America’s game is magic. The team on offense does not have the ball, and players sacrifice their hits so their teammates can score. Surely you can smell the hot dogs, peanuts, and Cracker Jacks. Palmetto Baseball League has been grooming Major League Baseball hopefuls since 1956 and making Columbia a better place to live. Imagine more than 450 children playing 16 games on 38 teams in four divisions in one Columbia location. How is this so seamlessly accomplished?
PBL is committed to teaching youngsters how to win with humility and lose gracefully. It maintains a high moral tone and gives every player a sense of belonging to the larger community. John Johnston, a parent, coach, and vice president of PBL, says, “The Palmetto Baseball League is a community making Columbia smaller, building memories where character is more important than winning.”
The Southeastern Freight Lines Baseball Complex is an exciting place to play and shape lasting relationships. Southeastern Freight Lines President Tobin Cassels, a PBL parent-emeritus, continues to contribute greatly to the experiences of everyone associated with PBL. His words echo the chorus of so many others. “We have wonderful memories from when our son, Toby, played there. We found that the PBL offered something that none of our son’s many other sporting venues offered — a place where not only the young people could gather to develop friendships but also the parents. Every time we went to the fields, we had the opportunity to meet and enjoy fellowship with parents near our age. I can name a long list of people with whom our relationships started from the PBL. Lastly, it also gave us the opportunity over the years to get to know the young people our son’s age that attended different schools. PBL truly felt like a community which left many great memories for us!”
Zack Atkinson, a player for six years, now coaches and is the president of PBL. Zack says, “Our league has been blessed with great leadership over the years. My drive is doing all I can to help grow and preserve the integrity of the league. PBL provides a unique family atmosphere where friends are made quickly … one of the few places where you can literally drop your children off to watch them play and not have to worry.”
One of the challenges facing PBL is its popularity — it grows through word of mouth and keeps on growing. Every year more and more parents want their children to experience playing baseball in this family-friendly league among a group of peers who afford lifetime memories. The PBL board is committed to growing in such a way that keeps the spirit of the game intact and fun for everyone who is a part of the league.
PBL conversations are filled with anecdotal stories about one icon, Ralph Williams. Ralph is the godfather of PBL. He views PBL as the Holy Grail of sportsmanship in the Midlands. His 34 years dedicated to converting boys into men is the gold standard for service to one’s community.
Board members and parents agree that PBL has grown and excelled under Ralph’s guidance. He does what is fair and is the glue continually holding it all together. Ralph has a larger-than-life personality. He is winsome, entertaining, and quick to tell stories about the boys he coached who are now coaches repeating the words they heard from their coaches when they played at PBL.
Ralph says, “Baseball is about winning, but not at all costs or if it’s not fun. We have very few problems with our players, and most of the sons are better players than their fathers, so the only conclusion you can draw is that their daddies married well.” He defines PBL as “the Eagle Scouts of sports.”
Youth sports have more participants and spectators than all of professional sports. PBL treats home plate as hallowed ground and yet captures the balance vital to understanding that baseball is still just a game to help children grow up well. Coaches teach self-denial, respect for other players and umpires, and the diligence vital to winning.
The coaches take great interest in their charges because they know that they serve as models for their players. Coaches know their bullpens, and they play the game three innings in advance. PBL coaches are chess players who have to play poker with many of their strategies. As the boys’ most enthusiastic cheerleaders, they teach the youngsters to keep their eye on the ball — a lesson the players will carry throughout their lives.
Board member Trey Fudger says, “We focus on teamwork and sportsmanship for our youth. I am committed to a league that generates friendships and family memories for this community.”
Trey summarizes his thoughts with words that echo the appreciation so many have for the league: “PBL in itself is its own little community fostering friendships and relationships during the spring season and fall ball. When I look around at some of the strongest friendships my family has, they have originated from my church and Palmetto Baseball League. It’s such a special league with so many great families at the heart of it!”
PBL players perform best when they know what is expected of them, the bounds of their involvement, the options available, and the regimen required. One of the skills they gain is recognizing the importance of teams having only one heartbeat. Players are schooled in the significance of community and promotion of the entire team. Being loyal and sacrificing yourself for the greater good is a PBL mantra.
Ethos and PBL culture are paramount. Competition is real, yet everyone involved is committed to providing examples of cooperation, focus, and perseverance. Players are taught to always play their best, play through the whistle, give the game all they have, and to want to win when the opposing team is at its best.
PBL parents enter the league already knowing many of the other parents from church, school, and work. In addition to enjoying watching their children play, league parents compliment the players on both teams, calming the nervous and exciting the quiet. Parents recognize that though the children are playing under different colors with different banners, they are just little boys enjoying America’s game.
Perhaps Eddie Benton, a grandparent, captures the sustaining blessing of PBL. “I remember the magical experience of watching our son learn to love the game that had captured my fascination as a young boy. The rides together to practice. The slushies afterwards. The huddling together in the stands on those cold, pre-spring nights. It was a season — a very significant season — of our family life that now, some 25 years in the ‘rearview mirror’ of it all, I find myself missing tremendously but remembering, in every regard, fondly.”