Most great athletes start at a very young age – when their fathers proudly hand them their first baseball, football or basketball.
“My dad gave me a bat, a ball and a glove when I just able to hold them in my hands,” said Reese Joel “Joey” Taylor. “There was no television when I was growing up. I listened to baseball on the radio.”
His favorite player – the pride of Oklahoma – the Mick – Mickey Charles Mantle, who wore the pinstriped #7 for the N.Y. Yankees from 1951 to 1968.
Like Mantle, Taylor became known for his hitting ability.
“I never met a fastball that I couldn’t hit,” Taylor said with a laugh. “I couldn’t get good wood on those junk pitches – knuckleballs and curves.”
On Sunday afternoons, you could spot Taylor headed down the Bloomville Road at the helm of his dad’s Creston Motor Scooter. With 50 cents in gas, Taylor, his best friend, A.C. English, sitting on the back of the scooter and Taylor’s younger brother Richard perched on the handlebars, the trio was headed to play baseball in a cow pasture in Bloomville owned by Leroy Phillips’ parents.
Along with the Taylors and English, you could find George Lesesne, Bill Brewer, Kenneth Beatson and a few other fellows playing an afternoon of baseball in an honest-to-goodness cow pasture.
“This is no joke,” Taylor said with a chuckle. “We didn’t have any Little Leagues, no recreational leagues, no backyards or streets. We played in Leroy Phillips’ father’s cow pasture in Bloomville.”
Taylor said they always made sure they had four good “dry” cow patties to mark the diamond.
“Once we made a mistake,” he laughed. “We found out after we started the game one wasn’t too dry.”
There was no Gatorade or bottled water to quench their thirst on those hot Sunday afternoons.
“We went to the well and drew up a bucket of water,” he added. “We didn’t have any coolers full of drinks or water.”
Growing up, Taylor started out as a pitcher and his catcher was none other than his best friend, English.
“A.C. was an excellent catcher,” Taylor said. “We played together throughout high school.”
“My hand stayed swollen all season long,” English said. “Joey was a better hitter than he was a pitcher. I am convinced that Joey would have played Major League baseball if not for an injury he suffered while at Clemson.”
In high school, Taylor was a starter in baseball and football for five years. In baseball, he was co-captain of his team for two years and voted his team’s Most Valuable Player.
In football, the accolades continued. He was voted Honorable Mention on the All State team and MVP his senior year.
Taylor played four years of American Legion baseball, two years in Manning and two years in Turbeville.
“Maxie Knowlton and I played Legion ball together in Turbeville our junior and senior years,” Taylor said. “He brought out the best in me. I always wanted to be as good as Maxie. He made me play at 110 percent.”
Taylor said he enjoyed playing baseball for Coach Shadd Hall.
“I led the team in hitting both years I played for him,” he added.
Taylor was offered a $1,000 bonus to sign with the N.Y. Yankees after his Legion career was over. Instead, he chose to sign a partial baseball scholarship to Clemson as a pitcher, but it didn’t take long for the Tigers to realize Taylor meant more to the team with his bat than his pitches.
“I was a better hitter than a pitcher,” he said. “I hit for .429 and they moved me to first base and outfield.”
During his career at Clemson, Taylor set a host of records, many of which have been tied or exceeded in the ensuing years. One record still stands – the record for most extra base hits in a 9-inning game: two home runs and three doubles.
Taylor ended his baseball career playing with Summerton in the semi-professional Eastern Carolina League where he was a first team starter at first base and pitching. His team won the championship during his last season.
While many former players turn to coaching after their playing days are over, Taylor only coached for a few years.
“I coached Little League for four or five years,” he said. “We won one championship.”
Today, Taylor said he sits in his recliner and watches games pulling most often for the underdog.
Taylor said his induction into the second class of the Clarendon County Athletic Hall of Fame caught him off guard.
“I was surprised when Bill called,” Taylor said. “It catches you off guard. I am fortunate and happy to have been selected into the second class.”