When I first started playing sports through the Columbia County Recreation Department, I immediately knew of the Greene family.
Todd was my age, a talented football player. Football was my first love. I never played tee ball. I didn't even start playing baseball until I was 10. My first year I played I surprised myself by having a really good year.
The following season I was excited to find out that I had been picked to play on Todd's team and for his dad, Charles, who was the coach. During the next six or seven years, I played for Charlie Greene every summer, usually during the regular season and in the league's all-star team, which he coached.
I can still remember those trips out of town, playing in various state and world series tournaments. I cannot recall a single trip where coach Greene was not there.
My parents were divorced when I was 6 years old and I was raised by my mom. So each summer when we would head out of town, my mom would let coach Greene know that he was free to treat me like one of his own. I was not alone. Coach Greene influenced, in some way, just about every baseball player who played in Columbia County from 1974-94. He and his wife, Sue, were like an extra set of parents who made sure the kids were taken care of during the summer.
Charlie Greene is one of those people every town needs. He was someone who loved sports and loved helping young athletes even more. He grew up in Tulsa, Okla., but he and his family have called Columbia County home all of his adult life. He was in the Army, which brought him to the area.
He and his wife have two sons: Tommy, who graduated from Evans in 1986, and Todd, who finished up at Evans in 1989. Both boys excelled in football and baseball. Both were major reasons Terry Holder and the Knights had so much success throughout the 1980s.
Coach Holder knew of the boys long before they ever wore the Evans pinstripes. The Greenes lived a few hundred yards from Holder and his three baseball-playing sons.
Charlie began coaching Tommy's teams when he was in grade school and continued coaching even after Todd left for Georgia Southern. It was coach Greene who led the first Columbia County team to a Dixie Baseball World Series title, when he guided a group that included Jamie Rigdon, Jason Combs and Richy Short to the Dixie Majors title in the early 1990s. His sons had finished up their recreation ball careers by then, but Charlie was still there, helping ballplayers as he had done for 20 years.
Around 1994, he decided to stop coaching so he could have more time to follow the career of his youngest son, Todd, who had been drafted that summer by the California Angels. Greene had just finished up an incredible college career at Georgia Southern, and he cannot recall a game in Statesboro where his parents were not there cheering him on.
"Yeah, they never missed a home game," Greene said. "I sure can't remember a time they were not there."
The coach became the fan and a proud dad. He also was someone Todd could lean on when he struggled. Whether it was a slump or injury, he could always call his dad, and Charlie could always simplify things for his son.
"He never got too technical," Greene said. "He would always just tell me to have fun, and to think back and pretend I was still playing for Evans or Georgia Southern."
Todd didn't realize it at the time, but his dad helped him in many other ways.
"My mom and dad always worked hard. They usually had two or three jobs," he said. His mother still drives a Columbia County school bus, as she has for 25 years.
"You don't think about it when you're young," he said. "All the sacrifices they made for me. And they also instilled that work ethic in me that helped me make it to the big leagues."
By the time Charlie Greene retired from his job running computer security at Fort Gordon, he had been at the post for 39 years. He would probably still be working if they would let him.
But he had started a battle with cancer -- one he is still fighting today.
Name a body part, and Charlie Greene has likely had a tumor there. He has had cancer in both lungs, his bladder, throat and brain, and now he has glandular cancer. The doctors seem to think that this could be the cause of his previous tumors.
Through it all he continues to fight. The constant doctor visits and chemotherapy treatments have drained the energy out of the former coach, who always seemed to have a never-ending supply.
Most people would have given up by now. To be diagnosed with cancer once is tough, but to have six different bouts? That just does not seem fair.
But Greene has not dwelled on that. Instead, he fights.
It is that resolve that continues to inspire his son.
"I now know where I got the strength to fight through all the injuries I had in my career," Todd said. "My parents molded me into the type of player I was and the man I am today.
"Dad never focused on teaching me how to hit or catch. He was more focused on how I conducted myself on the field. I think that is why I became such a good leader on the field."
I talked to Charlie Greene briefly the other night and felt almost ashamed that I had gone so long without speaking to a man who had helped me mature during all those summers on the diamond. If you know Greene, take the time to let him know that you, too, appreciated all those countless hours he gave without asking for anything in return. Tell him how much you appreciate him serving as an extra "dad" on the road for you.
I guess that is sort of what I am doing with this column: just saying thanks to coach Greene.
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