For one group of guys from a small school in south Georgia, it was baseball that knit them together and drew them back, over forty years later, to relive the glory days. During a weekend in early May, members of the South Georgia College Tigers, 1973-1977, met in Douglas, Georgia to reunite and reminisce about their college days, and to catch up on the years since they’d last seen each other.
John Brown, who now resides in Florida, started a facebook page for the reunion and organised the details. Members traveled from Florida, Alabama, Louisiana and various parts of Georgia, many bringing their wives along. Among the group were several that had been drafted and spent some time in the minors, some that still coach, and one, Joel Crisler, who still pitches in a 35 and over men’s league.
During Friday night’s Meet & Greet, the words “remember when…?” resounded throughout the room. Like kids in a candy store with hits and runs and stats, the players gathered around the table in the middle of the room which was covered with newspaper clippings, score books, yearbooks, and other memorabilia. These pieces of the past sparked memories and stories and the phrase “the facts don’t lie”, all in good humor. Afterwards the men, with nicknames like Tater, Woody and Grits, stayed up late into the night in the hotel lobby, telling not only baseball stories but tales of college antics from years past. The stories went from dorm pranks and streaking to memories of their beloved coach, Clyde Miller.
Tim Spivey, who met his wife Mary Beth in Douglas, still had a copy of Coach Miller’s rules, which were a sign of the times and got a quite few chuckles, especially the rule that said “no mustaches, goatees, mutton chops, afros, plaited or braided hair. Keep your hair short enough that your helmet does not fall off when running.”
Randy Felix, recalls the first day he arrived on campus. “Coach said, ‘I made you an appointment for a haircut,’ and I went right over and got it cut.”
Beginning with “do not sulk”, and including “correspond frequently with your parents,” which would mean actually calling (probably collect), or writing a letter, the rules covered nearly every aspect of a player’s life. Miller even told his players, “There are several churches in the Douglas area that would welcome your attendance.”
The coaches kept up with their players to the point of dropping by a dorm room on occasion. Bunky Ennis recalls, “Coach Miller and Coach Childers did visit the dorm room one day. They left real quick, mumbling something about a pig sty and the smell was awful.”
Twelve years ago South Georgia College joined with Waycross College to become South Georgia State College and their new mascot is the Hawks. On Saturday, the Tigers, wearing jerseys brought out of campus storage, and the Hawks joined together for the first pitch as the old timers tossed out balls to the current team. Jokes abounded as the No Tobacco signs clashed with Red Man and the players with flowing locks took the field.
Emotions ran high this weekend. The good-natured arguing was balanced with bona fide compliments such as, “Charlie’s one of my favorite people in the whole world!”, spoken by Bubba Dubose as he awaited the appearance of Charlie Baker of Jacksonville, FL. Charlie arrived with Rusty White, not a ballplayer but an honorary member of the group, also from Jacksonville.
Saturday night’s dinner held a wonderful surprise. Ted Miller, Coach Miller’s oldest son, drove over from Augusta, GA for the evening. Ted had been about ten years old the last time most of the guys had seen him. He teared up as he spoke, as did many others after him. “I grew up with 25 older brothers every year,” Miller said. Now a teacher as well as an umpire/referee, he talked about all he’d absorbed from the players as a child and all the lessons he put to use as a player himself.
Clyde Miller died in 2005, but his legacy lives on. Speaking about the impact of Coach Miller on his life, John Brown said, “He taught us about managing our lives. This was my family here.” Brown recalled how he looked forward to returning to campus after every school break. These sentiments were echoed throughout the night by others, reminiscent of the lyrics from In My Life by the Beatles:
“There are places I’ll remember all my life, though some have changed… Though I know I’ll never lose affection for people and things that went before, I know I’ll often stop and think about them…”
Marshall Justice summed the weekend up when he said, ” It seems like the only times old friends get together are at weddings and funerals, but then there are special times like the SGC baseball reunion.”
This is one group of baseball players, from one little school in south Georgia, But, there are schools all across the country where baseball draws boys together and grows a group of men. Baseball is a game of skill and precision. It’s an American sport that endures. Another of Coach Miller’s rules was “Choose your associates wisely. A person is only as good as the people he chooses to be around.” This group of players chose to be around each other again and it was as if the years melted away.