Wells honored in naming of new Johnson Park batting facility

Published 9:15 am Saturday, May 6, 2023

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The City of Andalusia on Friday unveiled the sign at the Ralph Wells Batting Facility in Johnson Park.

Wells, an Andalusia native, served on the City Council from 2012-2023 and was instrumental in many community advancements, including the construction of the new batting facility.

Mayor Earl Johnson said the shade structures for the facility are expected to be shipped this week; however, the city unveiled the new sign at the facility on Friday because it was a time when all of his family could be present.

Wells played Little League, Babe Ruth, and high school baseball while growing up in Andalusia. He walked on to Auburn University’s freshman and varsity baseball teams, and by the end of his college career had earned a full scholarship and a reputation as a third baseman. Auburn Coach Paul Nix said in 1966 that Wells was the best at his position in the league.

At least part of his motivation for succeeding in baseball was competition with his older brother, Ashton Wells Jr., who played at the University of Alabama.

The Star-News quoted Auburn’s Coach Nix in 1966, saying, “I have always felt that one of Ralph’s ambitions was to equal the performance of his brother, Ashton. I think it all comes back to the competitive rivalry between Auburn and Alabama.”

Even though the Wells brothers spent their business careers working together at TPS and later, Carquest, they remained lifelong competitors, often arguing about which grandson would win against the other.

“We had competitions about who had the best grandchildren,” Ralph Wells said of his older brother, who died in 2021. “His grandson would be pitching against my grandson, and I guarantee you, neither one of them was cheering for the other.”

Ralph Wells was the only Auburn Tiger in his class recruited by the pros. He signed with the Atlanta Braves in 1966 and earned All-Star status in their training leagues. The U.S. Army interrupted his baseball career in 1967 when they drafted him for service.

While he was serving in Vietnam in 1968, his mother mailed him baseballs and a glove so he could keep his arm in shape.

Wells rejoined the Braves organization in 1969. After the first season, the Braves offered him a job in the business side of baseball.

“It sounded glamorous and I accepted,” he said in a baseball memoir he wrote for his grandchildren. “I went to the minor league meetings in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I participated with the Braves’ top management in the baseball drafts. I was in the presence of a lot of baseball immortals. I rode up the elevator and chatted with Gil Hodges of the Dodgers, Red Schoendienst and Stan Musial of the Cardinals. I sat in the room with a host of others. I developed a close friendship with Bill Lucas, the brother-in-law of Hank Aaron. Needless to say, I was in awe.”

He was assigned to be the assistant business manager of the Shreveport Braves, an apprenticeship of sorts designed to teach him the ins and outs of a baseball operation.

“Not too long after making this decision, I realized it was the wrong one for me,” he wrote. “I resigned my position at the end of the 1970 season.”

In Andalusia, he put his Auburn business degree to good use, working first at TPS Distribution Center and then CARQUEST for 37 years. His duties through the years included salesman, sales manager, and business and market development manager.

He and his wife, Sue, are the parents of two daughters, Kristen Wells Wiggins (Russell) of the Carolina community and Kim Wells Dienstl (Keith) of Anchorage, Alaska. They have seven grandchildren, Riley Grace Kelley (Mason), Maggie Ruth, Jack Russell, Mollie Jae, Pitt Stieger and Ella Grae Wiggins, and Kolten Ryker Dienstl.