There is a rich, far-reaching and colorful history behind the iconic Paducah Tilghman baseball jersey. For over 100 years, the Blue Tornado, or “Blue Men” as they were called in a 1980’s yearbook, has been a pipe dream in local baseball lore. With graduates ranging from former major league baseball players to current coaches, Tilghman’s pride shown on and off the diamond doesn’t waver.
“The biggest thing for me is to make sure our kids know they’re Paducah Tilghman,” head coach Tremayne Donald said in a previous interview with The Sun. “We are the school, we are. And that’s not disrespectful to McCracken County, but they’re a new school and we’ve been at it for 100 years.”
Donald, a former member of the Paducah Tilghman baseball program and current head coach, wants his current and future members of the program to know the legacy behind the Blue and Whites. On May 11, the program will witness one such legacy as former members, coaches and staff will be honored on the baseball team’s 105th anniversary against crosstown rival and known enemy McCracken County.
Former members of the program, presented at historic Brooks Stadium, include head coach Bob Troutman and a member of the 1970 runners-up team, author Dr. Mikel Smith. He wrote Somerset Ball, the story of a young man growing up in the area in the 1960s.
Former members of the Tornado program standing by baseball reference: Tremayne Donald (1989-1992 St. Louis Cardinals organization), Steve Finley (1987-2007 Arizona Diamondbacks, Houston Astros and San Diego Padres), Terry Shumpert ( Kansas City Royals, Colorado Rockies and Tampa Bay Devil Rays from 1987-2004), David Gourieux (Atlanta Braves organization from 1969-1973) and Bobby Noles (Minnesota Twins/Senators organization from 1952-1953).
According to KHSAA, the Blue Tornado first appeared in the 1958 state tournament quarterfinals when Paducah Tilghman lost 3–0 to Harlan. From that moment, the school returned to the state for the next season, falling 7-0 to Manual. However, Paducah Tilghman’s team brought the state championship to Paducah in 1960 after beating Owensboro 7–3.
The 1960 Ball Club would be the last team from the First Region to bring home a title. Former high school Lone Oak competed in the 1963 state championship game but came home runners-up after losing 3-0.
Several appearances at the state tournament finally paid off for the Paducah Tilghman program in 1970 when they made it to the finals against Elizabethtown. But alas, Elizabethtown surpassed the Blue Tornado 6-2.
Another appearance in the final game came in 1974. Though other teams from the First Region performed, the Blue Tornado yearned to return to the highest pitched field in Kentucky High School baseball to reclaim a title they owned in 1960.
For years, the Paducah Tilghman program struggled to achieve a winning record in the 1990s and 2000s. In 2009, the Blue Tornado finished with a winning record, going 16-11 and taking the runners-up title in the second district when Lone Oak won 11-1. During regional play, Tilghman fell to Marshall County, who played in the quarterfinals of the state tournament. Things started to pick up for Paducah Tilghman in 2013 as talent grew and Chris Johnson’s leadership began. However, the team finished 27–7 and fell into Lone Oak’s final program in the First Region Championship on May 29, 2013. Despite often heartbreaking seasons, the Tilghman pride shown at every game never stopped. The program continued to bleed with a watchdog mentality and a long history supporting it.
Johnson and the Tornado battled together until 2020, when Donald took the helm for Paducah Tilghman. However, Donald, who for years dreamed of coaching his former team, had to wait due to a global pandemic that also resulted in current College Baseball World Series Champion Jackson Fristoe losing his senior season as the Blue Tornado.
Under Donald, the team went unbeaten in their first 15 games in 2021, including a title during the 2021 Kentucky 2A tournament. The first loss came on April 27 to McCracken County at Brooks Stadium. The epic team, which includes names like former member Justin West, now sophomores John Kiebler, Zion LaGrone, Leyton Patterson and senior Gage Griggs, lost just four games last season. Two losses were to McCracken, one to Calloway County and the final during the 2nd County tournament to St. Mary.
The team, which has been on the field almost every night this season, will have the opportunity on Wednesday night to see former alumni and learn what it means to wear the school’s name on their chests.
The current members of the program are 21-4 and ranked #35 per MaxPreps in the state of Kentucky, #5 in the KHSAA RPI, and #4 in this week’s Prep Baseball Report Kentucky rankings.
In April, the ’22 Blue Tornado also clinched another title during the Kentucky 2A Championship.
Although Paducah Tilghman still has three home games left, the team hosts McCracken County on the same night as the anniversary. The two have been rivals since the inception of the Mustang baseball program. The Blue Tornado looks to earn their first win against McCracken County since 2014 Wednesday night with former players, coaches, family members and staff at Brooks Stadium.
For more information on participating as an alumnus, former employee or coach, please contact Kevin Kiebler at (270) 331-5535 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow Chelsea Ladd on Twitter for all things high school sports, @chelseabrooke.