Somewhat confused because of too many sports and not enough time in high school, Bubba almost fell into a life of crime as the ringleader of the notorious Coke Machine Caper.
This might have contributed to his being known in some circles as the Assassin in Pinstripes during his collegiate years at Southeastern.
Basketball was his first love and he played one year of football as a quarterback for the Durant Lions. That career faded when he discovered how cold it could be during the season.
Cary Ammons played basketball right-handed and was two or three gloves deep into his young baseball career before parents Carrol and Cleta Ammons discovered he did everything else left-handed.
“We noticed he would catch a ball, take his glove and tuck it in his armpit so he could throw with his left hand,” Carrol said.
Ammons played basketball right-handed throughout high school and was even somewhat awkward trying to dribble or shoot with his left hand.
Before his conversion to full-time baseball player, Ammons and Jay Mauck, a Calera High School basketball standout, would hook up in one-one-one battles until one called time out.
Time out was never called.
Mauck said, “It would be just the two of us in the gym and we went head to head. It was pretty serious, pretty intense. We never got into a fight, but it wasn’t like brothers playing, either. He would turn on his radio and we would get after it.
“Cary could have absolutely played college basketball. He would have been a very good point guard. As I recall, he won most of those battles. He had the size on me and knew how to use it. I know he made me better and I hope I made him better.”
Go figure: Ammons from Durant; Mauck from Calera. About five miles as he crow flies. Both were All-Staters, Ammons in baseball, Mauck in basketball.
Each has been inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame. Each has been named National Player of the Year.
Five miles apart. In Bryan County. Go figure.
The term “stylish southpaw” is often heard when one speaks of left-handed pitchers. Stylish is not strong enough to describe Ammons, who was truly a surgical-strike whiff artist during his three years with the Savages.
His fourth year was spent out of town after he was drafted by the Kansas City Royals.
Ammons’ fast ball wasn’t overpowering at about 84-87 miles per hour, but he struck out numerous batters when the high hard one followed his changeup which floated in at about 68 mph.
He certainly didn’t sneak up on anybody after his freshman season when he posted a 9-1 record with 10 starts and eight complete games. He led the Savages with 72.1 innings pitched, 72 strikeouts and was second with a 2.61 earned run average.
“He did alright in his three years at Southeastern,” Savage baseball coach Mike Metheny said in a mouthful of understatement.
“Everybody, especially in the conference, knew his reputation after his freshman year. They knew what he threw, but they couldn’t make the adjustments, just couldn’t hit him.
“He had the same delivery on his fast ball and change. The change was indescribable. It was just a killer pitch.”
There were probably some batters who at least tried to call in sick when they knew Ammons was pitching against them. His changeup did things to their minds.
Batters almost screwed themselves into the ground at home plate waiting on the ball to arrive. His change was once described as the “T-T” pitch.
That was the one he released on Tuesday and the batter whiffed on Thursday.
Baseball is a game of records, but none could be found on the statistic that tracked the increased sales of adult diapers when the Boy Wonder was on the mound. Ammons’ changeup caused great gnashing of teeth, biting of fingernails and wetting of pants.
The Boy Wonder moniker was because of the number of batmen he blew away game after game. The lithe lefty holds Southeastern career records with 39 wins, 333 strikeouts and 29 complete games.
Metheny said, “Cary was a once-in-a-lifetime player. He was a home-town favorite and an outstanding player, but there was little anticipation that he would reach the levels he reached.
“He was a difference-maker as a sophomore when he had a 16-1 record on the mound, losing in the semifinals of the World Series. He was actually unbelievable as a freshman and truly unbelievable as a sophomore. I don’t have the words to describe his junior season.
“I just can’t do justice trying to describe him.”
