WARNER ROBINS, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – Claude Lewis is known as “The Father of Tee Ball” in Warner Robins and throughout Middle Georgia. He’s credited as the inventor of the sport.
In the 1950s, Lewis stepped up to the plate to become the first director of Parks and Recreation in Warner Robins.
“The kids here were wonderful, they wanted something to do,” said Lewis. “The participation was tremendous.”
Now, he’ll be awarded with a J.B. Hawkins Humanitarian Award by the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame for his impact on the youth community.
“I had more fun than they did,” said Lewis, referring to the kids he worked with.
During his time as director, Lewis brought the game of baseball as the first sport kids could start off playing. He then realized not everyone could participate.
“The mothers said they wanted a baseball program for their children that were six or less,” said Lewis.
After thinking about children getting hurt by a baseball at that age, he came up with an idea.
“I thought if I have a baseball game and I use tennis balls and let them bat off a tee and no matter how many kids we got,” Lewis said. “If I put 15 to a team, then all 15 would play and everyone gets at least one bat. It worked out.”
Lewis made the first tee out of a horse shoe and water tube. The first game of tee ball was played in June of 1967. Within a year, he was getting calls from all of the world.
“I went over to Germany, I went to Italy and Israel and Austria and set up baseball programs in those four countries,” said Lewis.
Although he’s known by many to have been the first to invent the game, he never got actual recognition for it.
“I didn’t know anything about a patent, so I never thought about patenting it. If I had, I wouldn’t be living here,” Lewis joked. “I’d be a rich man.”
He says none of that matters anymore, because he did it for reasons money could never buy.
“I had a bad childhood and I tried to make these children a childhood different from mine,” Lewis said.
Serving in World War II, being invited to the White House by former President George W. Bush, and traveling the world are just some of the many accomplishments Lewis has made.
“I had a great life, I had a life that really wasn’t work,” Lewis said. “I had more fun than the kids did.”
Many would say, he knocked it out of the park.