AUGUSTA, Ga. - It was a big night at the ballpark for baseball fans of the Augusta GreenJackets - especially for those who journeyed to Augusta to join in the annual celebration of Thomson-McDuffie Night.
An estimated 300 local fans attended the game between the Augusta GreenJackets and Hagerstown Suns at Lake Olmstead Stadium last Saturday night. The special night with the GreenJackets has become a tradition for some local families and is a community event sponsored by the Thomson-McDuffie Chamber of Commerce.
Between innings, there were various contests involving a host of McDuffie County residents. One particular contest included a Dearing man, a Martinez man and a 10-year-old Thomson youth - all competing against each other to see who could chow down two hot dogs the quickest.
The winner turned out to be Drue Poston, a rising fifth grader at R.L. Norris Elementary School in Thomson. He managed to beat out Dearing's Jeff Herndon, an employee of Thomson Roofing Company, as well as Martinez's Gary Radford, a project manager with Two-State Construction Company in Thomson.
"That was a lot of fun," said Drue. "I love hot dogs."
Eddie Lee Ivery, a former standout football player at Thomson High School, who later went on to become a star running back at Georgia Tech and played with the Green Bay Packers for eight years, threw out the ceremonial first pitch of the game. It was a strike to backup catcher Buster Lucias.
The game's public address announcer quipped that it appeared Mr. Ivery wanted to run over the catcher, which resulted in applause from the large crowd.
Mr. Ivery, who has returned to Thomson and is working with the McDuffie County Board of Education, said the jitters he felt before tossing the ceremonial opening pitch brought back memories of what it was like when he played football.
Clowning around a little on the mound, Mr. Ivery actually got down in a traditional football stance before saying aloud, "Oh, that's how you play that other game - not baseball.""It was just like getting ready to go out and play a football game," said Mr. Ivery with a big smile. "I was nervous and the adrenalin was running. I just wanted to get it (the ball) to the catcher. I didn't want to hit him."
Players and coaches with the Thomson Wildcats traveling baseball team who recently finished Runners-Up in the USSSA World Series played near Orlando, Fla., also were honored during pre-game ceremonies. The majority of the team is from McDuffie County.
Being honored at the Augusta GreenJackets' game in front of hundreds of baseball fans was special for Thomson Wildcat second baseman Tanner Ketchum.
"It was neat," said the 11-year-old Lincolnton baseball player. "It felt good."
For 61-year-old Tootie Burnley, attending an Augusta GreenJackets' game was another first.
The Thomson businessman attended his first-ever professional baseball game on July 4th when he traveled to Atlanta to see the Braves play.
"I got more excited as the day went by," Mr. Burnley said. "I loved the game."
He attended the GreenJackets' game with a host of family members and friends. They included his wife, Pam and their grandson, Shayne Smith, 7, Bo and Crystal Fleming, Bethany Lack, Bud Fleming and Debbie Fleming.
Also attending the game and having a good time was Maj. Ronnie Williamson of the McDuffie County Sheriff's Department.
"It's a great place to come," said Maj. Williamson. "It's relaxing. We have a ball down here."
Another Thomson resident, Tommy Johnson, shared those sentiments, saying, "It's a lot of fun and very relaxing."
It was Mr. Johnson's fourth visit to an Augusta GreenJackets' game this season.