Friendship ties Yost to Port Gibson

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 19, 2004

Port Gibson resident Joc Carpenter sits in the spot where a picture of he and his friends was taken after duck hunting along the Big Black River. The friends in the picture are, from left, Rollin Turnage, former Atlanta Braves shortstop Jeff Blauser, and current Milwaukee Brewers manager Ned Yost. (Meredith SpencerThe Vicksburg Post)

[7/19/04]PORT GIBSON Few things endure the test of time like a close friendship.

More than 25 years ago, Ned Yost arrived in Mississippi as a catcher for Jackson’s minor league baseball team.

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There he met his future wife, Deborah, before beginning a career in the major leagues as both a player and coach. And the Yost family, which now includes Ned Jr., Josh, Jenny and Andrew, remains a tightly knit unit.

But Yost, who is now the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, also met a friend in Port Gibson to whom he still has close ties today.

While playing for the Jackson Mets in the late 1970s, Yost did not know anyone in town and had no friends outside of his teammates. As soon as the season ended, Deborah had a plan to keep Ned from returning to his native California.

“She loved her family, loved being there,” Ned Yost said. “She figured she had to find a way to keep me there all winter long, so she introduced me to a real good friend of hers a kid by the name of Archie England, who loved to deer hunt.

“Of course, that did the trick.”

England brought Yost to the Whitehall hunting camp now known as Twin Lakes in Port Gibson. And Yost returned every year, no matter where he was in his career.

Once Yost had arrived in the major leagues with the Milwaukee Brewers, he came across Joc Carpenter at the camp. The two hit it off immediately as friends and have remained so since.

Yost still comes down every year often with his three sons to spend a week or more hunting both duck and deer and hanging out with Carpenter.

“Joc has become one of my best friends, and we’re still in that deer camp,” said Yost, who still has the camp record for highest-scoring buck at 158 points. “We come down every year, and most of the time it’s to come see Joc and come hunt with Joc. We really enjoy that. Me and my boys have done that for, golly, I don’t know how many years.”

After Yost’s playing career ended, Carpenter said Yost struggled to find work. But opportunity soon came knocking by way of the Atlanta Braves organization.

The Braves wanted Yost to coach one of their Class A minor league affiliates and he gladly accepted. Yost quickly moved up the ranks to become the bullpen coach under Bobby Cox in Atlanta. Cox then promoted him to third-base coach.

All the while, he was returning to Port Gibson for some relief from stress.

“He’s been hunting with us for 20 years or so. None of us are too serious,” said Carpenter, a farmer who lives in Port Gibson. “He enjoys that I think, because he’s ready for a break. When he’s in Atlanta or Milwaukee, it’s constant. He has to go to fan functions or autograph sessions or play in golf tournaments or be interviewed.”

Through his connections with the Braves, Yost has made many prominent friends. Jeff Foxworthy and Hank Williams Jr. are two that have approached him about making trips to Port Gibson together.

Yost and the late Dale Earnhardt, who used to hunt near Hazlehurst, also had been talking of joining Carpenter at Twin Lakes.

“It’s hard getting everybody’s schedule together on stuff like that,” Yost said.

He did manage to convince former Atlanta second baseman Jeff Blauser to come down for a trip, which turned into more of an adventure. With no major league team nearby and baseball every day on TBS, Mississippi’s top team is the Braves something Carpenter, Yost and Blauser found out first-hand.

The trio went into a local restaurant at 9 p.m. on a Saturday during deer season in their hunting camouflage, hoping to avoid any fans of Blauser’s.

As soon as Blauser walked in, everyone recognized him. About 30 autographs later, they finally got to sit down and eat.

“We were duck-hunting the next morning, and I said, Jeff, you’re making $4 million a year. It’s got to be a great life.'” Carpenter said. “He said, They’re really kind of like golden handcuffs.’ For nine months you’re working seven days a week, and you’re out of town half the time. The other three months of the year, you can’t go out in public. You can imagine if it was like that in Port Gibson, Mississippi, how it was around Atlanta.”

The friendship works both ways as Carpenter has had the opportunity to sit and chat with Cox and the Braves players before games in Atlanta. He’s also met Hank Aaron, Tommy Lasorda and the late Harry Caray.

Then the chance arose for Yost to coach the team he used to play for, the Milwaukee Brewers. He took over the struggling franchise in 2003, and this year he has led them to a winning record at the All-Star break for the first time since 1998.

Carpenter hasn’t made the 950-mile trek up to Milwaukee to visit Yost yet, but he’s traveling to Houston on Friday for the Astros-Brewers series.

“I probably won’t see Ned but for 30 minutes after the game,” Carpenter said. “We’ll go back and I’ll meet him at his hotel in the lobby an hour and a half after the game and get to visit him for a half-hour. That’ll be all I see him because he’s just so busy. I wouldn’t bother him anyway.”

Carpenter said the draw for Yost and his sons to come to Port Gibson each year is the seclusion from the hustle and bustle of the sports world.

“Most of the time we have good hunting and don’t have a lot of people, where it can be private,” Carpenter said. “They can come here and don’t have to leave the house for three, four, five days.”

Yost hasn’t had a chance to think about planning his next trip, but odds are he’ll be down again sometime around Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“For me, it’s gotten to a point where I can go deer hunting wherever I want,” Yost said. “It’s the people that I hunt with that determines if I go or not. That’s why I love coming to Port Gibson so much. I look forward to it for the majority of the year because of the people down at our deer camp at Twin Lakes.”