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Sammy Taylor and Andrew Fischer

Sammy Taylor and Andrew Fischer

Local baseball legend and chaplain form bond

One of the things Andrew Fischer appreciates most about his work as a Spartanburg Regional Hospice chaplain is hearing the life stories of patients he visits in their homes and at nursing homes. And Sammy Taylor, a resident of Woodruff Manor, has lots of great stories to tell.

As a young man, he played major league baseball. Taylor was a catcher for the Chicago Cubs from 1958-1962.

Growing up, Taylor’s father was a big deal in the Woodruff area – a powerful athlete known by everyone as “Big Ox.” He starred for the Mills Mill baseball team. Young Sammy loved watching his dad and the other guys play.

“I was down there anytime they were on the field,” he said.

The team allowed him to help out as a catcher at batting practice, and Sammy got good in a hurry. By the time he was out of high school, pro scouts were vying for his services. After stints in the minor league and in the Navy, where he continued to play competitively, he was called up by the Cubs.

Chicago’s Wrigley Field was a world apart from the ballfields of his youth in Woodruff.

“The first time I took the field and the stands were full, it scared the devil out me. But after the first play, I settled down and didn’t think about it,” Taylor recalled.

It was 1958, and he would go on to play with and against some of the greatest players of the era. Cubs legend Ernie Banks was a teammate. Opposing players included Sandy Koufax, Willie Mays and Warren Spahn. He faced off against Hank Aaron, who had been a teammate in the minors.

Taylor was behind the plate when St. Louis star Stan Musial batted his 3,000th hit.

“I remember they stopped the game and these newspaper reporters came out on the field. I didn’t know what was going on,” Taylor said, laughing. “I said to the umpire, ‘Hey, what’s the problem? We need to get these people off the field and start the game.’ And he said, ‘Sam, this man just got his 3000th hit – this is history being made!’”

Playing catcher is widely considered to be the most physically demanding of any position in baseball. Crouching behind the plate, making more than 100 throws during games, absorbing collisions at home plate – all take a toll on the body. After several years in the majors, Taylor endured knee surgery, his right shoulder began to deteriorate, and he developed a knot on his hand from catching fastballs over and over.

In 1963, he decided, “I can’t take no more.” He retired and returned home to Woodruff, where he worked in the textile industry and he and his wife, Polly, who passed away in 2017, raised one daughter.

Fischer visits Woodruff Manor to see Taylor about once a week. They joke back and forth and have a good time chatting with nurses and other staff members. Taylor enjoys talking about old times, and Fischer enjoys listening. “Sammy’s just a super nice guy,” Fischer said. “Even if he wasn’t my hospice patient, I’d still want to hang out with him.”

While they have an easygoing relationship, Fischer’s role is an important part of the Spartanburg Regional Hospice program. The stories Taylor shares give Fischer an opportunity to “bear witness.”

As he explained, “Humans have an innate need to be remembered. It’s important for people to tell their stories – what’s made them who they are. That’s not to say it’s always easy. But even when people are wracked with regret it’s an honor when we, as chaplains, can be a vessel for their story to be told.”

With support from Spartanburg Regional Foundation’s Hospice Special Needs Fund, the hospice program provides an extra layer of support for patients and families. For financially needy patients, the fund covers costs associated with medicines and basic household needs. It sustains a Thanksgiving and Easter meals program for patients and loved ones and supports bereavement services.

In November, hospice patients who are Veterans were honored in a special way. The Special Needs Fund paid for the purchase of American flags, and volunteers with the Combat Wounded Purple Heart Veterans Association raised and saluted each flag at the Spartanburg Regional Hospice Home. The flags were then folded and presented along with a certificate to the Veterans in hospice care.

Taylor was among the recipients.

“He really loved that,” Fischer said. “He thought it was the coolest thing ever.”

A well-known figure over the years in the Woodruff community, Taylor is popular among staff and residents at Woodruff Manor. “Everybody loves Sammy,” Fischer said. “He’s really authentic. For the most part, he seems to be one of those people who enjoys every day for its own sake.”

And when the Cubs are playing ball, he still loves to tune in – though, he said, seeing Wrigley Field on TV “makes me feel a little homesick.”

Taylor remains proud of his time in the major leagues. It’s clearly an important part of his life story. But Fischer noted that he remains humble about the experience.

“Sammy’s made comments before about not being in the league very long,” Fischer said. “I say, ‘But, dang, Sammy – you played in the Major Leagues. How many people can say they did that at all?’”

To learn more about the Hospice Special Needs Fund or to make a donation, visit RegionalFoundation.com