In the summers from 1947 to 1952,” the Boys of Summer” were the celebrities of our town. Athletic young men from various places came to be on the new baseball team, appropriately labeled Swainsboro Rebels. The instigator and motivator of the start- up of a baseball team in Swainsboro was stockyard owner and businessman, Mr. P.D. Leonard. The fledgling semi-professional Ogeechee League was formed with teams in Metter, Millen, Wrightsville, Statesboro, Sylvania, Waynesboro, Glenville and Swainsboro. Mr. Leonard was a lover of the game, but he also knew the team would be an asset for the town. The start-up finances came from fan donations. The field was built on the Kite Road and complete with fenced field, bleachers, dugouts, concessions stand and uniforms. The only thing missing were lights which the opening fund could not cover. Other teams had lights and could have night games. For the first season, all Rebel games were in the afternoon. Until the second season, the business day ended at 3:00 for Rebel fans. Lights were added for season two.
My love of baseball started by listening to the radio broadcasts of Atlanta Crackers. Seeing an actual game in person was a thrill. My father and I seldom missed a home game.
The players came from college teams, textile leagues, talented high school players and some “want-a-be” former players who still loved to play the game.
In the first season, the Rebels had a strong, winning team with a homerun hitter from Midville named Jake Rhodes and a strong, right-handed high school pitcher from Thomaston named Hugh Frank Radcliffe. While still in Thomaston High School he was noted for striking out 28 hitters in a 9-inning game. The catcher was so enthralled watching this amazing young pitcher that he dropped the ball on third strike and hitter advanced to first base. Radcliffe was signed the next year by the Philadelphia Phillies for an unbelievably large bonus. His career ended in the minors, and he became one of those “What ever happened to” former stars, but he gave us an exciting season.
We, especially the girls, looked forward to the new players who arrived each year. The young, unmarried players enjoyed being in Swainsboro. They “hung out” at the pool and went to the afternoon movie, both good places to meet a Swainsboro Belle. Many romances blossomed, but always ended with the season. I could, but I won’t give names. The Rebels continued for five years. In that last year, almost the entire team was from the Florida Gators. It was very easy to have a crush on one of these cute Florida boys. I was sixteen, and that was my year to sit with at the afternoon movie or be walked home from the pool by the centerfielder.
This was exciting but brief. In mid-season, the Ogeechee League disbanded because most of the teams were bankrupt, 1 and the boys of summer returned to Florida.
I continue to enjoy baseball and always a Braves fan. When Al and I moved to Greenville, we were happy that our new hometown had a Southern League farm team of the Atlanta Braves. During this time, we were very impressed with a rookie third baseman by the name of Chipper Jones. Perhaps that name is familiar. Greenville is now a farm team of Boston Red Sox and named The Drive. Not for me. I stay comfortably at home and watch the real Braves. Write to Shirley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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