2013 Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame: Charles Ragsdale laid strong foundation for Columbus State baseball

Charles Ragsdale started the Columbus State baseball program in 1970 on a field littered with rocks with just a backstop.

On the same site today, the Cougars play on Charles F. Ragsdale Field.

Ragsdale will be inducted into the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center, along with the late Willie Bowman, Lewis Colbert, Joe Lee Dunn and Eugene White.

Ragsdale recalled the early days after athletic director Sonny Clements charged him with starting up a senior college program, the first baseball team on campus since 1964.

"We had no equipment, no uniforms and no players," Ragsdale said. "I was the whole staff. Twenty-six of the 28 players that season were from Columbus."

With Clements giving him the "promise of a field," Ragsdale set out to recruit players.

"For fall practice in 1970, our 'field' was improvised. We had two out-of-state players, Dan Camp and Brian Bell, and four tuition scholarships to give, all of which went to pitchers," Ragsdale said.

Camp, Johnny Kirkland, Bill Gaddy and Chuck Chadwick were the scholarship recipients, two of whom were local. Gaddy was a Hardaway High grad and Chadwick was from Columbus High.

"We played on the field that first year," Ragsdale said. "We did have dugouts. We had posts in the outfield, but no fence. The umpire had to rule whether it was a home run or a double. We had bases and home plate. We had the basics."

Field maintenance was up to the players through Ragsdale's unusual conditioning drills.

"Players had to maintain their positions," Ragsdale said. "It was like hunting for Easter eggs. The players had to pick up rocks when they went out to their positions. We had good support from the college. Later funding increased and we had bleachers on the first and third base lines."

Ragsdale's first team got off to a fast start, going 26-9.

"Getting to know them not only as players, but as individuals, was my favorite part," Ragsdale said. "They came here because they wanted to play baseball. Players who signed elsewhere came back here. We had a good season."

Ragsdale was the first of only four coaches in the program's history. He was at the helm from 1970-84, followed by Derek Mann, Chip Reese and Greg Appleton.

Appleton, who just surpassed Ragsdale as the university's longest tenured coach, is entering his 16th season at the helm. Appleton credits Ragsdale for building the program's strong foundation.

"He made it so easy for us when he laid the foundation," Appleton said. "If you look at college and pro teams, there's a reason why certain teams win all the time. The organization continues to thrive despite changes in personnel. Our program's reputation helped us in recruiting, in getting our name out there. People had respect for us."

Appleton enjoys baseball reunions and watching Ragsdale with his former players.

"Guys that played for him come back with such fond memories," Appleton said. "Here they are, men in their 40s and everyone still calls him Coach Ragsdale."

Ragsdale admits to having two favorite teams during his 15-year run. In addition to the 1970 team, the 1984 team has a special place in his heart. That team was the first to earn a berth in the College World Series. It was also the season during which Ragsdale experienced significant health issues.

A flare-up of Crohn's disease diagnosed during his college days caused Ragsdale to miss the last half of the 1984 season and retire as baseball coach.

The team prospered under graduate assistant Charlie Griffeth and headed to the College World Series in Riverside, Calif.

"I had already announced my retirement," Ragsdale said. "I hated that I would no longer be associated with a great group of men and I'd never be able to compete against other teams. I took pride in molding young men, watching their leadership and becoming winners."

Jimmy Lester played for Ragsdale in 1983 and 1984.

"I will always remember Coach Ragsdale, not only as a good coach but a good person," Lester said. "He was a quiet leader. He disciplined you, but in a respectful way. He didn't embarrass you in front of your peers. He let the players police each other. I appreciate that now, but it was beyond my maturity at the time."

Lester has made a career in baseball, serving as national supervisor for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He travels the country evaluating top players in the baseball draft. Lester also sees a lot of baseball programs and facilities.

"Coach Ragsdale deserves all the credit," Lester said. "Recruiting is No. 1 in college baseball. You go to other schools and see their facilities, then take a look at our park. It's second to none. Ragsdale Field is as good as it gets all over the country."

Scott Miller has served as the voice of Columbus College and CSU baseball since 1978. He remembers those early days fondly.

"I was only a few years older than the players themselves," Miller chuckled. "If you liked baseball, you took to him right away. He was a hard-nosed, no-nonsense baseball coach. He and Sonny took a chance on me and made a young radio guy feel very comfortable."

Miller also has fond memories of the 1984 team and its trip to Riverside.

"That team rallied around Charlie when he became ill. At the team's 25th reunion, I saw that they respected him so much. At the time, they didn't like him very much but they always respected him," Miller said.

The day before the Cougars' first game in Riverside was smoggy and bleak, but game day dawned sunny and clear. Miller noted the beautiful mountains beyond the stadium. He mentioned the scenery to Ragsdale before the game.

"I hadn't even noticed the mountains," Ragsdale said. "I've been looking at the roster trying to figure out how to beat these guys."