Retired fire chief finding new home on baseball diamond

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- It's been five years since Chief Rusty Thomas moved on from his post with the Charleston Fire Department. While retirement can be tough for anyone, lucky for Rusty, he has a hobby on which to fall back.{}

The other passion of his life is baseball.{}

"Baseball is part of my life. I love being at Riley Park," said Thomas. "I always called it Rusty Riley Park because I'm here more than the mayor is."{}

He never missed a game over the four years that his son Trey played for Fred Jordan, but for the past four years, Thomas has assumed a different role. Thomas is the Citadel's Internet broadcaster.{}

"This is it. This is the void I had to fill. Firefighting I did for 32 years. My whole life I was a firefighter. Unfortunately, we had the Sofa Super Store fire. The year after, I retired after 32 years in the City of Charleston. Baseball filled in and filled the void," he said. "Do I miss the fire department?{} Yes, I miss it every day, but I get to come here."

Thomas is a natural partner in the booth for play-by-play man Andy Solomon. The two are close friends. They don't get paid for their work, but they wouldn't miss a game.{}

"He knows the game," said Solomon. "He knows Citadel baseball. His son played so he knows the kids. The thing is, he's a personality. Combine those three things, I just let him go," Solomon said.{}

Thomas is certainly an unconventional broadcaster.{}

"I let him do the scorecard. I just know the players. I go out to practice, I watch practice, I don't take notes. I'm never at a loss for words when it comes to Citadel baseball," Thomas said.

The most emotion these days for Thomas comes before the games.

Six years later, players still continue the tradition that his son Trey started after the Sofa Super Store fire. Before each game, all three starting outfielders go out to the banner honoring the nine firefighters who lost their lives that hangs on the centerfield wall and touch it.{}

It's a moment always touching for the chief who lost nine of his men.

After that, it's time to work his new job.{}

"It's rewarding when I leave the stadium and I hear, 'Chief, we appreciate what you and Andy do,'" Thomas said.

If only those people knew how much Chief Rusty appreciates this game and these players.