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You would figure a guy who has been around Lancaster Dixie Baseball for 30-plus years would know all that goes on.
Not a chance a major event would get by like some seeing-eye single.
Well, if this was, in baseball terms, a hidden ball trick, then longtime Dixie Youth Baseball official Ronnie Gandy would have been like some stunned rookie.
On Lancaster Dixie Baseball’s opening day – Saturday, April 10, Gandy was invited to be a part of the youth baseball program’s 2010 ceremonies at the Wylie Park Complex.
Little did Gandy know, he was the center of attention that day.
“They caught me by complete surprise,” Gandy said. “It was amazing they kept that from me.”
Believe me, if you caught Gandy at a loss for words, it was a rare occasion.
In this case, a special occasion. Gandy, a former Dixie Youth Baseball coach, board member and league chairman, was honored as field 5, the majors field, was named in his honor.
The personable Gandy, always on the ball, had an inkling when his family and minister, the Rev. Steve Anglin, showed up for what would be his special moment.
Then, David Hance, a Lancaster Dixie Baseball board member, began his remarks and Gandy realized he had earned a special recognition.
“Ronnie’s been a part of Lancaster Dixie Baseball and Dixie Youth Baseball for over 30 years,” Hance said. “The board just figured it was better to honor Ronnie now when he could enjoy it instead of when he wasn’t around and with us any more. He deserved this.”
Gandy said his honor resulted in an interesting phone call.
“A fellow Dixie Youth official from Lexington called me the next week and said he wanted to make sure I was still alive,” Gandy said, with a laugh. “He said where he lives a person is usually dead and gone when a field is named in his honor.”
Gandy, in over 30 years of service to Dixie Baseball, has seen his share as a coach, board member, league chairman and now state director of Dixie Boys.
“What really makes you feel good is when you see a kid years after they’ve played and they still call you ‘coach’ and tell you that you made an impact on them,” he said. “In coaching, you enjoy the success and winning championships, but when you look back, there’s a certain thrill when you finally see a kid, who has been struggling, but really trying hard, get his first hit or catch a fly ball and see their face light up.”
Among those on hand at Gandy Field that day were a host of former players he coached, including Pep Harris and Gege Harris.
Pep Harris was a prep All-American at Lancaster High School and eventually made it to “the show” with the Anaheim Angels.
“That was a thrill to see Pep pitch in the big leagues because you knew when he was coming along that he was special and had the talent to get there and he did because he worked hard,” Gandy said.
Gandy also remembers Gege Harris as a Dixie Youth player, a gifted performer, but one who had to change his ways.
“I told Gege one day if he didn’t change, he was going to end up dead as a young person, or be in prison because he killed somebody,” Gandy said.
Gege’s story is just as rewarding as Pep’s because he heeded Gandy’s advice.
He was a star at Lancaster High School, and like Pep, a member of a Bruins’ state title team as a tough first baseman, one equally gifted with the glove and bat.
Gege’s stellar play earned him a shot at pro baseball, but he fell short in his dream of making it to the bigs with the Pittsburgh Pirates’ organization. Gege then earned his college degree and is now a teacher in the Columbia area, where he also coaches baseball.
“A few years ago, I saw Gege at a Carolina football game and he told me I was right about him when he was coming along,” Gandy said. “The special part of that is that Gege’s been multiplied because he’s a positive factor in young people’s lives as a teacher and coach.”
Gandy called the field ceremony “emotional.”
“I was humbled because, when David Hance started talking about me all, I could think about was the people in Dixie Youth who were before me like Fred Branum, L.B. Woodley, R.D. Howell and James Couch who did so much,” he said.
Gandy, like any youth sports official, has made a few mistakes, but his intentions were always good. He deserves to be in that elite group of men who did much for Dixie Youth Baseball for the simple fact they loved baseball and youngsters. A field now bearing his name is evidence.
In Lancaster Dixie Baseball, Ronnie Gandy’s work is no secret.