Eddie King was out looking for players the month before opening day at Macon Little League.
He found a few on a corner just beyond the outfield fence in Anthony Homes, a housing project sometimes known as “Bird City.”
King combed the streets and avenues -- down Wren, up Swan and over to Heron and Mallard -- searching for second-sackers and third-graders. He recruited 4-foot-3 pitchers and 55-pound outfielders still learning their multiplication tables next door at Matilda Hartley Elementary.
“Who wants to play baseball?” he asked them.
He signed up 7- and 8-year-old youngsters. There were 16 on the roster, including girls with sassy nicknames like Chocolate, Cherry Blossom and Lil’ Mama.
King paid their registration fees, bought their uniforms and gloves, and gathered them around.
“What do you want to be called?” he asked.
Mercer’s basketball team had been in the news, with their beat-down of Duke during March Madness.
Bears. The vote was unanimous. They wanted to be the Bears.
King added his own wrinkle. He christened them the “Bad News Bears” after the rag-tag team in the movies.
Some didn’t know how to hold a baseball or grip a bat. They wore orange and black uniforms (like Mercer) and finished second in the four-team “C” league.
But the 2014 season on Anthony Road wasn’t just about the Bad News Bears.
It was about making good news out of bad news, rainbows from the rain.
On the night of Feb. 22, a 16-year-old Macon youth was shot and killed at the ballpark. Damian Bernard “Little Petey” Clayton’s body was found near the first-base side of the field where he once ran the bases. He had been shot in the head, torso and arm.
It was another senseless crime, another tragedy of a young man gunned down, another headline in a vicious cycle where value is no longer placed on human life.
A memorial service was held at the field a week later.
Linda Howard is president of Macon Little League. She wasn’t sure what the public reaction would be so close to the beginning of the season. Her phone kept ringing. People were concerned. They wanted to know if it was going to be safe for their children.
“It started off kind of shaky, and we didn’t know if people were going to sign up,” she said. “But we got together and talked about it and prayed about it. We let people know it was going to be safe and, if there was a problem, we would take care of it.”
Macon Little League will hold its closing ceremony Saturday. The morning will begin with a baseball camp at 9 a.m., hosted by former player Alex Watts. The ceremony will begin at 12:30. The players will be recognized and receive their trophies. By all accounts, it was a successful season.
Macon Little League is the city’s oldest league. The late Tom Fontaine, after whom the field is named, brought youth baseball to Macon in 1952.
Times have changed, and so have the demographics. But the tradition is important. And children are children, no matter where they attend school, which neighborhood they live in or the color of their skin.
King has been involved with the league for 23 years. He started as an umpire, then crossed over into coaching. He has devoted so much time, energy and resources into helping oversee the program that Howard calls him the “park ranger.”
He polices the young boys to make sure they keep their pants pulled up. If any get out of line and need a good whipping, he introduces them to “Roscoe.” Roscoe is his belt. Roscoe is on the roster. He never has to use Roscoe. Just the threat is enough.
Although baseball is a game of statistics, King doesn’t want to see these youngsters become one.
“They are not damaged goods,” he said. “They had nothing to do with that shooting. We have tried to teach them to do the right thing and to keep them off the streets. We are not going to give up on them. They’ve got to have somewhere to go. If we shut down, where are they going to go?”
King said Sheriff David Davis stopped by the ballpark during the season and told league officials: “I’m glad y’all didn’t quit.”
Howard’s three sons played at Macon, and two are now coaches. She has a grandson who is playing. There were about 180 youths in the league this season, and some had to be turned away because of a shortage of coaches.
“Hundreds of cars come down Anthony Road every day,” she said. “Next year, we need some of them to pull over and ask, ‘What can we do?’ We need to keep this league going. We need to make it better. I have told people we don’t need complaining. We need them to put their hands in and help.”
Make a note of that. Coaches are in short supply. Volunteers are appreciated.
It’s not enough to keep talking about the problems. Sometimes we have to roll up our sleeves and do something.
Contact Gris at 744-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org.