ALBANY -- It started with a birthday party two years ago, grew into a reunion last year, and has now blossomed into part of the legacy that is Paul Eames.
Eames, more than a legend and mentor, spent a lifetime in baseball, first as a player and manager in the minor leagues, and later as one of the most respected American Legion coaches anywhere.
That's what this weekend's Second-annual Paul Eames Baseball Tournament is all about. It's a tribute to a man who gave so much to so many.
Two years ago, more than 500 showed up to celebrate Eames' birthday at Darton College, where old friends and teammates returned to honor their former coach. Rodney German, who played for Eames' final American Legion team in 1983, organized the birthday party reunion, and then a year ago created the Paul Eames Baseball Tournament.
"Now we're in our second year,'' said German, who now lives in Worcester, Mass., which is ironically Eames' birthplace. German comes back to Southwest Georgia every year to help honor Eames. "The tournament has grown, and I think it is going to grow some more. We had 10 teams last year and this year we have 13 teams. We could have had more.''
German said last year's success carried over to this year's tournament.
"The reason all these teams are here this year is because they had such a good time last year, and they wanted to come back,'' German said.
They didn't come alone. Some of the teams brought nearby teams with them this year. Last year there was one team from Jacksonville, Fla. This year there are two. Last year there were two teams from Tallahassee. This year there are four. The field has teams from three states and includes South Cobb from the Atlanta area as well as a team from Vero Beach, Fla, which will travel about 400 miles to defend the title it won a year ago.
The tournament includes the four area American Legion teams, the Post 182 senior and junior teams out of Lee County and the Post 30 junior and senior teams from Albany.
Albany's Post 30 is the host team. Post 30's junior team opens against Post 182's senior team at 9 a.m. today and Post 30's senior team opens against Wiregrass (Ala.) at 9 a.m. today.
The three-day tournament will use all three fields at the Paul Eames Sports Complex, and the championship game is scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $5 a day.
German said plans are for the parents (Demp and Traci Posey) of San Francisco Giants catcher and Lee County native Buster Posey to come out Sunday to hand out the Buster Posey MVP trophy to the tournament's top player.
Eames, 83, was hoping to come out for a presentation during the tournament.
"He was recently in the hospital,'' German said. "If he can't make it, I will go to his home and present him with the plaque. He did so much for so many kids. We hope some of his former players and alumni come out this weekend.''
German is an engineer with Raytheon in Massachusetts, where he is involved with the development of missiles and satellite systems. He always give Eames credit for his opportunities, because Eames opened up the door for German to get a baseball scholarship to college.
That's part of Eames' remarkable legacy. He sent more than 100 kids to college, and also had four of his players reach the major leagues, including Ray Knight.
The idea was to honor him, and this tournament has taken off after just one year.
"I think it will grow even more next year,'' said German, who is also working with the American Legion to establish a Paul Eames Scholarship. "I think we will have to cut it off at 16 teams.''