Ammons was one of four freshmen (Tim Birdsong, Casey Clayborn and Justin Mullins) on the 1996 team and they set the stage for one of the best periods of Southeastern baseball. They also carried Southeastern through the transition from NAIA into the NCAA. Metheny said, “In 1996, OIC tournament; in 1998, NAIA regional runner-up; in 1999, Lone Star Conference champion, NCAA regional runner-up; and in 2000, NCAA D-II National Champion. That’s a pretty good stretch of baseball.”
Ammons twice earned first-team NAIA All-America honors, struck out 21 in a Durant American Legion game – and lost.
“That was in the Fourth of July Tournament,” Ammons said. “We lost to Frederick on my error. I had a no-hitter when I was 15 and it was on the day my dad had his kidney transplant. Those are some of the things easily remembered.”
As a Savage freshman in 1996, Ammons was so awed by the competition that he lost a game. He was 9-1 on a team that went 35-17. As an outfielder, he hit .347, third highest on the club.
His sophomore season was also decent. He earned the Dick Howser award as the NAIA National Player of the Year, along with a bunch of other stuff.
Ammons posted a 16-1 record in 1997 and struck out 134 while hitting .362 with six home runs. He was named Southeastern’s Most Outstanding Male Athlete.
His freshman and sophomore years were warmups for a 14-0 junior season. He struck out 127 and hit .340 with nine doubles, three triples and three home runs.
Ammons’ first win was in relief at Oklahoma Baptist.
His first loss was 3-2 at Northeastern in the conference tournament in 1996. He walked three and struck out 10. That loss ended the season because only the OIC champion advanced to the District 9 tourney.
The only other loss of his stellar (39-2) Savage career was to Brewton-Parker (Georgia) in the semifinals of the College World Series in 1997.
Brewton-Parker was loaded with players who looked like the “after” photos in the Mr. America contest. They just looked too good to be true.
They were indeed too good to be true. B-P had to forfeit the national championship because of ineligible players.
That loss should have been removed from Ammons’ record. He should officially be 39-1 in his 3-year career at Southeastern.
Metheny said, “Cary had a completely unbelievable career. Baseball is a numbers game and his numbers were unreal. That kind of run has never happened, at least for Southeastern, and it probably won’t happen again.
“His pitching was even more impressive because it was during the ‘hot bat’ era. Those bats simply turned into weapons, but Cary was able to ‘miss’ a lot of them.”
Ammons dodges credit like his changeup dodged bats.
“My change made me successful,” Ammons said. “I had enough confidence to throw it on any count. We had a great three years of baseball at Southeastern. When I look back, it went really fast. We got on a roll and it never stopped. I’ve been truly blessed in my career. I know that and I’m really appreciative for everyone who has helped me.
“It’s been this way my whole life. I had great parents, family, friends, teammates, coaches, teachers and administrators. I couldn’t have done any of those things on my own.
“I wouldn’t change one thing. I have a great wife (Karla) and kids (Cady is six, Cy three.) I was recruited to Southeastern by a Hall of Fame coach. Pro ball was great, but I decided I should get on with my life.
“I can’t tell you how honored and humbled I am to be inducted into the Southeastern Athletics Hall of Fame.”
Changing sports, he killed a 400-pound black bear a year ago. The bear was on the back porch of their cabin, looking in the door where Cy seemed to be a dandy appetizer.
“Cy said, ‘Daddy, look here.’ I told Cy to stay still, grabbed my gun and took care of the threat.”
Too bad he didn’t have a baseball handy. He could have saved a bullet.
Ammons is now superintendent of schools in Antlers.
He was an artist with the ball in his hand. He was Southeastern’s Monet of the Mound. His artwork can be found throughout the SE baseball record book.
Ammons will be inducted into the Southeastern Oklahoma State University Athletics Hall of Fame at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, August 25.
A reception for the four inductees will begin at 4:30 in the Visual and Performing Arts Center. Cary will join Natalie Brown-Cooksey (basketball), Charles Gulley (football and track) and Kent Samuel (golf).
For tickets or information, phone the SE athletics office at 580-745-2250.