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He kept everyone smiling

South Boston News
The local Virginia Dixie Major all-stars gathered at C.H. Friend Wednesday night for a candlelight event in memory of R.J. Oliver Jr., who died early Sunday morning in an auto accident near the Halifax-Pittsylvania county line. / July 28, 2016

Members of the community and the South Boston Dixie Majors baseball team paid loving tribute to one of their own — R.J. Oliver Jr. — at a candlelight service Wednesday night at C.H. Friend ballfield.

As the Dixie Major all-stars prepare to leave for Alabama to represent Virginia in the Dixie World Series tournament this weekend, fthe team must first come to terms with the tragic death of their friend and teammate early Sunday morning in an automobile crash.

Robert D. Oliver Jr., 19, known as R.J., was killed on Logan Road (Route 722) near the Pittsylvania County line, more than two miles north of Leda Road, at 12:20 a.m. Sunday. Oliver, who was not wearing his seat belt, was thrown from his pickup truck. A passenger, Jarvis Owens, 19, was also not wearing a seat belt but survived the crash with serious injuries that required hospital transport. Owens attended Wednesday’s event.

Days prior to the candlelight vigil, Ethan Woltz, a fellow Dixie all-star, spoke about Oliver. Woltz said his late friend was a good-natured ballplayer who was liked by practically everybody.

“R.J. was definitely a kind-hearted person. He was family to all of us. He was a gentle giant. You couldn’t pay R.J. to be mad at somebody.

“He was just the best person you could ever be around ... He always kept everybody smiling. The team is going to do anything we can to support the family. We’re definitely going to Alabama representing his name the way it should be. Because R.J. was definitely looking forward to this trip,” said Woltz.

“This is one thing he’s always loved to do, is play baseball.”

As the Dixie Majors prepare to embark for Ozark, Ala., the team is struggling with grief and loss, but Woltz vowed that the local all-stars would play with full hearts in memory of their late friend.

“It’s just going to take time to move forward. It’s nothing we can get over, days or months. We’re just trying to keep everybody’s spirits up.

“All we can do is just love each other the way R.J. would know us to love each other,” Woltz said.

Describing the impact of Oliver’s loss, Majors assistant coach David Hudson said, “The whole team is taking it pretty rough. They’re focused on the task at hand. They are continuing to work hard, to put our best foot forward when we get to Alabama. They’re stepping up and looking after the Oliver family.”

Hudson said the players and their families are working to let the Oliver family know how much the local baseball fraternity cares about them.

The whole team visited the family after Sunday’s crash. The local Majors will pay their last respects to the family before leaving for the World Series on Thursday.

The letters “R.J.” will be placed on the right side of the player’s caps in the World Series, Hudson added. Their jerseys will be adorned with the number 15 on the right size sleeve, honoring Oliver, who wore that number.

Special remembrances are planned during the World Series, Hudson continued. There are plans to paint Oliver’s jersey number on the grass behind home plate.

The local Dixie team welcomed counselor Michelle Weddle to a practice/team meeting to help players deal with their feelings of grief after the weekend tragedy.

Other clergy were expected to help the team handle with its loss.

Majors coach Andrew McCann said, “They’re taking it pretty rough. We’re going to try to do our best once we get to Alabama.” He said R.J.’s memory would be kept alive at the World Series.

McCann played with and against Oliver. He remembered a player with a great attitude and a contagious smile.

“He was always respectful to everybody,” said McCann. “Everything he did, he did with a great attitude.”

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