Former Central High baseball coach Ron Nelson left behind a handful of numbers to mark his place in Red Devils history.
There were his 513 victories, most all time at the school, and 16 area championships. There were the 20 seasons out of 24 coached that his teams made the postseason and the seven 25-win seasons and the 96 players that signed college baseball scholarships.
On Thursday, he added one more.
His No. 1 jersey was retired at a ceremony before Central hosted Opelika at the newly named Darnell-Nelson Field, a name approved by the city counsel unbeknownst to Nelson himself.
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Now, his number will forever be donned on the right-field fence beneath the scoreboard and never again worn by another Central baseball player.
“This is all very humbling,” Nelson said after the ceremony. “The people that know me, they know I don’t like this kind of stuff. But I’m very thankful to be recognized. It’s something that my kids and grandkids can enjoy forever.”
A number of former players, family members and well-wishers came out for the ceremony, including Phenix City mayor Eddie Lowe, Phenix City schools interim superintendent Rod Hinton, and AHSAA executive director Steve Savarese, among others.
Each spoke glowingly of the Central High athletics icon, who also spent 11 seasons as the head football coach.
“All the years I’ve known him, he’s always been a role model,” Hinton said. “He takes adversity and turns it into class and character.”
“My goal is to influence people like Ron Nelson has,” said current Central baseball coach Roy Dixon, who said one of the first questions when he joined the Red Devils was why Nelson’s number wasn’t retired.
Dixon was emotional when discussing the example Nelson has set for his program.
“He is the ultimate model for my program,” Dixon said.
Former player Griff Gordy and Nelson’s son Ryan also showed their emotion when talking about the influence he’s had on their lives.
Gordy said that next to his own father and grandfathers, Nelson has been the most influential man in his life.
“The true character of a person, you see by his heart and his actions,” Gordy said, speaking directly to Nelson. “Your heart has been seen by so many people you’ve impacted so tremendously.”
Nelson, visibly moved by the show of support, spoke briefly at the end of the ceremony before declaring the reason he’s always loved to call the baseball field home.
“You know what,” he said. “It’s time for some baseball. May the best team win, and I hope it’s the Red Devils.”