Vivid images are stamped in their minds for life.
Home runs, great defensive plays and pitchers with good velocity and movement on the ball were all part of the highlights from this All-Star bunch in 1979.
Even 41 years later, coach Don Brewer can see the throngs of baseball fans who packed around the diamond atop Gainesville High’s campus, which is where the Lady Red Elephants now play softball.
It was a more simplistic form of baseball.
Those who were playing say it was better.
There was no internet or social media for people to shout each other down. Instead, people, many who didn’t have a connection with any of the players, would bring a folding chair to have a good view by the fence or sit in the back of a pickup truck to watch the action under a blistering-summer sun.
This was American Legion baseball.
And the Post 7 team from Gainesville was one of the best in the country.
“American Legion games were the place to go in the summer back then,” said pitcher Gary House, who pitched for Gainesville High and was an ace for Post 7 with his Red Elephants teammate David Coker.
American Legion baseball has a long history of success.
These were teams that combined the top talent in Hall and surrounding counties for summer-league play. Players anticipated the call from Brewer that they made the roster. This was long before parents shelled out thousands of dollars to play for elite travel-league teams.
In American Legion, players didn’t have to pay a penny.
Post 7 produced eight state championships, had 130 players sign to play in college and 28 were drafted into the big leagues, according to Brewer.
“Post 7 was the place to play,” Brewer said. “It was the only game in town and the players took a lot of pride in representing the community.”
Gainesville’s American Legion team during the final full year of Jimmy Carter’s presidential administration pulled players from Gainesville, East Hall, North Hall, Johnson and Forsyth County High.
Since most of the players spent their summers playing together and all got along without any friction, there was an intrinsic chemistry that proved more valuable than having a lineup card chocked full of superstars.
“There’s nothing like that team from 1979,” said shortstop Scott Powers, who went on to be a starter at Clemson University. “I played with Tom Glavine and Ron Gant in the minor leagues, but Post 7 was one of my best memories.”
Sadly, a large portion of the fans who cheered for Gainesville that year are no longer with us.
However, the players can paint a crystal-clear picture of kids who lived to play baseball, weren’t afraid to get their jersey dirty and had a knack for winning very close ball games. Long rides together in a car to play in cities that included Athens and Toccoa is where the bonds were cemented for the 17 players who were between the ages of 16-18.
Men, now all in their late 50s, have told the stories to anyone who will listen of a squad that refused to lose and made history along the way.
Gainesville Post 7 earned the state championship, Southeast Region championship, and played in the 1979 World Series on Labor Day weekend in Greenville, Mississippi.
“I have a son who is 18 and a daughter who is 32,” said House, who now lives in Social Circle. “They’ve heard all the stories of that team.”
What stands out about Gainesville Post 7 in 1979 was its ability to win one-run games.
After losing the opener to Puerto Rico, Gainesville had to come from behind in four straight games and won three of those by one run to take the Southeast Regional in Greer, South Carolina.
Gainesville won back-to-back, one-run games August 25 against Hamlet, North Carolina to earn its spot in the World Series.
Once the Southeast Regional championship was in the bag, complete pandemonium ensued on the field for Post 7’s entourage of fans and players. This was a first-time achievement for everyone who wore the jersey.
Brewer recalls one of the parents, Homer Wilson, the father of now-deceased Post 7 outfielder Billy Wilson, hopping over the fence to run on the field to celebrate, too. House held on the ball from the final out as a keepsake, which he later gave to his mother.
It is a slideshow full of memories etched forever in their minds.
The scene at the hotel afterward was just as exuberant, knowing Post 7 was headed to the World Series. The then 30-something-year old Brewer recalls being tossed into the pool by his jubilant players.
Players even recall parents getting in on the action by jumping in the water.
Not a single one minded getting their clothes wet.
“We had the entire city behind us,” House said. “That’s what made it really special.”
Had it not been for second baseman Dwayne Wellborn’s quick thinking, Post 7 would have been in a bind during the second and final game against Hamlet, North Carolina at the Southeast Regional. The season was completely on the line.
Coker was called in to pitch in relief of House with a runner on first base in the top of the ninth inning and Gainesville clinging to a 3-2 lead.
