Fifty years ago, Jim Selph pitched for Polk State’s first baseball team.
On Saturday, as the College continues its 50th anniversary celebration, he returned to the mound to throw the ceremonial first pitch prior to the Eagles’ game against Daytona State in Winter Haven.
As the crowd cheered, Selph delivered a pitch that missed the strike zone but was generously called a strike by the announcer.
Throwing the first pitch — no matter where it landed — stirred many fond memories for Selph.
“When I started, it was Polk Junior College. We were the Vikings, and green and orange were the colors. The regional campus was at the old Bartow air base. “
In the College’s first year, it had no baseball field to call its own.
“We started practicing out in a field among some pine trees,” he said. “I assume it had been a pasture at one point. We then did some practicing on actual diamonds and ball fields in Bartow and Mulberry.”
While this year’s baseball team will play 50 games, that first team had a short season.
“I can’t remember how many games we played,” Selph said. “Probably 15 or 16. We played several games at the Bartow community field and one or two in Mulberry.”
Selph credits his time at Polk for preparing him for his success in academics and business.
“You learn so many things playing athletics — preparing yourself, working hard, and being determined but also being confident,” he said.
“For example, I was a pitcher and I didn’t start any games at the beginning of season. One day we were playing Indian River, and our starting pitcher was struggling. The coach asked me, ‘Selph, do you think you can get us through this inning?’ I said, ‘Coach, I can get us through the rest of the game!’ And I did, and from that point on I started most of the rest of the games.”
After graduating from Polk, Selph played semipro baseball for a couple of years before continuing his studies at the University of Florida.
“After I graduated from UF, Uncle Sam sent me to Vietnam. I still dreamed about playing more ball, but did not do it after that,” he said.
Selph went on to serve for 30 years as an extension agent in DeSoto County for Florida Citrus Mutual.
He was a founder of the Florida Junior Cattleman’s Association and is past president of the Florida Association of County Agricultural Agents, 1997-1998. From 2000-2001, he was one of five directors of the National Association of County Agricultural Agents.
He also taught high school in Lake Placid and Bartow, and currently serves on the DeSoto County Commission.
“Jim reached out to me through an email, and we’ve been talking for the past couple of months,” said Head Coach Al Corbeil. “To have an alumni from the first-ever baseball team 50 years ago come out and spend the entire day with our guys was special.
“I’m honored to be the head coach here. A number of players and coaches, including Athletic Director Bing Tyus, have paved the way to make this a better place for me and our players. It was great to hear how much Polk State meant to Jim 50 years ago, and hopefully our players will say the same thing 50 years from now.”
As he got ready to deliver the first pitch, Selph looked around the diamond and said, “This is such a beautiful field. We have a great coach here, and a group of kids that are fantastic to be around. Fifty years ago, I never thought this would happen. This day means a lot to me.”
Polk State College, an open-access institution, was established in 1964 and serves more than 20,000 students annually. Its offerings include the Associate in Arts, which is parallel and fully transferrable to the State University System, and the Associate in Science, which is designed to lead directly to the workforce. The College also offers the Bachelor of Applied Science in Supervision and Management, Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice, and Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Sciences, and a variety of continuing education and certificate programs. For more information, visit polk.edu.