Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Still swinging for the fences
By Ed Grisamore -

Donnie “Dodger” Fowler could knock the stitches off a softball. He could crush one a country mile from his mailbox halfway up Chicken Road toward Dudley.

He covered so much ground at shortstop, folks were convinced he had enough range to also cover second base, left field and half of Laurens County.

He played so hard he would shake enough infield dirt from his uniform at the end of every game to plant a row of butter beans.

Obsessed? Yes, you could call it that.

“I eat, sleep and drink softball,” he said.

He once played three games in one night — in three different towns. He suited up for a contest in Perry at 6:15, then hit the pedal for a church league game in Haynesville at 8 and arrived in Cochran in time for a 10 p.m. nightcap.

The march of time has now slowed him, as it does all ballplayers. He will turn 61 next week. He has played plenty hurt, battling through prostate cancer, lung problems, kidney stones and a ruptured disc.

He still plays in a senior league, a hard-nosed circuit of graybeards and ibuprofen. There is no “disabled list” in softball. You bleed and hobble from one sweaty dugout to the next. And the extra ice in the cooler isn’t just reserved for the beer in the parking lot after the game.

The only time he missed most of a season was in the early 1980s when Gary Hardie of Milledgeville, who had played in the New York Mets farm system, slid into him at second base and went hard into his knee.

Even today, Dodger is a tough out.

Not to mention, a legend.

Nine months ago, he was inducted into the USSSA Hall of Fame. It was the greatest moment of his ball-playing career. He was so nervous he asked a friend to deliver his acceptance speech.

It may not be Cooperstown, but Donnie will settle for Allentown.

He was born in Perry on Aug. 14, 1949. That same day, someone stole his father’s Model A Ford.

Ernest Fowler worked at the cement plant in Haynesville. When his five sons weren’t playing baseball out in the yard, they were down at the sandlot next to the plant.

Donnie practiced his swings by taking his bat and thumping an old tire. On Sunday afternoons, he would follow his older brother, Marvin, to semipro baseball games. When the team was short-handed, he sometimes got to play.

Although he stood only 5-foot-7, he was a crafty pitcher and sure-handed shortstop at Perry High. He led the team in hitting his junior and senior years.

Coach Roy Umstattd recruited him to play at Middle Georgia College, a junior college powerhouse in baseball, but he didn’t have the grades. He was never one to study. He cracked more bats than books.

The Los Angeles Dodgers were always his favorite team. He began following them as a young boy during their days in Brooklyn before the team moved to the West Coast in 1958. That same year, a rookie named Ron Fairly, who was born in Macon, played his first game with Los Angeles. Macon was a minor-league affiliate of the Dodgers at the time, playing their homestands at Luther Williams Field. Donnie remembers listening to many of those games on the radio.

His proverbial “cup of coffee” in professional baseball was no more than a tiny swallow. In 1970, he went to Vero Beach, Fla., during spring training for a tryout with the Dodgers. He was more nervous than a long-tailed dog in a room full of rocking chairs. Plus, he couldn’t hit a curve ball, and he was released after two weeks.

So he came home and began a career in softball than has now spanned 41 years. He met his wife, Bonnie, at a softball tournament in Dexter. He has played on almost a dozen teams that have won national championships in their divisions.

When softball players began using aluminum bats, he stuck with a wooden model he had bought for $5 at a hardware store in Perry. It was his own “Wonder Boy.” When it finally broke, it broke his heart, too.

They started calling him “Little Dodger” after he hit three home runs in a game in Fitzgerald. That was nothing. Another time, he knocked 10 straight out of the ballpark.

He still loves the Dodgers, even in the land of the Braves. He can’t hold his eyes open long enough to watch their games on TV from the West Coast, especially since he has to get up with the rooster on Chicken Road. He drives 54 miles to his job in shipping and receiving at the Boeing plant in Macon, arriving each day at 7 a.m.

A few years ago, he bought a Dodgers uniform with his name and No. 44 on the back of the jersey. He told his family and buddies he wants to be buried in it.

Until then, he’s going to keep swinging for the fences.

Reach Gris at 744-4275 or

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