Baseball games at Carolina Stadium won’t be the same this spring. That’ll be true for everyone, but especially for fans in Section 11, just behind home plate — a location that an old pitcher always enjoyed.
Bill Camp — better know as “The Candy Man” — won’t be there.
Camp, 89 and a game-day fixture, first at Sarge Frye Field and then at the team’s new digs, died Sunday. Funeral services are today at 4 p.m. at North Trenholm Baptist Church.
For former USC coach Ray Tanner, new boss Chad Holbrook, players and fans, future spring afternoons and evenings will lack a small but special piece of the fabric of baseball season.
“Candy Man was a part of our Carolina baseball games, and part of those games was the fact that he was in our lineup,” Tanner, now the school’s athletics director, said. “When you came to a Carolina game, you knew you were going to see the Gamecocks and the Candy Man.
“He brought a lot of joy to the stadium, brought a lot of smiles to a lot of folks.”
The tall, lean Camp, who at 6-foot-3 towered over other USC pitchers in 1948-51, was always easy to pick out in the Carolina Stadium crowd, with his brilliant white hair, thick glasses and, friends say, always a smile on his face when he was watching baseball.
Then there’s that nickname. For nearly a decade, Camp brought pocketfuls of candies to games, handing them to children “and especially the ladies,” friend Peggy Lawrence said with a laugh. He’d buy candy in bulk, says his wife of 25 years, Jacqueline, and often wore a jacket with extra pockets to carry the goodies — especially Caramel Cremes, his trademark treats.
Sometimes, befitting his baseball career, he’d show off his still-accurate right arm.
“He’d see someone sitting four rows over, take a piece of candy and throw it, almost drop it in their pocket,” said friend and occasional Row 9 seatmate Sam Reynolds. “They’d turn around and see Bill, and smile. He loved to see them smile.”
Baseball parks, perhaps because of the game’s laid-back pace, often attract loveable, sometimes-eccentric regulars. If he’d done nothing beyond tossing around candy, Camp would be remembered fondly.
But he did so much more.
A veteran of World War II, Camp served in the U.S. Navy. Reynolds — who this past spring met Camp when he bought one of Camp’s two tickets before a game — tells how his friend was on one of the first ships entering Pearl Harbor after the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese attack. “He talked about the big oil slick on the (harbor) water, and how shocking it was to see all the devastation,” Reynolds, an Irmo businessman, said.
After the war, Camp came home and, like many servicemen, enrolled in college at age 26. A native of Athens, Tenn., who went by “Country” Camp, he picked USC because his first wife, Dorothy, was from Lancaster — and because baseball coach Ted Petoskey offered him a scholarship, Jacqueline Camp said.
“He was a tall, very strong person then, strong arms and hands,” she said. On weekends, to earn extra money, Camp would play textile-league games in Metter, Ga., to support his wife, daughter and son, she said.
At USC, Camp played on strong teams his sophomore and junior seasons (1949-50), the Gamecocks going 15-6 and 16-9-1. Individual records are sketchy, but a school yearbook lists him as one of four All-Southern Conference selections in 1949, a highlight being his 7-6 decision in relief against Clemson, part of a season-ending two-game sweep.
According to “A Century of Gamecocks: Memorable Baseball Moments” by the late Tom Price, USC’s long-time sports information director, Camp had a 5-5 record in 1950. That included a three-hit, 9-3 win against The Citadel in Charleston and an 8-5 decision in relief against Davidson. As a senior, he was 2-7 — which remains tied for most losses in a season by a USC pitcher — and his team finished 6-15. Camp tore his rotator cuff in his final game of eligibility.
That ended his career, but not his love of baseball. In the 1960s, Camp coached Pony League teams at Earlwood Park and Colt League teams at Capital City Stadium. Allen Sharpe, a Columbia photographer, remembers Camp “throwing knuckleballs to us in Pony League, and teaching us to slide in sand pits at Earlwood.”
Cy Szakacsi, who went on to coach high school basketball at University High, A.C. Flora, Hammond and Cardinal Newman for 52 seasons, played with Camp in 1950 was a senior first baseman. The 89-year-old recalled a game against Georgia when Camp was pitching, and a Bulldogs’ batter ripped a pitch into right field.
“The outfielder misjudged it and it went for a triple,” Szakacsi said. “An assistant coach got on him — ‘Why didn’t you catch that ball?’ — until Bill said, ‘Coach, you ever try to catch a bullet?’
On April 1, 2011, Camp was recognized on his 88th birthday before the Gamecocks faced Kentucky. But his ultimate super fan moment came at Sarge Frye Field in 2007, when USC invited the old right-hander to throw out the first pitch — again on his birthday — before the Sunday finale of a three-game series against Vanderbilt.
“When they announced his name, the fans gave him a standing ovation, and that was so moving,” Jacqueline Camp said. “He was a little alarmed if he could get the ball to the catcher, but you could hear it go into the glove, and he got another ovation. It was thrilling.
“The players came out and gave him high-fives. Then coach Tanner told him, ‘Tell me where you’re sitting, in case I need to call on you.’ ”
No need. USC, which had lost the first two games, crushed the Commodores, 8-2.
For the Gamecocks’ Candy Man, that had to be truly sweet.