South Georgia College Tigers 73-77 Baseball Reunion

 

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May 6, 2017

 

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.”

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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.

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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.  

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Ted Miller – photo by Carole Wilson

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.”

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Photo by Carole Wilson

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.

Death

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There never seems to be a right time to cry, and then emotion builds up, and suddenly something inappropriate will cause it to overflow, and there I am with tears uncontrollably welling up at the wrong time and in the wrong place. – from The Irrational Season by Madeleine L’Engle

I am no expert on death. Yet, I have experienced it, as we all have or will. I know those stages of grief are real, yet vary from person to person. L’Engle’s words resonate with me.

When my dad died, I was sad, but assured in the knowledge that he knew the Lord. I was with my mother at his side when he died. Because of financial circumstances in my family, I went to work the following month, while still homeschooling our kids. Our life went full throttle, but about nine months later the sadness hit me. Hard. I struggled with depression, though I’m not sure I put a name on it back then.

About twelve years later, I lost a very dear friend. Debbie and I taught fourth grade together for three years, and remained friends even after I moved away from Winter Haven FL back to my hometown of Jacksonville. When she got cancer, I returned to visit her. Later, I flew to North Carolina to see her, where her parents were taking care of her. I returned there for her funeral. I would sometimes listen to her messages saved on my phone – she would leave me long, drawn out ones that my husband and I would laugh about. I fell apart the day they got erased by the guy at the Verizon store who reset my phone.

Last year, when my best friend, Cathy, died. I grieved, but kept pushing ahead. I knew she, too, was a believer. She was finished with the physical battle she’d fought long and hard against cancer. I made it my mission to keep in touch with her son. I cried. But, one night, about six months later, I lost it. I threw things in the kitchen and sobbed until I was spent.

Providentially, I have a husband who understands. He senses my moods (most of the time), he offers comfort, and he sometimes just lets me be. And he knows, when I throw things, I’m not throwing them at him.

Wonder #2

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“Some people pass through your life and you never think about them again. Some you think about and wonder what ever happened to them. Some you wonder if they ever wonder what happened to you. And then there are some you wish you never had to think about again. But you do.” – The Wonder Years

There are many people who I think about and I wonder what happened to them. Like Christy who lived across the street. We played together when we were little and I was fascinated that her family ate real turtle soup. In high school she sometimes rode to school with me on days I was able to drive my mom’s car. And then there was her brother, who shot my brother just above the eye with a BB gun.

I wonder about Stephanie who got married and had a baby the year before she was in my wedding. I haven’t seen her since and that makes me sad. And Susan who left school before she graduated. We were so close our sophmore/junior years, and then we drifted apart.

And those I wish I never had to think about again? My second grade teacher, Mrs. Nash, who hit us with rolled up Weekly Readers. I don’t remember her ever smiling. My fourth grade teacher who humiliated me over a boy. Those two coworkers that liked to steal away my customers at Dillards.

Are there some who I wonder if they wonder about me? Sure. Maybe one day our paths will cross again.

FUN FACT:  I own the  5-disc compilation box set under the title Music from ‘The Wonder Years in 1994 thanks to my daughter, Kat.

A Nebula

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“So I guess you could say Neel owes me a few favors, except that so many favors have passed between us now that they are no longer distinguishable as individual acts, just a bright haze of loyalty. Our friendship is a nebula.” – Clay from Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

I’ve written several times about my friend Cathy. Once again I am reminded of our friendship. It was much like this – a bright haze of loyalty. A nebula; a mist that has dissipated into memory.

We took turns picking up the check when we went out to eat. I did the driving because of her illness, and she often surprised me with little gifts. And big ones – like concert tickets to see Loretta Lynn, Boz Scaggs, The Temptations & The Four Tops. I learned so much from her, especially from the way she treated people. She was kind and compassionate, especially to the underdog.

Whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. – James 4:14

From the lost files of Thoughts on the Words of C.S. Lewis- Friendship

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C.S. Lewis was a novelist, poet, academic, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian, and Christian apologist. He is probably best known as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, but he wrote numerous other works. This quote is from The Problem With Pain; it’s long and it’s ALL ONE SENTENCE, but it’s good. You may have to read it twice.

“Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling (but faint and uncertain even in the least) of that something which you were born desiring and which, beneath the flux of other desires and in all the momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for, listening for?”

Whew! If you are like me you will have to read that more than once, but I love it and hope it will strike a chord in you, too. My wish for you today is that you have, or find, that friend who has an inkling of your heart’s desire; one who perhaps can share it with you, whether it’s writing, bird watching, teaching, gardening, or whatever it is that has been in you for long time.

Cathy – Part Two

The prompt for Day 25 of PAD was “exercise”.  In a round about way I turned to thoughts of Cathy, my best friend who died on March 8th. This poem can’t begin to convey our friendship, but it was helpful for me to write it. Before the poem, though, I’d like to share a word that’s new to me but fits right in here –

Propinquity– the state of being close to someone; close kinship

My friend Cathy and I experienced propinquity.

 


Cathy

All those excursions we took before I left
come back to me now in photographs
we walked the downtown streets
to bookstores and cafes
laughing at inside jokes from our youth
You were so witty
We scoured antique stores for handkerchiefs
and old jewelry and hidden treasures
and since you could no longer exercise, you traded
me your Zumba CDs for my glass chickens
And now I’m miles away and you are gone,
but I still look for handkerchiefs
that I know you would have liked

Cathy – Part One

Those friends from middle school are unique. They are the ones you grow up with and make memories with that last forever. I’ve drifted away from most of those, but about six years ago I reunited with Cathy and we became closer than ever. It’s like we fell right back into that kinship that all the years had not erased. We began to hang out now a few times a month – it might have been a concert, listening to an author speak, going to a class, poking through a bookstore, or whatever we could find to do. A few years ago we even went to several funerals together. In March I had to go to one alone. Hers.

I don’t even know where to begin to think about Cathy. She was the kind of person who made you feel she was truly interested in you and your well-being.

A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. – Proverbs 18:24

Cathy truly stuck close to me, like the sister I never had. I could talk to her about anything. I don’t think I’ll ever have another friend like her. I thank God for the time he gave us.

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. – Psalm 116:15

In Eudora Welty’s Delta Wedding, Aunt Ellen was described as “…seeming exactly strong enough for what was needed for her life.”

This is so much like Cathy. She had a quiet strength that took her to the end with hope and grace. For the two years we corresponded via snail mail and texts, she never grumbled. Rarely would she  mention a hardship, but when she did it was more like she was just telling me about it, not complaining. She would talk about the future, the adventures we would have. When I went to home to Jacksonville  and took her out, she never let on how long it took her to get ready; how she had to wait for some of the drugs to get out of her system before she could function.

We would go out to eat and she would eat like a bird, then have the rest packed up to take home. But, we would sit at the restaurant for several hours just talking.

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“Books were there… when I found a friend who loved books as much as I did and we could read together or spend an afternoon running our fingers over the spines.” -Mandy Shunnarah, from I Don’t Do It For You: A Reader’s Manifesto via her blog, Off The Beaten Shelf

This was us – we could spend hours rambling around bookstores like Chamblin’s Uptown in downtown Jacksonville. I will always miss my book buddy.