The Sun News

A birthday party for Mr. Baseball

Claude Lewis, of Warner Robins, is credited with inventing tee ball.
Claude Lewis, of Warner Robins, is credited with inventing tee ball. Getty Images

For more than 30 years, if you played ball at the Warner Robins Recreation Department, then you were one of Mr. Lewis’ kids.

To celebrate his 90th birthday, the friends and family of Claude Lewis are throwing a birthday party, and you are invited.

Claude Lewis arrived in Warner Robins in 1958 to be the head of the newly formed Recreation Department. Originally from Macon, Lewis had been a standout baseball player for Lanier High School and had been offered a baseball scholarship to the University of Georgia. Instead, he went to World War II and fought for his country.

He attended Mercer University after his discharge in 1946 and worked for the Macon Recreation Department.

Then Warner Robins came calling. The recreation department that Lewis came to head up was a building and one ball field.

Lewis literally built the recreation department — buying land, building facilities along with developing programs, services and athletic teams.

If that wasn’t enough, he invented a new game for the new recreation department based on his high school coach’s batting practice.

Lewis came up with a game that eliminated a pitcher, instead letting players hit a tennis ball off of a batting tee. He formed a league for the game in 1958, and 20 kids signed up to play.

Nowadays, we call it tee ball.

Lewis wrote the rules for the game — literally — sending copies of the rules of his new game all over the United States and as far away as Israel and the Philippines. In June 2007, he was invited by then President Bush to participate in a tee ball celebration on the White House lawn. The Warner Robins Recreation Department was recognized as the Outstanding Recreation Department in the state in 1963, 1968 and 1986. Later in 2007, Claude Lewis was inducted into the Georgia Recreation Hall of Fame.

After he retired, Lewis didn’t sit still. He coached baseball and volunteered at Warner Robins High School football games for 25 years. When Little League, which was still using Flint Field next to Warner Robins High School, wanted to expand, Lewis got involved. He helped get land donated for new the Little League complex and even signed a note to help with startup costs.

To honor his accomplishments and contributions, the tee-ball field at Flint Energies Complex was named the Claude Lewis Field. The recreation center building also is named for Lewis. He was inducted into the Warner Robins Hall of Fame in 2013.

The birthday party will be held at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Wellston Center, which is at 144 Maple St. in Warner Robins.

Alline Kent can be contacted at 396-2467 or allinekent@cox.net.

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