Stanley Beesley has enjoyed a lifelong love affair with three things—reading, writing and road trips.
And then, there’s baseball.
Baseball has been a part of Beesley’s life since before he can remember. The College of Liberal Studies (now College of Professional and Continuing Studies) graduate recalls being only hours old when his brother John, 13 at the time, took a clipboard out of the hands of a maternity nurse in Yale, OK, and promptly named the infant after his two favorite baseball players—Stan Musial and Warren Spahn.
Reading came along soon after.
“We seldom had a TV in our house when I was young,” he said. “I would look around, and my mother had her nose in a book, my dad was reading a western, my brother was reading, my sister was reading. So, what was I to do but join them?”
He remembers To Kill a Mockingbird being the first book to really inspire him.
When he wasn’t reading, he was in the car.
“All my young life, it seemed, I was forever hitting the road in an unreliable automobile to either go play baseball or watch the sport,” Beesley said.
Beesley said many road trips impacted his life, but the one that stands out most is the time his family piled into their 1949 Dodge to go to his first peewee league game at Shawnee Memorial Stadium.
“I was 10 years of age and played shortstop,” he said. “I swung at the first pitch, and on my first at-bat, in my first ballgame, I hit a three-run homer. Before the night was over, I batted three more times and hit three more home runs and 10 total RBI's. I received a standing ovation and didn’t know what it was until my big brother explained it to me and pushed me out of the dugout with instructions to wave my cap around. I was hooked on baseball.
“By allowing and encouraging me to create a work of fiction as a thesis, the College kick-started my storytelling career. I gained the confidence to throw myself full-time into writing fiction.”
“We had two, not one, flat tires on the way home, and the hero of the night had to swing the flashlight so cars wouldn’t run over my dad and big brother as they fixed flats on the side of the road,” he added. “All in all, it was a pretty eventful evening.”
Last year, Beesley’s love of baseball and road trips converged when his latest book, The Last Man to Hit .400: A Love Story, was published.
The book, which features a young journalist who quits high school to cover the story of a lifetime—and reconnect with a lost family member—has been nominated for Oklahoma Book of the Year in Fiction and made The Oklahoman’s best-seller list.
Beesley said his first thoughts of being a writer were born while he was serving as a combat soldier with the 75th Rangers in Vietnam and Cambodia.
“I should write this stuff down. People do that and get paid for it,” he remembered thinking. “Up until that time, I had not seriously considered precisely what I wanted to be when I grew up. That was the first time I actually admitted to myself that I would at least give writing a chance.”
While highlighting his first book,Vietnam: The Heartland Remembers, at a university forum in the early 1990s, Beesley met OU professor Dr. David Levy. At that time Beesley was a public school teacher and coach, finding time to write only in the wee hours of the morning.
Levy asked him if he was aware of CLS, then suggested he look into the program. It didn’t take long for Beesley to realize the next few years would be some of the greatest and most challenging of his life and career.
“I was immediately intrigued by the possibilities of seeking a post-graduate degree,” Beesley said. “I never met a book I didn’t like. When they told me I could read a slew of wonderful books and then intelligently talk and write about them and the way they educated, enlightened and enchanted me and others, well, I was thunderstruck.”
During his studies, Beesley was surprised by the level of instruction provided by his professors. He said his thesis committee—R.C. Davis, David Gross and Levy—was a “dream team.”
“Dr. Levy is possibly the finest teacher I have ever had at any level of my total education,” he said. “I learned so much more than I could have imagined.”
While earning a master’s degree resulted in an instant bump in his teaching salary, Beesley said it’s contributed much more than that to both his career and personal life, especially his writing.
“Up to that point in my career, I had focused primarily on nonfiction,” he said. “By allowing and encouraging me to create a work of fiction as a thesis, the College kick-started my storytelling career. I gained the confidence to throw myself full-time into writing fiction.”
Beesley’s thesis, a short story about a fictional, modern prairie town, was born out of a twangy Robert Earl Keen/Lyle Lovett song.
“’This Old Porch’ had been kicking around in my head, so when CLS consented to let me create a work of fiction as a thesis, I wrote a short story about the characters portrayed in it and how I imagined them,” he said. “I changed their old man to an old woman and named the story Sweetwater, Oklahoma.”
After finishing his master’s degree in summer 1993, the next year Beesley was awarded the Outstanding Thesis Award. Shortly after that, Sweetwater, Oklahoma was published in book form.
Beesley, now retired from teaching and working as a full-time writer, considers obtaining a master’s degree one of the highlights of both his career and personal life. He says the degree bolstered his confidence and enabled him to be a more effective teacher and writer.
He said he wouldn’t change a thing about how things played out.
“I’d like to think I would have availed myself of the CLS program much earlier, but to be perfectly honest, I came to the College at the exact right time in my life and career,” he said. “I wouldn’t change any one facet of the entire experience.”
Note: The College of Liberal Studies (CLS) was renamed the College of Professional and Continuing Studies (PACS) in 2017.