As I write this column I am saddened by the passing of my dear good friend Ralph Heaton. It is always difficult to lose a close friend and Ralph was a good pal to many of us.
I met Ralph about 40-45 years ago at Silvertown Ball Park. Our common denominator was softball and we were teammates on the B.F. Goodrich “Big Red” softball team. Ralph was the coach of the team and he and I became quick buddies, playing games about three “hot” nights a week under the dim lights at Silvertown.
The main thing that I remember about Ralph on the softball field was that he was a fierce competitor. He wanted to win at all costs. I don’t mean that he would cheat to win but he would play very hard and take every advantage to gain victory. He took losing to local teams like he would take a slap in the face. He hated it!
Ralph would challenge umpires’ calls, argue with our opponents, and always support his players. We spent numerous hours at Silvertown talking about softball and listening to Ralph’s tales about his baseball career. He was a tough competitor and a teammate that we could depend on and look to for advice and support.
During this time Dionne Warwick had a hit song named “What’s It All About. Alfie?”. I quickly used this title to create a greeting which I used every time I saw Ralph. I would always say, “What’s It All About Ralphie?” He would just smile and grunt out some reply.
From his early years Ralph played baseball. He started with the Thomaston American Legion team and his career ended with the Silvertown textile league squad. In between he played some professional baseball as he played for Vidalia in the Georgia State League in 1952-53. He was a pitcher in his minor league days and had a 16-5 record in 1952. He loved to talk about his baseball experiences and some of his stories were very funny.
He returned home after 1953 to play for Silvertown and was one of their top performers for a number of years. After his baseball career he moved easily into softball and had a great career as a local player.
In the past years Ralph would call me “Big Boy” when we would meet. He always had a smile on his face and a great memory of our softball days. He would ask if I had seen any old teammates like Gramps (Ralph called him Grampa) Royal or Tommy Perdue.
Over the past few years I would see Ralph regularly when I would visit my father at Providence Rehabilitation Center where Ralph was also a resident. He was still spry and very sharp. He would still talk about our softball days and ask about the people we had played with and against.
We all have people who are a part of our lives that we remember with a smile on our faces. Anytime I remember my friend Ralph Heaton, there will be a smile on my face and in my heart. Thanks for all of the memories, my friend!
Jim Fowler is a sports columnist and retired teacher and coach who worked in the local school system for many years. He is a founding board member of the Thomaston-Upson Sports Hall of Fame and is also the statistician for the Upson Lee football team, and has written a book about the history of football at R. E. Lee High School.