for the pre-game and early-inning crowd. Many of his fellow Legion volunteers worked by his side, wearing their “Pinky’s Joint” T-shirts. “It just ain’t no ballgame til I have my Pinky dog,” the back of the shirts said. Harry Agner estimated — conservatively, he stressed — that Trexler has cooked at least a half-million hot dogs at Newman Park. “Very conservatively,” adds Agner, who heads the Legion volunteers who run the concession stand. “It could be close to 750,000.”
Before Rowan County’s home game against Kannapolis Wednesday night, Legion officials honored both Pinky and one of the great hot dogs of all time — trumpeter Dr. Clyde Young — for their loyal service to the program. After taking their bows near home plate and receiving some nice appreciation plaques, the men returned to their rightful spots — Trexler in the concession booth and Young behind the home dugout with trumpet at the ready.
Young, 91, joked that his salary for playing his trumpet all these summers has been free admission, two Cheerwines and two hot dogs per game. His first tune of the night soon followed: “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” He would not leave until the game was over. “I think we have potential,” Young said. “They’re learning.”
What makes men like Pinky and Dr. Clyde so devoted? “This is helping boys to get somewhere else, so why not help them,” Pinky said. “And I do more charity work than anything else.” Gloria Beck says her Uncle Pinky has always been a man in perpetual motion. He played Santa Claus at Christmas for a half century until his knees and back wouldn’t allow him to bend down as well. He used to make 100 appearances a year as Santa, including visiting the sick every Christmas Eve at Rowan Memorial Hospital. Pinky constantly cooked for his American Legion post, the VFW and his church. In 1988, he was inducted into the N.C. American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame because he already was a hot-dog cooking legend and devoted supporter. Remember, that was 25 years ago, and he’s still going. The World War II veteran received a bronze star for his heroic actions during the invasion of Italy. Trexler said his unit’s job was to clear mines.
After the war, he had a 38.5-year career with the telephone company. As Beck said, he never stopped. “He’s pretty awesome,” she added. “He just quit trimming trees and stuff like that — and was mad he had to do it.” Pinky has always been known for his flat-top haircuts and dark-rimmed glasses. Beck has rubbed his head since she was a little girl, and she did it again Wednesday night when Trexler returned from the pre-game ceremony. “That’s just cause it feels good,” Beck said, rubbing hard. The nickname “Pinky” stuck on Trexler his second day on the job with the telephone company. It comes from his unusual middle name, which is “Pinkiney.” Trexler will tell you he was slowed significantly in 2002 by colon cancer, when surgeons removed 15 feet of his intestine. His slow is break-neck speed for others. Because it was “Pinky Trexler Night,” Pinky wasn’t quite sure what to make of all the attention, including radio and newspaper interviews. “I didn’t have anything to do with that,” he said.
Maybe as long as there have been Pinky dogs, Dr. Clyde has been playing the trumpet at Legion baseball games. He goes back to the coaching days of Joe Ferebee and considers his trumpet-playing support of the Rowan County lads as his summer job. The retired dentist and a World War II veteran himself, Young has traveled many places with the team — in state and out of state, especially during the playoffs. For years at Newman Park home games, Young would position himself at the top left side of the grandstand, so the notes of his trumpet could carry and he would still be out of the way.
Dr. Clyde is now perched closer to the field. He still has a full repertoire of songs for all occasions, though the umpires never seem to appreciate it when they hear him play “Three Blind Mice.” When other arrangements aren’t made, Young plays the national anthem before the game and “God Bless America” for the seventh-inning stretch. He punches out “Happy Birthday” when called on, or “Here Comes the Bride” to note a marriage or anniversary. Between innings, he might perform one of the five military service songs. If he knows the school songs of certain players, he’ll play those, too, when they come to bat. “I try to inspire people,” Young says. Dr. Clyde and Pinky each bring something special to Rowan County American Legion baseball. For Dr. Clyde, it’s his trumpet; for Pinky, his hot dogs. They are both served all the way.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or firstname.lastname@example.org.