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Statesboro was site of game with youngest player ever

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Posted: December 1, 2006 5:16 p.m.
Updated: December 18, 2006 9:51 a.m.
    Statesboro took part in another piece of baseball history, but this time those playing in Statesboro actually created it, rather than just observing.
    It all started when the Fitzgerald Pioneers traveled some 100 miles to Statesboro, for a special promotional "Elks Night" evening game with Statesboro's team, the Pilots, who played in the minor league Georgia State League. Fitzgerald carried with them their batboy, a 12-year-old named Joe Louis Reliford of Douglas, Ga.
    The Pioneers manager had promised his mom that if she allowed Joe to accompany the team on away games he'd make sure he was OK. The Pioneer players had sort of adopted Joe, who was black, showing him how to bat and catch on the field.
    It was July 19, 1952. The game started off badly for the Pioneers and by the end of the seventh inning the Pilots were winning 11-1. It seemed that everybody in the stadium was in a relaxed mood, and some Statesboro fans started chanting loudly "send in the batboy, send in the batboy."
    Pretty soon, the whole stadium was ringing with the refrain. After consulting with head umpire Ed Kubick, Pioneer manager Charlie Ridgeway was heard to say quite loudly: "Well, if they want a show, let's give them one."
    Up to the plate trotted little Joe: all of five feet tall, weighing 90 pounds. The Pilot's pitcher stared at him in disbelief, but finally threw the ball. To his (and everyone else's) amazement, Joe smacked a hard grounder to the third baseman, who barely managed to throw it to first in time to beat Joe crossing the bag.
    Even more astounding to those in attendance was the fact that when the Fitzgerald team took the field, Joe sauntered out to centerfield. He stood his ground, and when Harold Shuster (the Pilots’ best hitter) smashed a line drive right at him, Joe made a diving catch, most certainly robbing him of an extra bases hit.
    When the game finally ended, what seemed to be the entire crowd swarmed out onto the field, patting Joe on the back, and (it is said) even stuffing money in his pockets?
    There was a very good reason for their reaction: By playing, Reliford set a record that still stands today.
    At the ripe old age of 12 years and 234 days old, Reliford went into the history books as the youngest player ever to take part in a professional baseball game. He also became the first black player to play in a Georgia State League game.
   League officials were not at all pleased: umpire Kubick was fired the very next day; Pioneer manager Ridgeway was suspended for the next five games and fined $50; and Reliford was summarily dismissed from his position as batboy on the Fitzgerald team.
    Reliford went on to a promising football, baseball and basketball career at his high school. As such, he then went on to Florida A&M University, where they had high hopes for him until he suffered a serious knee injury that ended his promising football career. He returned to Douglas, where he worked as a deputy sheriff for 18 years until he retired. He even entered Douglas politics for a while.
    Local newspapers said virtually nothing about what had taken place, and for a while Joe's feats, seemingly, were lost. Forgotten for a long time, but no longer, Joe's actions earned him a place in the Cooperstown, New York National Baseball Hall Of Fame in a special exhibit; his actions are recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records; and his actions are recorded in the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum and Annals.
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