Crimson Tide football legend Tony Nathan talks baseball at Negro Southern League Museum

Crimson Tide football legend Tony Nathan talks baseball at Negro Southern League Museum
Football great Tony Nathan poses with fellow Woodlawn High alumnus John Cross, who portrays Negro League baseball great Satchel Paige in a display in the Negro Southern League Museum. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. / Alabama NewsCenter)

The hot corner proved to be too hot for Tony Nathan.

The man who would become a legend on the football field also had baseball on his athletic resume at Woodlawn High School.

“That corner was hot,” he recalled with a laugh. “I got hit in the chest and the chin. I just had to stop it.”

Nathan’s days on the diamond came up as the appeared at the Negro Southern League Museum Thursday night for the latest installment of “Pitch Talk,” a discussion program created by the museum to engage the community.

Crimson Tide legend Tony Nathan talks being back in Birmingham, inspiring others and getting his degree from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

This “Pitch Talk,” subtitled “On Another Field,” was the most popular to date, drawing nearly 100 people to hear the man who starred as a running back at Woodlawn before taking his talents to the University of Alabama. Nathan continued his playing career with the Miami Dolphins.

Nathan lettered in five sports as a Woodlawn Colonel. Basketball might have been his favorite sport but he showed talent in baseball as well.

“Actually, when I played at Rickwood Field, I hit the ball over the scoreboard and had a chance to maybe play in professional baseball,” he recalled. “But my mom decided I should go to college.”

Nathan’s ticket to college was football, even though his mother didn’t want him to play.

Louise Nathan initially asked coach Tandy Gerelds to keep her son as far away from the football as possible. Her limited knowledge of the game told her that the person with the ball wound up on the bottom of a pile of players.

“He started off playing on the defense,” she recalled. “But every time somebody would fumble the ball, he would pick it up. He scored more touchdowns playing defense than the offense did.”

That prompted a change.

“The next year, coach Gerelds told me, ‘You coached him the first year. Now I’m going to take over.’ and he put him on offense.”

Nathan said his second greatest fear was speaking about himself, followed only by his fear of speaking before an audience. Being the subject of two books and a movie has forced him to face those fears.

Now a bailiff in Dade County, Fla., Nathan said he was initially startled by the multiple platforms where his life has been chronicled.

“I was ready to ride into the sunset,” he said. “Then all of a sudden coach Gereld’s son (Todd) decided to write a book, and everything sprang from there.”

The Erwin brothers developed the movie, which was the story of coach Gerelds – his life, career and him becoming a Christian along the way. Subsequently, Nathan penned “Touchdown Tony: Running with a Purpose.”

“‘Touchdown Tony’ is about me growing up and being me,” the former gridiron great said.

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