Plenty has changed in college baseball since Duane Grice removed his spikes for the last time as a Georgia Bulldog in the 1950s.
"The bats have changed, the balls have changed, they wear helmets, they lift weights, and they drink water during the game," Grice said. "All of those things, we were not allowed to do."
But in the 47 years since they won the Southeastern Conference championship in 1954, Grice and his teammates have been allowed to brag about how they did it in the old days.
"I used to be able to say that I was on the last team to win the SEC, and a lot of people didn't believe that," he said. "They would always say, 'No, no, no. They won a national championship in 1990.' I said, 'That's true, but they didn't win the SEC."'
Things changed three weeks ago. That's when the Bulldogs bagged those bragging rights by claiming the SEC crown.
"I've lost my calling card," said Grice, a freshman left fielder on the '54 team that went 16-9.
Grice might have lost his calling card, but his pride in the Bulldogs' baseball program is as strong as ever. The 65-year-old is one of three players on the 1954 team who call Augusta home. First baseman John Douglas and catcher Jim Farris are the others. They have had plenty to cheer about lately.
Today at 1:30 (CBS-Ch. 12), Georgia will try to continue its dream season against Southern California in the College World Series.
Farris spent 26 years in the Navy after leaving Georgia, and the time away limited his ability to keep up with his old team or to visit Athens, Ga.
"I don't miss those days that much," the 67-year-old said. "When you get old, you don't miss anything if you had a good time doing it."
Farris has been paying a little more attention lately. The Richmond Academy graduate watched all three games of last week's Super Regional triumph over Florida State, and he doesn't plan to miss much after today's first pitch is thrown in Omaha, Neb.
"It's amazing what that coach has done," Farris said of Bulldogs coach Ron Polk, who transformed the team from also-ran to contender in two seasons. "The man came in here and got the job done in a short period of time."
The members of the 1954 team gather in Athens every few years to reminisce and keep in touch. Their last reunion was in April 2000, the last time many of them saw former coach Jim Whatley.
"Big Jim," a Bulldogs legend who led the baseball program for 25 years, died last week at his home in Athens. He was 88.
"Whatley was not doing well, but he was there," Grice said of seeing him at the reunion.
The odd twist to the 1954 season was its abrupt and unexpected end. At the time, NCAA rules prohibited freshmen from varsity competition.
The SEC was the only conference in the country that allowed freshmen to play, and Georgia had four first-year players - including Grice and Farris - who held prominent roles.
The NCAA presented Whatley with a choice: Bench the players, or bench the season.
He chose the latter.
"Coach Whatley just told the NCAA that if he couldn't play four of his starters, then what's the use in coming?" Grice said.
Mississippi, the team Georgia beat to win the SEC title, went to the playoffs instead. The Bulldogs went home.
"Naturally, we were disappointed," said Douglas, who was Georgia's most valuable player as a freshman in 1952. "But that's just the way the ball bounces, I guess."
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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