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Albany native Wilson headed to FAMU Hall of Fame

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Add Ulysses Wilson's name to the list that includes Andre Dawson, Vince Coleman and Hal McRae.

Make a spot for the kid from Albany who ran like a rabbit and made playing shortstop look all too easy in a time when baseball was still the No. 1 sport in America.

He was there before Dawson or Coleman or McRae, an original FAMU Rattler who stung the ball all over the field, a smart hitter who made teams pay with his bat, his glove and his feet -- the consummate No. 2 slugger who knew how to get on base and wreak havoc once he was there.

Tonight, they'll honor Wilson at Florida A&M University, where he will be inducted into FAMU's Sports Hall of Fame. Dawson will be there to speak and to welcome Wilson to FAMU's elite club of athletes that includes McRae and Coleman, as well as athletes from every sport.

"It's an honor,'' Wilson told The Herald this week. "It's something special."

Some would say it is long overdue for Wilson, who led Monroe High to the state baseball championship in 1967, then moved on to FAMU, where he was a terror on the base paths.

The legendary Buck O'Neil, who was a scout for the Cubs, tried to sign Wilson out of high school, then later the Boston Red Sox also tried to sign him.

But Wilson wanted to go to college. He quickly made a name for himself at FAMU, where he led the team in hitting for three years and batted .360 and stole 43 bases as a sophomore. Then, as a junior, he hit .380 and stole 49 bases. He was an all-conference player twice (FAMU was a part of the SIAC back then, but now belongs to the MEAC) and named a Second-Team All-American.

Wilson even played for the national College All-Star team that was coached by the legendary Ron Fraser and played in South America. Wilson made the move from shortstop to second base. The shortstop on the team was Bucky Dent.

He had an unforgettable college career that will culminate tonight.

"I have a lot of memories,'' Wilson said. "One thing that stands out is my sophomore year, we went 35-7 and were ranked No. 7 in the nation. We beat the University of Miami, the University of Pittsburgh and St. Johns, who were all (Division I teams) who had big-time programs.''

Some memories are more vivid than others.

"I'll never forget winning a tournament title game against North Carolina A&T with a home run in the bottom of the ninth,'' Wilson said. "It was an inside-the-park home run.''

Wilson, however, left a legacy at FAMU that won't soon be forgotten.

"He was a super ball player and a super student-athlete,'' said Dr. Joseph Ramsey, the chairman of FAMU's Hall of Fame committee, which is inducting six athletes tonight. "He led the team in hitting and stolen bases. If he played (in this era), he probably would have played in the majors. Timing is everything.''

After Wilson's junior season, big league baseball came calling again. He was drafted in the fifth round by the San Diego Padres, an expansion club that took a route that would be unheard of today. Instead of building the franchise on young players, the early Padres signed veteran players who were past their prime.

Part of the idea was to build a fan base in San Diego, but the team suffered on the field and in the standings, and players such as Wilson went overlooked. He spent five years in the minors -- was on the major league 40-man roster for two of those -- and in 1974 manager Don Zimmer wanted to keep Wilson after spring training. The general manager, however, wanted to go with veteran Glenn Beckert, and Wilson was the last man cut from the team that spring.

"It was tough,'' Wilson said. "I do have some great memories. I went to spring training and met and played against Willie Mays. That was a thrill. His first time up, he grounded out to me. There were some players like Reggie Jackson who would big-time you. They didn't have time for the small players. But Mays was great, and the best was Ernie Banks, who always had time for the small players.''

Wilson was about as close to the big leagues as you can get without taking that final step, and there's little doubt if he played today -- or if he would have played for another club -- that he probably would have spent time in the majors.

Wilson, 61, eventually came home to Albany after his final year at Triple A Hawaii and got a job with Procter & Gamble.

"I think it's an honor to be inducted into the (FAMU) Hall of Fame, but I would probably have been more excited if it had happened when I was in my 30s. It's still special to me. And it's something they can never take away from you.''