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Goodbye to a fan favorite

It's strange how sad news can often bring back happy memories. That's what I just experiencing watching and reading stories about the death of a very special man. His name was James David Williams, Jr. But to sports fans in Columbia, SC, the last 25 years or so, he was simply David.

I don't know much about David personally aside from what I've just read. All I know is that he meant a lot to a lot of people.

I first encountered David in 1986 or 1987 at old Capital City Ballpark in Columbia. At the time it was the home of the Columbia Mets baseball team of the South Atlantic League. My family, especially my Dad and I, spent many summer nights of my childhood sitting in that rickety, old ballpark and the more modernized Capital City Stadium that replaced it in 1991. I can't remember very many of the countless games we went to that didn't include David. He was a fixture in the ballpark. He wore an old Mets uniform and was the team's unofficial, official mascot. In fact, he was so much a part of the fabric of the team and their games, that one year I even got him to sign the baseball I used to collect autographs from the players. 

David was the spirit of the Mets and later the Capital City Bombers. The weathered man, who despite his age and size was always more child than adult, breathing life into the blue and orange wooden bleachers of the old ballpark and the small crowds that filled them. He'd walk back and forth leading the handful of fans in cheers and gathering up youngsters, myself included, to help razz the competition and umpires. He'd take a break from time to time to bum a cigarette or just to catch his breath.

For a while in the early '90s, I remember David sitting in the stands with what appeared to be some well-to-do couples. I had a feeling they'd kind've adopted him and took him to games. It was probably around the time he'd had some health problems. For a while, he stayed in his seat with them, yelling to the field. But as time went on, his passion came out again, and he soon started wandering the stands churning up energy.

When the Mets morphed into the Bombers, David greeted fans at the gate in a sharp new baseball uniform. I'll never forget the first time we went to a game and saw him out on the concourse hawking programs. It may have been one of the greatest marketing moves a team ever made. What fan could say no to David?

After his program-selling duties were over each night, David returned to his role as cheerleader. Entertaining during the seventh inning stretch eventually became part of his job. Wrigley Field had Harry Caray leaning out of a press box. Capital City Stadium had David Williams standing on the dugout belting out a gravelly, off-key version of Take Me Out to the Ballgame. His a capella, perpetually incomplete version of Blueberry Hill was priceless.

Professional baseball left Columbia in 2004, and it's probably been more than a decade since I went to a game there. But the ballyard on South Assembly Street will always hold a special place in my heart. It will always be a reminder of many hot, humid nights watching baseball with my Dad and being entertained by a wonderful man, who was one of the great characters that help make America's pastime so wonderful. A man known by all who knew and loved him (and everyone who knew him did love him) simply as David.

By: Kevin Wuzzardo