Monday, July 15, 2013
By Chris Sokoloski
Coach Ben Waddle has big cleats to fill.
Not only is he taking over for a legend – Mike Johnson – he’ll be coaching in Mike Johnson Park.
“We’re not replacing him, we’re just following,” Waddle said. “It’s going to be a challenge”
Waddle is the first new head varsity baseball coach for a high school in the City of Georgetown in 44 years.
He’s already got a very important seal of approval: Johnson couldn’t be happier and called Waddle a “good friend.”
“I can’t say enough good things about him,” Johnson said. “He’s just a special guy. He loves baseball. He puts his heart and soul into it.”
Waddle spent the 2013 season as an assistant for the Georgetown team, but had no idea Johnson was thinking of retiring.
“He just told me, ‘Ben I’m tired. I just want to come to the park on my time,’ ” Waddle said, adding that he was “blessed” to have a year to coach at Johnson’s side.
Waddle is no stranger to Mike Johnson Park. He competed in the IP Baseball Classic nine times while coaching at Mauldin and Dorman high schools, leading both schools to championships.
Waddle coached at Dorman for 12 years until a DUI arrest last September. He resigned the next day, he said, in the “best interest of the kids.”
“It wasn’t going to be good for the kids,” he added. “It would be more focus on me and not on the kids.”
Waddle is waiting for his day in court.
Even before his resignation, Waddle said he had been talking to Johnson for two years about the possibility of moving to Georgetown to coach with him.
“What made him fall in love with Georgetown when he came to the IP tournament, [was] he couldn’t get over how nice the people of Georgetown treated him,” Johnson said.
“Getting to know Georgetown in that light was special,” Waddle said.
Waddle first fell in love with baseball while a student at Jonesville High School in Union County, where he also played football and basketball.
He knew he didn’t have a future playing at the college level, so he became a student/manager at the University of South Carolina under coach June Raines.
Waddle considers Raines to be one of his role models and said one year as a student-manager for Raines convinced him he wanted to be a baseball coach instead of a lawyer.
Waddle also coached for three years at USC-Spartanburg, one year at Spartanburg Methodist University, three years at Campbell University, and six years at Mauldin.
His first contact with the Johnson family was while coaching Mike Jr. at a Clemson baseball camp.
Although he’s taking over Johnson’s coaching job, he’s not taking over his maintenance job. Johnson will continue to maintain the field at Mike Johnson Park.
“He loves the park,” Waddle said. “That is his home. … It’s a legacy. We’re going to do it exactly like he wants it done.”
Johnson said he needs to teach Waddle the “language” of the park.
“You just stand behind second base and it will tell you what it needs,” Johnson said.