Photo Credit: The Athens Observer
"He marks not that you won or lost, but how you played the game."
Any kid who loves baseball constantly plays out the scenario with friends or family: You’re pitching in the championship game; it’s the bottom of the ninth; the score is tied; two outs; bases loaded; and the count is three balls, two strikes.
Scott Thurmond faced that situation pitching for undefeated Smith Pharmacy against Holiday Inn in the local equivalent of the World Series, the Athens Little League City Tournament, in the summer of 1981.
Scott’s father, Sonny Thurmond, coached Smith Pharmacy. Recalling the game recently, Thurmond said he and Scott used to pitch baseball in the back yard, and they frequently set up just that scenario of everything riding on the next pitch.
In the final inning of the championship game, 11-year-old Scott gave up a couple of hits and then a double that scored the tying run and left runners on second and third. At this point, coach Thurmond and manager Jack Thornton, decided to walk the next batter.
“In hindsight, of course, we shouldn’t have done it,” Sonny says. “But we wanted to load the bases to create a forced out at every base. And, I had complete confidence in Scott’s pitching.”
Let me pause here and say that I was present at that championship game. Let me also say that Sonny Thurmond and I have been lifelong friends, except for that curious incident when he didn’t invite me to his second birthday party. We played high school football and basketball together, and he captained both teams (no baseball at our school). He has always had, in addition to his love for sports, that kind of instinctive wisdom about the game, that knowledge of what’s happening and what needs to be done next. He says Scott has always had that quality, too.
So, the Thurmonds, out there that day of the championship game, were an experienced father-son, coach-player duo, who knew what they were doing.
With the baese loaded, Scott struck out the next two batters. He quickly ran the count to three balls, two strikes on the next batter.
“One of those balls,” Sonny says, “came in chest-high and looked to me like it was over the plate. That would have ended the inning, but the ump called it a ball.” With everything riding on the next pitch, Scott threw it low.
From The Athens Observer: “Thurmond slumped to the grass around the pitcher’s mound, and many of his Smith’s Pharmacy teammates sobbed openly, feeling the sting of defeat for the first time this season.” The Holiday Inn manager, George Pearson, ran out to comfort Scott before celebrating with his own team.
How does a kid stand up and get over the ignominy of walking in the championship-winning run?
Scott did get over it. He went on to play American Legion ball here and then starred for three years at Athens Academy in baseball and football. He’s now a successful businessman in Augusta.
Scott now simply says, “Time heals all wounds. It was 35 years ago. It was a learning experience.”
What did he learn? “Nothing’s for sure.”
Sonny says Scott shook off the bad pitch pretty quickly and went on excelling at sports, but he adds: “I’m the one who’s still not over it.”