The McAlester Rockets sparked the Sooner State League in 1947 when they were champions of the league’s opening season.

A picture of the 1947 team shows a couple of youngsters serving as bat boys, Paul Crowl Jr. and Lew Crowl — both of whom still live in McAlester.

The McAlester Rockets are one of the teams featured in author Peter Pierce’s new book, “Baseball in the Cross Timbers,” a book about the Sooner State League.

Pierce plans to travel to McAlester for a program set for 7 p.m. on Tuesday in the Whiteacre Room at the McAlester Public Library, with the public welcome to attend.

The Sooner State League existed for 11 seasons, between 1947 and 1957, with more than 3,000 players taking the field, according to Pierce.

“McAlester had the best team in the league, in terms of attendance and in records,” Pierce said. “They won five of the first seven pennants.”

The McAlester Rockets were a farm team for the New York Yankees, Pierce noted. One of the team’s most well-known members was Whitey Herzog — who went on to become a World Series-winning manager.

Another Rocket, Ross Snyder, had a batting average of .432 in 1953 —the best average in all of the minor leagues that year, Pierce said.

While in McAlester, Pierce hopes to meet the two former bat boys for the Rockets.

Both of them have fond memories of the era.

“My daddy, Paul Crowl Sr., and Melio Schene, manager of the Public Service Company, owned the Rockets,” Paul Crowl Jr. said.

“It was really a lot of fun,” he said of his time as a bat boy.

He recalled how the team used to play at what was then known as Jeff Lee Stadium, which is now named Hook Eales Stadium.

“It was quite an experience,” he said.

Lew Crowl Jr. also had some warm memories of his time with the Rockets.

“I was about 12 when it started,” he said. “You don’t really think about it when you’re young. Now, you look back on it as something special.”

Lew Crowl recalled how once a rabbit ran onto the field, disrupting the game. None of the players could catch the speedy creature, so young Crowl picked up a baseball and with uncanny precision, hurled it, beaning the bunny on the noggin.

“It knocked it out and we were able to pick it up and place it outside the fence,” he said. A couple of minutes later, the rabbit woke up and bounced away, seeming unfazed by he experience.

A News-Capital writer, Hugh German, wrote about the incident. The Associated Press picked the story up and it went nationwide, Lew Crowl recalled.

Paul Crowl Jr. said his father always had his own theory about what led to the demise of the McAlester Rockets.

“He blamed it on TV and air conditioning.”

Pierce plans to bring some copies of his book with him for his library program. It includes more than 300 photos and sells for $38. He also plans to bring some replicas of the McAlester Rockets jerseys with him for display.

Pierce said speaking in McAlester will be a homecoming of sorts for him.

“My grandfather, Peter Pierce, had the Carbon Coal Company,” he said. “My father, Peter Pierce II, was born in McAlester.”

He’s hoping the two one-time bat boys make it to his library program.

“I’d like to meet them —especially the one who beaned the rabbit,” he said.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

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