The late Lonnie Morris Sr. would have just wanted to get the ceremony out of the way so kids could play ball.
So said Morris' son, Mike Morris, after joining his brother Lonnie Jr. in throwing out the first pitch to open Columbia County's Recreation Department baseball season. Their mother, Shirley Morris, had been scheduled to make the throw but came down with strep throat Friday and was unable to attend.
The brothers stepped to the pitcher's mound after joining their families Saturday morning for a dedication ceremony to rename Appling Park for their father, who spearheaded the movement nearly 40 years ago to build the facility.
"He was a dear gentleman who stepped out of the box to help the community," said County Commissioner Lee Anderson, a longtime family friend who once was coached by Morris. "He just had a heart full of desire for his community and loved to help young people excel in life."
Dozens of the Morris family's friends, former players and local dignitaries attended Saturday's dedication, including state Rep. Barry Fleming, who joked that he remembered playing on Harlem teams that were often beaten by teams coached by Morris' teams.
Morris, who died nine years ago, was president of the Appling Jaycees and spearheaded the movement to build the park in the 1960s. He served as a coach of youth league baseball for decades and was a member of the county's Recreation Advisory Board when Columbia County Recreation Department Director Charlie Beale was hired.
"He was a lot of help when I first came into the community," Beale said. "He took time to introduce me to a lot of people."
Shortly after the Morris family unveiled the Appling park's granite and bronze marker, the newly renamed Lonnie O. Morris Sr. Park rang with the ping of aluminum baseball bats and the encouragement of parents as the 11-year-old Giants and Pirates took the field as part of the season-opening Dixie Youth Fun Day.
Youth league players met throughout the day Saturday in one-hour exhibition games in all of the county's parks. "This gives coaches a chance to see the kids play, and it gives the kids a chance to get their nerves out before the season starts," Beale said.
Official games in Columbia County's recreation league baseball season began Monday. About 1,500 children ages 6-18 are signed up to play in the county's baseball and softball leagues, forming 92 baseball teams and 38 softball teams, said Randy Haygood, the Recreation Department's athletic supervisor.
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