Wando's Dodds honors his grandfather

Robbie Dodds

All of the Wando High School baseball players have Mohawk haircuts, a fun part of brotherhood bonding in a state championship quest. Junior center fielder and relief pitcher Robbie Dodds will wear something extra on his head tonight when the Warriors play host to Conway in a Class AAAA Lower State final game.

The letters "J.J.D." are pressed hard into the side of his ballcap in black Sharpie, and have been there throughout Wando's 27-2 season. Johnnie Dodds — the man, the myth, the former Mount Pleasant mayor, the busy boulevard — was one of the Lowcountry's greatest amateur and semi- professional baseball players.

To Robbie, he is a sweet 91-year-old grandfather who has shared memories from scrapbooks full of baseball lore and influenced team chemistry critical to Wando's unprecedented success.

"I just decided to put his initials on my hat this year," he said. "My grandfather is getting a little bit older and he can't come out to the games as much anymore. Ever since I was a little kid, he was always an inspiration and someone I've looked up to in a baseball way and other ways."

Of course, the love is mutual.

"I finally got Robbie to hold his elbow out of the way when he bats," Johnnie Dodds, Mount Pleasant mayor from 1976-84, said in his living room. "He's a good ballplayer. You see him out there and you see yourself out there, except I played the infield."

Joe Riley's coach

Born on State Street in Charleston, Johnnie Dodds began playing baseball in the 1920s. He can "quite faithfully" recall his days playing on a Catholic Orphan House team in a league for kids 12 and under.

"They used to always have food, fruit and ice cream for the players after the game. They also got to go to the movies at the Majestic Theater for free on Saturdays," Dodds said. "I went down there and pulled the bell and one of the sisters came to the door. I said, 'Sister, I'm Johnnie Dodds and I came to ask if I could play baseball for your team.' She said, 'Well, Johnnie Dodds, if you think yourself is so good that we need you, then you can go right back where you came from.' I said, 'No, sister, I'm no good at all.' She invited me in, I joined their team and it was great."

Dodds was a shortstop and pitcher good enough to get a contract offer from the Cincinnati Reds — turned down. He received a letter from Hall of Fame Philadelphia A's manager Connie Mack. As a semi-pro slugger, his "circuit wallops" and home runs into the marsh beyond old Stoney Field near The Citadel were reported regularly in the Charleston newspapers.

The baseball legacy did not end with a playing career.

As a youth coach, Dodds' roster once included an unusually enthusiastic competitor named Joseph P. Riley Jr.

"He hit a ball into the outfield one game and tripped rounding second base," Dodds said of the longtime Charleston mayor. "Instead of getting up, he crawled all the way to third base. He tagged third base and just kept crawling. All the way home."

As a community leader, Dodds helped start Little League baseball East of the Cooper, which later included his son, Mount Pleasant attorney Robert Dodds, who eventually would coach his own sons.

"It's cool to see how good my grandfather was back in the day," said Robbie Dodds, 17. "But it wasn't just about baseball. He was playing semi-pro ball to get extra money to help feed his family during the Depression. That really makes me proud."

'An extra spark'

A lot rubbed off from grandfather to son to grandson.

"When you have a guy like Robbie on the team it's just an extra spark," Wando junior pitcher/shortstop Drew Cisco said. "His personality is like that. For me and for so many of us who have played together for so long, he's been a great teammate from day one."

Wando head coach Jeff Blankenship agreed.

"Robbie's one of our hardest workers," Blankenship said. "He is non-stop on-the-go. From the minute he gets out here, he's doing something, and most of the time it's getting better."

Dodds, batting .365 with 25 runs scored and a 2-0 record on the mound, pitched and played center field Tuesday night in Wando's 14-4 playoff win at North Augusta.

"It's awesome," he said. "Everybody gets along so well and when we go out on the field, we expect to win. It's just so great when you expect to win and actually do it."

Tonight at Wando, the Warriors with a victory over Conway will become the first team in school history to reach a state championship series. You know Robert Dodds will be there. So will Robbie's 11-year-old brother Ben, who has a piece of masking tape with the initials "J.J.D." attached to his Cal Ripken League ballcap.

Hopefully, John Joseph Dodds can make it, too.

"Baseball is just such a great game," he said. "Baseball teaches you to be humble, I think, and you also learn that whatever you do, you do the best you can."

Reach Gene Sapakoff at gsapakoff@postandcourier.com or 937-5593.