HADDOCK -- Miracles have to begin somewhere, even in the most unexpected places.
Otis Layfield didn’t know he was walking on hallowed ground when he bought 10 acres in the northwest corner of Jones County in 1964.
He was working at the J.P. Stevens textile plant in Milledge-ville. He had a wife and five children, and he was looking for bigger place to live. He found a brick house and a piece of property in some woods along Stallings Road.
It became his family’s own Layfield of Dreams.
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They were surrounded by old peach orchards, a packing shed, a cistern, horses, Angus cattle and enough timberland to manufacture a season’s worth of Louisville Slugger baseball bats.
Otis had no idea who this Mr. George Stallings fellow was that people were talking about, only that he had once lived in the house. Folks called him “Tweedy,’’ like his famous father, George “Tweedy” Stallings Sr.
That was 50 years ago. And 50 years before that, the seeds for one of the most revered baseball stories in history were planted in the same dirt where the Layfields watched scuppernongs, mulberry trees, oaks, magnolias, cedar and fig trees grow in the yard around them.
“Tweedy” Stallings Sr. was the son of a Confederate general and the first baseball coach at Mercer University. He owned the farm he called “Meadowmere,’’ five miles from Haddock, along the road that now bears his name.
His mediocre baseball playing career would never have stamped his ticket to Cooperstown. He later managed several heavyweight teams -- the Philadelphia Phillies, Detroit Tigers and New York Highlanders -- but with marginal success.
So no one raised much of an eyebrow when Stallings was hired to manage the last-place Boston Braves following the 1912 season for a mere salary of $2,500. The Braves improved from eighth to fifth the next season, then started the year as cellar dwellers again in 1914, losing 18 of their first 23 games.
By midseason, they were 11 1/2 games behind the front-running New York Giants. Stallings was so disgusted that he berated his team as being inferior to “sandlot” players.
It may have been the turning point for one of the most improbable comebacks in sports history. The Braves won 52 of their final 66 games and overtook seven other National League teams to win the pennant by 10 1/2 games. Boston then swept the heavily favored Philadelphia Athletics in four games to win the World Series.
They were immortalized as the “Miracle” Braves, and Stallings was known as “The Miracle Man” until his death 15 years later. He died at the farm in Haddock on May 13, 1929, five months before the start of the Great Depression. He is buried in the Honeysuckle section of Riverside Cemetery in Macon.
The tiny community of Haddock -- named after a 19th-century plantation owner and not a fish -- has forever been a footnote in the Miracle Braves season. Baseball managers did not typically take their teams to Florida or Arizona for spring training, as they do now. They did, however, prepare for the season in warmer climates. And Stallings brought many of his teams to Haddock and Macon for their preseason practices.
Stallings didn’t just put his teams through the fundamentals of spring training. He often made them chop wood and do other chores around the farm.
He was known as a master motivator, with an affinity for profanity. He was also very superstitious. He carried around a lucky penny, demanded that the wooden bats be kept in order in the dugout and banned the color yellow from the ballpark. He didn’t believe in good-byes, and he often arrived at the train station early to avoid them.
He managed games in his dress clothes, and he would nervously slide up and down the pine benches in the dugout so much that he wore out the seat of his pants.
Over the years, Otis has heard more about the sacred property that served as the ground spring for what is now a century-old miracle. “I learned bits and pieces from people in Haddock,’’ he said.
Some folks have stopped by to ask questions. Stallings Road is a dirt road, so he can often hear them coming, stirring the dust during the hot summer months.
He doesn’t have all the answers. He knows the Boston Braves later moved to Milwaukee, then to Atlanta. He admitted he doesn’t keep up with baseball much, but he is a devout fan of the Georgia Bulldogs football team.
Joe Neel, whose family once owned Jos. N. Neel department store in Macon, had a connection to the farm when he was growing up. His older sister, Evelyn, was married to Tweedy Stallings Jr., who might have made it to the big leagues had he not been injured in World War II. Joe can still point to the patch of land where the old field used to be at Meadowmere.
The original house where Tweedy Sr. lived burned down, and then the house built to replace it burned, too. Tweedy Jr. and Evelyn lived in the brick house where Otis and his wife, Bobbie, later lived. That house was destroyed by fire in 1987.
So many people stopped by after the fire, “it was like a wake,” Otis’ son Greg said. It was later rebuilt on the same spot.
Greg also remembers when his father began clearing an area choked with Cherokee rose bushes behind the house to plant a garden.
He uncovered the old pitcher’s mound.
That mound is now sleeping with the fishes. Otis built a 3-acre pond in the spot 15 years ago.
So there is no shrine beneath the pines, no museum or historical marker, no baseball remnants of that Jones County spring a century ago.
Miracles do have to start somewhere, though.
And that somewhere was here, in the most unexpected of unexpected places.
Reach Gris at 744-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org.