Bill Heaton, who successfully brought minor league baseball back to Augusta after a 25-year absence, died Monday. He was 85.
Heaton was a native of Toccoa, Ga., and as a career Army officer he was a veteran of the Korean War and Vietnam War. He received numerous medals and commendations for his service, including the Bronze Star. He retired as a lieutenant colonel and worked at the Medical College of Georgia.
Heaton moved to Augusta in 1972 and in the early 1980s spearheaded a push to return baseball to Augusta. The city hadn’t had a professional team since 1963.
According to The Augusta Chronicle archives, Heaton met with South Atlantic League president John H. Moss and local government officials to study the feasibility of building a stadium. The project soon became a one-man show as Heaton was left alone in his endeavors.
“For several years I was known as Mr. Baseball – the one-man team that brought baseball to Augusta,” Heaton said in a 2005 interview.
He built Heaton Stadium in the Lake Olmstead area largely on his own and with the help of volunteers and high school workers that he paid minimum wage. In October 1987, Heaton announced that he had joined forces with Len and Ann Monheimer, and the Macon (Ga.) Pirates would become the Augusta Pirates beginning with the 1988 season.
On April 12, 1988, a proud Heaton watched as a crowd of 2,500 braved cold and rain to see the Augusta Pirates beat the Myrtle Beach Blue Jays in their home opener.
“When I walked in and saw that many people I actually broke down and cried,” Heaton said.
Heaton continued as a minority owner until 1990, when the Monheimers decided to sell the team. The Pirates became the GreenJackets after the 1993 season, and they’ve played at Lake Olmstead Stadium since the mid-1990s.
“I was hurt by the fact that when they decided to build a new stadium, they took my name off of it,” Heaton said in 2005.
Augusta has since had major league affiliations with the Boston Red Sox and the San Francisco Giants. Next season, the GreenJackets will play in a new stadium in North Augusta.
The GreenJackets plan to have a moment of silence for Heaton before tonight’s game. He was inducted into the team’s hall of fame in 2014.
“The GreenJackets will always remember Bill Heaton not only as a Hall of Famer but a great community leader,” GreenJackets Vice President, Tom Denlinger said in a statement. “Mr. Heaton helped pave the way for families throughout the area to be able to come and enjoy America’s pastime in Augusta and we look forward to continuing that tradition.”
The family will receive guests at Thomas Poteet & Son Funeral Directors, Davis Road, on Wednesday from 6-8 p.m. The funeral service will be at Belvedere First Baptist Church on Thursday at 2 p.m.