ANDERSON – I’ve got a new website, ElectricCitySports.com, in Anderson County.
I’m not an expert on Anderson County … yet. My general manager is on his way. I’ll be there from time to time. I’ll fill in. I went there on Friday to win friends and influence people. Shooting the bull is something I do well, and lots of fun stories start with it.
As I stood in the end zone of Jim Fraser Field, talking to T.L. Hanna athletics director John Cann, AD-to-be Tommy Bell and intermittent others, I thought about my memories of Anderson County.
Caleb Gilbert, about as trusted an assistant as an almost-22-year-old can be, did the heavy lifting of the Yellow Jackets’ spring game.
I took a few photos, but only file shots. A night earlier, I had shot the Laurens spring game for my website emeritus, Laurens County Sports, which debuted over a whole year ago at almost precisely the time sports disappeared.
But I digress.
This Clinton native spent 20 years traveling the land with a band of gypsies known as NASCAR writers. Memories of Anderson County go a ways back.
For example, the first time I talked to Cann, he was playing football for the Presbyterian College Blue Hose, back in the days when they were committed to punting occasionally.
Hanna? Clinton was playing there in 1972. It was a fierce game, too fierce for me. I was a ninth grader. The Yellow Jackets and Red Devils played to a 7-7 tie (more evidence of age). Hanna fired off a cannon in the end zone to signify halftime. A Clinton defensive tackle named Wayne Clardy, weary and embattled, wasn’t paying attention to the time.
When the cannon fired, the son of the Rev. T.Y. Clardy yelled, “They shooting at us! Hit the deck, men!” and proceeded to do so. Somewhere people laugh at that tale today. It was funny when it happened seldom.
A couple years earlier, Palmetto prevented a fine Clinton team from making the playoffs. Obviously, I was also a couple years younger, but the family went to every Devil game. I remember being disappointed because, in black-and-white newspaper photos, it appeared that the Mustangs wore uniforms identical to the Baltimore (even more evidence of age) Colts. Turns out where the Colts wore blue, the Mustangs wore red. Then I really wanted the Devils to prevail and was too young to know my preference had nothing at all to do with it.
In the early 1980s, I was assigned to a high school playoff game at Pendleton, and one memory is that the stadium where I had been assigned the previous week, where Lugoff-Elgin played, was virtually identical to the one in Pendeton, both then relatively new. The Bulldogs’ head coach, Preston Cox, had also coached me in Little League baseball when an assistant in Clinton. It was the only time I ever wrote about a game involving someone who had tried to teach me how to catch. His efforts were for naught both times.
Crescent produced Dennis “Dinky” Williams, who played football at Furman the way a bulldozer moves earth. Dinky was a man who did not run for daylight when he burst into the opposition secondary. Dinky looked for someone to run over, which quite often he did. He also had quite a temper. Once on a bus to Appalachian State – I was the sports information director at the time – I beat Dinky mercilessly in cards. His face reddened a bit. Some of his teammates told me they were afraid for my life. They said only I could get away with it.
The late Jeffrey Windell Snipes, who never completely stopped being a Belton-Honea Path Bear, was one of my best friends. I wasn’t one of his best friends because it was a competition among everyone who knew him. Jeff was a great man. A larger-than-life man. When he was dying, he rode his motorcycle down to Clinton to watch me play my guitar and sing songs. We’d lost touch while I was on the impossible task of chasing cars that were racing. I spent lots of time with my old friend near the end, stopping off in Boiling Springs on the way home from a race track or staying the night on Lake Keowee. To my knowledge, he never stopped laughing, but he never let me see him when he wasn’t of that mood. If I ever sit on a front porch in the rain again, I’ll think of him. He was like Willie Mays. No one reminds me of him.
Back to my childhood days.
I saw Jim, then known mainly as Ed, Rice play Clinton for Anderson in American Legion baseball. In the decisive game for the Upstate title, Rice hit a home run, at long-gone Cavalier Ballpark, that landed deep into the cemetery behind Bailey Elementary School. It was a tape-measure blast, and I expect some of those who saw it estimate it at 500 feet or so nowadays. To say that Rice knocked it is impossible to describe without allowing as how some vulgarity came out.
About 15 years later, I traveled to Fenway Park – I am a Red Sox fan – for the first time and picked up some free-lance scratch to write features on Rice and a Clemson product, pitcher Mike Brown, for a nearby newspaper.
Rice was beloved by his teammates but surly with the press. It was the first time I ever had a genuine gut check while trying to profile someone. What broke the ice was when I mentioned that I saw him play Legion ball against Clinton.