By Bruce Campbell, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Merry Lee Nafus was a little emotional after learning the Enid Majors and Enid Minors will be playing in a league this summer named after her late father Les Beckham.
Beckham was the baseball chairman for Enid Argonne American Legion Post No. 4 for 44 years, and was involved in the decision to move from American Legion to Connie Mack.
“I have to confess, I have always been afraid he would be forgotten, because as the years go by you would have new people who don’t remember him,’’ Nafus said. “It’s just a wonderful tribute. His name will always be there with baseball in Enid.’’
Beckham, who served in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 under Gen. George Patton, had helped build the original dugouts at Phillips-Failing Field.
“He devoted himself to baseball as long as I’ve been here and that’s 60 some years,’’ Nafus said. “He worked tirelessly for the program. He loved all those boys.’’
Beckham died on Aug. 22, 2009, of complications from a fall at David Allen Memorial Ballpark parking lot during the Mid-South Regional.
“Les was such a contributor to baseball, it was more than fitting that we honor him this way,’’ said former Enid Legion coach Bill Mayberry, the director of David Allen Memorial Ballpark.
Beckham was cut when he tried out for the Legion program in 1939, but no one did more for the program than Beckham, Mayberry said.
“He was a terrific volunteer,’’ Mayberry said.
“It wasn’t a job to him or work at all,’’ Nafus said. “It was so important to him. My mother (Natalie) would be right there with him until she couldn’t do it anymore.’’
Beckham practically lived at David Allen Memorial Ballpark during baseball season, taking tickets and being a mentor to young and old.
“He was like a trophy that we propped up before every game,’’ Mayberry said.
Beckham had a part of 12 state championship team and a national World Series championship in 2005.
“He always said 13 sounds better than 12,’’ Mayberry said.
He was given a championship jacket by the 2005 team. Nafus said she originally planned to have him buried in it
“I had him wearing it during visitation, but I just couldn’t let it go,’’ Nafus said.
Players and coaches would come early to games to visit with Beckham.
“They had the greatest respect for him,’’ Nafus said. “They would joke and kid with him. They had a good relationship. He wanted what was best for the boys.’’
Former Enid first baseman Zach Gonzalez, who will be coaching the Minors this season, paid tribute to Beckham the spring after his death by writing out LES on the dirt infield before every inning of home games.
“I just want to remember him and all he’s done for us at this beautiful ballpark,’’ Gonzalez said in a 2010 interview. “He taught me to want to play harder and to love to play the game.’’
Enid players, both high school and summer league, wore caps with LES on the back in tribute to Beckham.
Beckham, Howard Shafer and Delson Fitzgerald of the Legion were responsible for making Enid the benchmark of programs in the state, Mayberry said.
Mayberry was only 20 when his own father died. Beckham was a father figure for him, too.
“He was a mentor and a father figure for a lot of us,’’ Mayberry said. “He really liked baseball, but more importantly, he liked seeing boys become men.’’
Beckham was honored the spring following his death before the Majors home opener with Woodward. The first 300 fans received a gold coin embossed with Beckham’s image.
The Enid Symphony Orchestra played a number of patriotic themes. Beckham loved the music of John Philip Sousa.
Nafus said her father would be honored by having the league named after him.
“He would say there were more important people than him to name it after,’’ Nafus said. “He was humble. He didn’t think he was that big of a deal ... but I do think it would make him smile.’’