Playing Maximum Security Prisoners Was Wild

Editor/Collegiate Baseball

RAIFORD, Fla. — In the history of college baseball, plenty of wild moments have taken place.

But few can top what Coach Jay Bergman orchestrated during the early 1970s when he was coaching at Seminole (Fla.) Community College and later at the University of Florida in 1981.

For approximately 50 games over this period of time, he took his college baseball teams to play games against Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, Fla. which housed on of the most famous maximum security units in the nation.

“When I was at Seminole, we would play the prison team about 10 times each summer for about five years in the late 60s and early 70s,” said Bergman.

“Our team was paid $100 a game to play the inmates, and each summer we raised about $1,000. The money came in handy to help the baseball program.”

Bergman said the experience was one he will always remember.

“There was barbed wire all around the complex. When you walked through the prison gates, it slammed shut and gave you a chilling feeling. You were surrounded at all times with guards.

The possibility of a riot was never mentioned by the guards, but you couldn’t stop thinking about it.

“When we got out to the field, guards were in the dugouts with rifles. You never forgot where you were.”

Bergman said his kids were wide-eyed when they made their first trek through the gates and saw hardened criminals for the first time ― some being huge physical specimens.

“My kids were probably a little intimidated at the surroundings and the inmates. All of us were frisked and went through metal detectors. My kids weren’t sure how hard the prisoners would play the game.”

Bergman said a number of quality athletes were among the inmate team.

“The prison ball club was a tough, tough group of men. They would slide extremely hard into second base as well as other bases and vent their anger and emotion through the game. Our middle infielders had to be prepared for guys sliding hard into them. All of the inmates wore steel cleats.

“When our batters stepped to the plate, you definitely didn’t dig in because pitches would come high and inside to keep our hitters off the plate. It was definitely no walk in the park. Some of the bigger prisoners definitely tried to bully our kids. It was a unique experience for our ball players, many of whom had just graduated high school.”

Bergman said one game resulted in the death of the prisoner’s third base coach due to a heart attack.

To read more of this story, purchase the Feb. 10, 2023 issue of Collegiate Baseball or subscribe by CLICKING HERE.