Jim Harris: Last Chance to Step Up to Jim Elder’s Home Plate


Susan Elder is taking her last swing with “Home Plate Heroes” this week. Elder, daughter of the late great radio announcer and all-around sports fan Jim Elder, began “Home Plate Heroes” six years ago as a benefit for the Jim Elder Good Sport Fund.

The last reception and live auction for “Home Plate Heroes” is Thursday at the Thea Foundation on Main Street in North Little Rock.

“It’s just time,” Susan Elder said earlier this week of making this the finale of the annual event. “This is turned into quite an undertaking over six years . I’ve always wanted this to be a special event.”

“Home Plate Heroes” has been both a great way to honor Jim Elder and to raise money that has gone to a number of charitable causes, which I’ll list further in this column. The gist of being involved in contributing art to the event was to paint an image on a baseball home plate that then would be auctioned. This year, more than 50 home plates with various themes have been featured as part of an online auction, and some have already hit the “buy it now” feature. They’ll all be on display Thursday from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

One fascinating home plate was created by local ad man Chip Culpepper: a copper plate that honors the seven Arkansans who have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Some have baseball themes beyond the home plate, and some are just strikingly colorful, like the kaliedoscope-looking home plate that is rainbow of round buttons of various sizes.

My favorites tend to be the baseball collages made from cards; one has an old-time look to the cards with current players.

The home plates have been illustrated by people from all walks of life: from acclaimed artists to high school art students to even a man who came in from off Main Street to create a wonderful display.

Elder was best known for years as the voice of the Arkansas Travelers. When Arkansas was on the road, Elder was one of those classic-style announcers who would recreate the games for the radio based on the play-by-play reports provided by the wire service. Arkansas Traveler road game reports in the local papers were also provided by Elder as he wrapped up his night.

At Ray Winder Field, he was a nightly fixture, then was up early the next morning to provide his sports reports for KARN radio. The current Arkansas Travelers press box at Dickey-Stephens Field, which replaced Ray Winder Field, is named for Jim Elder and for Jim Bailey, longtime reporter for the old Arkansas Gazette.

Elder was a regular as well in the Arkansas Razorback radio booth as the statistician for the broadcast crew. If he wasn’t somewhere broadcasting sports or helping the crew call the game, Elder could be found on the golf course with his longtime friend Harry King, the former Associated Press sports editor and a longtime columnist in this market.

Liked by everyone and rarely without a smile, even when the Travelers might be mired in a hot summer slump, Elder could also let you have it with a good-natured jab every now and then. He cared about folks. His health failed him just a few short years ago and he left us too soon.

I’d still like to hear his take on the proliferation these days on sports talk shows throughout the market. When ESPN wasn’t everywhere and every radio station tried to emulate these sports-dedicated national networks, Elder was the only one regularly doing sports on radio for many years in Little Rock, either in his morning reports or taking calls on afternoon segments.

The heroes who benefit from the Jim Elder Good Sport Fund are: the American Diabetes Summer Camp (Elder suffered from diabetes), Arkansas Sherriff’s Youth Ranches, Easter Seals, the Miracle League of Arkansas, the Police Athletic League of North Little Rock, Positive Attitude Reaches Kids (P.A.R.K.), Reviving Baseball in the Innercity (RBI) at Lamar Porter Field. Rose City Boys and Girls Club, Centers for Youth and Families, First Tee of Arkansas, and the Thea Foundation.

Proceeds from Culpepper’s copper Hall of Fame plate will go directly to Lamar Porter Field’s renovation. Culpepper and Mark Hinson have also come up with something that some baseball fan will treasure for life. They titled it “Grounders,” and it’s  “a tribute to the hardest working teams in Major League Baseball: The members of the grounds crew.” Culpepper and Hinson reached out to the 30 grounds crews at every MLB stadium for a contribution of dirt from their ballparks. They received back little containers of dirt from eight American and eight National League parks. To that, Culpepper then crafted a home plate that includes the metal from a long-ago-retired grounds crew rake from Lamar Porter Field. The idea is that the owner of “Grounders” can put his authenticated dirt from one of the MLB parks on home plate and “be” at that ball park. Along with the display comes a book with photos from many of the grounds crews who contributed to the project.

Two artists randomly came up with home plate images based on the work of Vincent Van Gogh. One, by Tanya Fitzgerald, is titled “Goghing, Goghing, Gone.” Another eye-catching display honors Jackie Robinson with his number, his quotes and more. Another home plate has been shaped into a lamp with a classic light fixture.

There are plenty of other pieces that should wow all types of fans.

The online bidding (at www.biddingforgood.com/homeplates) ends Wednesday night. All the plates can be viewed on the auction site or at the Thea Foundation through Thursday’s reception.

The Thea Foundation is at 401 N. Main Street in North Little Rock.

jim elder press box

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