Sports events have a way of sticking in one’s memories, and I have some memories around Florence.
One is of an exhibition game played here between the Boston Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds. Numerous years ago big league baseball teams traveled by train, and a few times a couple of them would stop long enough in Florence to play exhibition games while on their way home to open the regular season.
This time in the late 1930s, they played on a makeshift field on what then was the Pee Dee Fairgrounds on West Lucas Street.
There was terrific wind that day that blew balls all over the place, and the Red Sox had an exciting rookie named Ted Williams. On top of all that, the wind blew so many balls away that they ran out of baseballs and the game ended in a tie. I have since wondered if any other big league game, regular season or exhibition, has ended because they ran out of baseballs.
A few years later, a Florence semi-pro league team faced Camden at the new American Legion Stadium in a playoff game. The Florence pitcher was injured in the first inning after the visiting Camden team scored. Then big Jack Clifton, a Darlington native who came close to making The Bigs, took over for Florence.
When Clifton came in, there was one out. Camden got no hits for the 8⅔ innings afterward and Florence got no hits for the entire game. It was almost a double no-hitter. The no-hit Camden pitcher was Tom Lasorda, a soldier at Fort Jackson who played for a semi-pro team in Camden and later managed the Los Angeles Dodgers.
My first game at that stadium as a kid was to a semi-pro league game when Florence was playing Sumter. Sumter led most of the game, but the stunner came at the end when Sumter led Florence by two in the ninth. Then Florence’s Pepper Martin batted with two runners on base and belted a three-run home run, so Florence won the game. What a way to start my days at that ballpark.
Games between Florence and top rival Sumter at any level in any sport were always a big deal. A not-very-happy recollection is of the last football game at Hicks Field, which was on Elm Street behind the old high school. There had been two or three ties along the way, but Florence had not won that game since about 1930. It was a rainy, muddy night, and near the end of the game, Florence trailed by six and was near the Sumter goal when a Florence back fell into the end zone after being tackled.
Officials ruled he fumbled the ball before reaching the goal line, but I was on the goal line watching, and I still am certain he made it, but the referee ruled it a lost fumble and a touchback, which gave Sumter the ball at the 20-yard line and the score remained the same with Sumter winning.
Roy Graham, who was the sports editor of the Morning News, also was on the goal line that night, and he agreed with me that it should have been a touchdown. I’ll tell you, if Roy Graham told you something, it was true. If he had wanted to tell a lie, he couldn’t, because he just didn’t know how to go about it.
After the game, a furious crowd followed the officials as they left the field and wound up surrounding a car they occupied just off the field. The McClenaghan High School principal’s wife also was in the car as it was rocked around. Fortunately that was about the worst of it, and the officials left unhurt physically. The next season, McClenaghan football was moved to the airport Memorial Stadium, which was brand new and peaceful.
One night I walked a little late into a McClenaghan basketball game and saw a classmate grab a loose ball and put it in the basket. However, it was the wrong basket, and the visitors got two points. I never said much to him about it. He was a little sensitive about that.
Sports memories are pretty small things, but some last a long time.