Hamlet’s next hitter pushed a well-executed bunt down the third base line. Coker came off the mound and fielded the ball, but was indecisive on whether to go for the lead runner at second base or throw to first. The hesitation resulted in a throw over first baseman Jim Edwards — a potentially costly mistake.
However, Wellborn was already backing up the throw, fielded it, turned and threw a perfect strike to third baseman Jimmy McWhorter to gun down the lead runner.
After that, Hamlet had one out and a runner at first. Had Wellborn not made the hustle play, Hamlet would have likely had runners on the corners with nobody out.
“That just broke their backs,” Brewer said in a 1979 article in The Times. “Dwayne was there and made an outstanding play.”
Post 7 recorded the final two outs in pedestrian fashion, locking up its spot in the World Series.
House was superb on the mound for the first eight innings. However, fatigue got to him late and it showed with a four-pitch walk to open the ninth inning.
The left-hander also drove in two runs to take the lead in the seventh inning.
There was a different hero, or at least it seemed like it, every time Gainesville mounted a late rally.
In Game 1 against Hamlet, North Hall’s Mike Gailey bashed a two-run, go-ahead homer in the seventh inning. Powers hit the game-winning homer in the bottom of the ninth in an elimination game against Orlando, Florida. In the second-round win against Orangeburg, South Carolina, House kept Gainesville alive by pitching out of bases-loaded jams in the ninth and 10th inning.
Catcher Kenny Anderson, from East Hall High, drove in four runs during a come-from-behind win against Americus in the state tournament. Coker pitched a complete game in the championship against Savannah, giving him the distinction of being the winning pitcher in back-to-back state championship games (1978 and 1979).
In the postseason, the only late lead Gainesville failed to finish off was when it lost 6-5 to Puerto Rico in the first game of the Southeast Regional.
The offense for the Gainesville American Legion was extremely balanced. Powers led the team, hitting .399 with 15 homers in 1979. Six other Post 7 players finished the season hitting above the .300 mark.
“Everyone contributed, everyone knew their job,” said Powers, who also played seven years in the minor leagues.
Word circulated around the stadium that Gainesville’s World Series opener would be on television.
It was some new network called ESPN.
In 1979, nobody had heard of the all-sports station that was barely in its infancy stage.
In fact, Gainesville’s game against Barrington, Rhode Island on August 30 in the opener of the World Series was the first game broadcast on ESPN. The first episode of SportsCenter, its anchor-highlight show for many years, aired the next week. The network drew 30,000 viewers for the first episode of SportsCenter, which was broadcast from a modest studio in Bristol, Connecticut.
House and Coker remember seeing the cameras around the field. It was a thrill to be on television. However, in the summer of 1979, ESPN was brand new and nobody had access to the cable-television station back in northeast Georgia.
ESPN has since branched out to nine stations and also owns sports broadcasting rights to games on ABC. ESPNs revenue is primarily generated from advertising dollars through contracts to broadcast college football, college basketball, NBA, MLB and the NFL.
ESPN’s net worth in 2019, according to Forbes, was $24 billion.
Characterized with an easy-going personality, Brewer knew how to get the best out of his players.
Powers credits Brewer for Post 7 making it as far as the team did in 1979.
“He was very positive and confident in the players,” Powers said. “(Brewer) had a calming influence on the team.”
The Gainesville team in 1979 was the first in state history to reach the American Legion World Series. Post 7 finished fifth overall in Mississippi after losses to Barrington, Rhode Island and Barrington, Illinois.
The coach at Gainesville High from 1969-77, Brewer coached the American Legion Post 7 team for more than 20 years.
He finished in excess of 600 victories, which averaged out to about 30 wins per season.
After a year coaching at Gainesville College (1977), Brewer went to work for 32 years with the Henny Penny Corporation, which makes cooking equipment for fast food companies. Some of its biggest clients are Chic-Fil-A, Wendy’s, McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Brewer said having the American Legion team to coach made his decision easier to leave the education field and enter the private business sector.
Two American Legion players for Brewer (Jody Davis and Cris Carpenter) went on to have successful careers in the majors.