Ralph Heaton is an old friend of mine. I got to know Ralph in the 1960s when we played softball together at Silvertown Ball Park. We were teammates on the B.F. Goodrich “Big Red” softball team and had some very memorable experiences during a time when softball was a very enjoyable and exciting activity in this community.
Ralph often spoke of his time playing pro baseball in the 1950s. I have done some research and found that he played for Vidalia in 1952 and for Vidalia, Statesboro, and Eastman in 1953. Both of these years were spent in the Class D Georgia State League.
Ralph had a great year as a pitcher in 1952 as he won 16 games and lost 5. He wasn’t quite as good as a hitter, although he did hit two home runs. In 1953 he had a 3-7 record and that finished up his professional career. He then came back to Thomaston and became a member of the Silvertown textile league team and finished up his career at that very competitive level.
This guy was quite a competitor! You could see that on the softball field and I remember one of his stories that demonstrated his competitive nature. Ralph said that he was pitching for Vidalia and a batter hit a ground ball to the first baseman. Ralph had to cover first base and he said that the runner stepped on his foot wearing steel spikes, seemingly on purpose. Of course this infuriated Ralph. He said that he turned to the runner and told him that the next time he came to bat he just needed to lie down in the batter’s box because the first pitch was coming at his head. Well, a few innings later the guy stepped in against Ralph. Sure enough, Ralph launched his first pitch in the area of the batter’s head, sending the guy scurrying into the dirt. He said that he never had any other problems with that batter!
Ralph eventually became the manager of the “Big Red” softball team and he took it seriously. We had a good team with guys like Tommy Perdue, Gramps Royal, Flap Fordham, Marvin Fordham, and Eddie Heaton on the roster. We won more than we lost and were always in the running for the league championship. Ralph pitched, played some second base, and filled in wherever he was needed. No matter if he was playing or just coaching, he was in the game all of the time and he always made sure that we got a fair deal with the umpires and the game in general. He has chewed out more than one umpire. He was a tough customer!
We spent a lot of time together during the summers in the late 1960s and early 1970s at ole Silvertown. Heck, we played two or three games a night in sultry heat and played almost every night except for Sunday. We loved it and it was such fun. The ball park was the place to be whether you were playing or not. The young guys brought their dates and the married men brought their wives. Those were good times!
Back in the late 1960s Dionne Warwick had a hit record titled “What’s It All About Alfie?” Well, every night when I came to the ball park I would sing to Ralph, “What’s It All About, Ralphie?” He didn’t care for my singing but we always got a laugh out of it. He enjoyed being around us and he devoted great energy and considerable time to our team.
I have heard so much over the years about the old textile teams and the great players who made up those squads. Ralph represents that group for me. I have known some of the other players, but not as well as I know Ralph. It is so sad that this group of outstanding players and gentlemen has dwindled in numbers to the point that there are very few still alive.
Well, Ralph is 87 years old now and is a resident at Providence Nursing Home. I visit him regularly and he still calls me “big fella.” I can still see some of that competitive nature in him although his strength is dwindling and his ability to move around is almost gone.
Ralph Heaton is a strong Christian man. We spent many happy hours together on the field of competition and had so many fun times just talking.We could always laugh at each other and I cherish the times we spent together. Thanks Ralph for being a great friend and a wonderful role model. I’m so glad our paths crossed!