ATLANTA — In the tiny town of Trion, Ga. — an insular hamlet on the western edge of the state, closer to Rock City than the bright lights of Atlanta, where most of the kids graduated from the old brick high school on one side of the Chattooga River and moved to the Regal Textile Mill on the other — there was no bigger hero than Rick Camp.
His clippings were a constant feature in the football field house and everyone in town spoke of him as if he were a lifelong best friend.
In a town like Trion, Camp was a symbol — a flesh-and-blood reminder that greatness could come from anywhere, even a place where the river got out of its banks at least once a year. Trion did not have goulashes and umbrella floods; it had canoes-down-Park-Avenue floods, regular, soul-killing disasters that cast a permanent pall over the residents. The only release valves were high school football, which Trion played exceptionally well, and Rick Camp.
He signed with the Braves out of West Georgia College in 1974 and made his major league debut in September of 1976. The following spring, scores of Trion residents turned out on Opening Day in the hopes that the Braves would call Camp in to close.
“He was our one guy, the local boy who made it big,” said Greg Baker, a former Trion resident who now serves a security consultant for The Wexford Group in Afghanistan. “He was our T-ball coach, the volunteer PE teacher; everybody’s cousin, hometown hero.
“Every kid in Trion would fight to wear his number 37. We followed every move he made with the Braves — the highs and lows both on, and later, off the field.”
The highs included a famous home run in the 18th inning of a marathon game against the New York Mets at Fulton County Stadium on July 4, 1985. By 4 a.m. ET, the Braves had run out of position players and Camp was called in to pinch hit.
He hit a game-tying homer off Tom Gorman, but struck out in the 19th inning and was the losing pitcher.
It was his only career home run.
The lows came later.
In 2005, Camp, who retired from baseball in 1985 and became a lobbyist at the Georgia State Capital, got mixed up with a Medicaid scam perpetrated by state representative Robin Williams of Augusta. Five men went to prison. One of them was Camp, who was sentenced to three years for what turned out to be a minor role in the scheme.
After his release, Camp did a little more lobbying before retiring to a new home in Pine Log, Ga. It was there that he died on Thursday at age 60 of what initial reports called natural causes.
Other than the 4 a.m. home run 28 years ago, he is largely forgotten except by the most ardent baseball enthusiasts who can tell you that he won 56 games, had 57 saves and finished a nine-year major league career with a 3.37 ERA.
But in his hometown, tears were being shed.
“Rick made us proud,” Bobby Teems, another Trion native said on the day of Camp’s passing. “You love to see home boys do well and still be home boys. He will be missed.”