By: Dale Nelson – September 14, 2020
If you followed high school sports in South Carolina in the early 1990’s, you had probably heard the name Charles Peterson. He was an incredible athlete that wowed everyone with his ability to excel at whatever sport he played. In 1990, he started as a freshman on the best baseball team in Laurens High School history. They went 26-1 en route to winning the AAAA state championship and finished ranked #3 in the country by USA Today. In 1991, he caught the game winning touchdown pass in the 4A state championship game with less than 5 seconds left on a 4th down fade route at Williams-Brice Stadium. If that wasn’t enough, he was selected 22nd overall in the 1993 MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. The same draft class that included Alex Rodriguez, Tori Hunter and Jason Varitek. One could make the argument that he was the best athlete in Laurens High School history, perhaps in the history of South Carolina too.
Our relationship developed long before he became a local legend. We played Babe Ruth baseball together at Laurens City Park. We were also teammates through Laurens American Legion Post 25 baseball. Over time, as often happens in life, we drifted apart. I ended up coming back home to coach at Laurens and ‘Pete’ ended up making it to AAA with the Pirates before playing in Canada, China and Mexico. Pete stopped by practice one day out of the blue while visiting relatives in Laurens a few years back. I hadn’t seen him in years but he had that same smile and infectious laugh. We caught up that day and I learned he had become a scout with the Cardinals. Eventually that job brought him back to South Carolina. In 2016 I got to see a lot more of Pete as I had a potential draft pick at Laurens named Thomas Jones. Pete would pop in every now and then to watch Thomas practice or play games. He would call me often to check on Thomas but we always ended up chatting about life in general.
Working as a scout with DP and as associate scout with Blake Newsome and the Marlins, our paths crossed often over the last four or five years. We always made a point to seek each other out and catch up. He would often call me and ask about potential prospects in the Upstate. The last time I saw Pete (pictured left during the 2020 MLB Draft) was at our DP Pro Day in January. As always he was laughing and cutting up with all the guys in attendance. He was a big man but he was a gentle giant. I got to meet his daughter that day as he brought her along to River Bluff High School. Watching those two interact you could definitely see the father-daughter bond. Although we were there for baseball, most of our conversation ended up being about our kids and our families.
In late August I got word that Pete was battling Covid. I really didn’t think a lot about it because I knew he was going to beat it. There’s no way a hometown hero who never lost at anything was going to lose a battle to a virus. Over the next couple of weeks the messages became more frequent and more worrisome. This past Thursday night I got a very somber message that the situation was pretty dire.
As I sat in my den watching the Braves I picked up my phone and looked back through our messages dating back to 2016. The one text that caught my attention was June 11, 2016. Thomas was drafted by the Marlins and Pete texted to congratulate me! He told me I had done a great job with Thomas and to let him know if he could help me with anything. As I read that text, tears began rolling down my face. I immediately picked up the phone and sent him a heartfelt message. I told him I loved him and I knew he was going to beat this thing. I knew he couldn’t read it at the time but I was hoping he would when he recovered.
Sunday night, driving home from a baseball game in Charleston, I got word that Pete had lost his battle with Covid. Riding with my own son, I couldn’t help but think about his son, his daughter, his wife and his entire family. I pulled over at the next rest area to compose myself. My phone began to blow up with messages from college coaches, agents, high school coaches and old teammates.
The baseball community is a tight circle and Charles Peterson was part a big part of that circle. I’m so thankful we were able to reconnect through the game that first brought us together. Rest easy big guy, you will be sorely missed. “Once a Raider, Always a Raider”!
By: Austin Alexander – September 15, 2020
Life and baseball lost a true winner on Sunday. Like Coach Nelson said above, he was a ‘larger than life’ figure long ago and until his final breath. His passing left me to think of my first and last encounter with this athletic freak but quality human too.
It was 1992, I was on the mound at Inman Mills Park in an American Legion playoff game and the legend of this dude from Laurens had reached that old cow pasture we played in. But of course, this brash junior RHP was not going to backdown from another teenager. So sure that I could get this guy out, I started him with a fastball that he whistled past my face for a single, then promptly stole two bags. Second AB, gotta make an adjustment, right? Well, let’s see if he can hit the breaking ball – double to right-center. Somehow I am still in the game when his third time came up, changeup down and in, dinger to left-center. I still remember that feeling of helplessness against this Charles Peterson fellow. Years later, I told Pete this story and he laughed, didn’t remember it at all though. Afterall, most certainly because I was just one more arm in a long list of his victims!
The last time I spoke to him was on July 6 as he called me to get a young man into the Palmetto Games. As special as he was during his playing days, he was assisting others until his final moments on this Earth. We laughed again about how much he owned me on the bump and that we looked forward to seeing each other at our marquee event in August.
We lost a champion on Sunday but those who knew him…our lives are better because our paths crossed. Prayers remain for the family and their new void. Thank you for sharing the Big Fella with so many of us, he will be missed but never forgotten.
Charles Edward Peterson May 8, 1974 – September 13, 2020