COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — One of city’s most colorful residents and a former co-owner of the Columbus Astros baseball club had died.
Dayton Preston died Thursday in his sleep at Columbus Hospice. He was 90.
Preston held a number of jobs, including an economic developer for the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce, but he was best known for his ownership of the Columbus Astros, a Double-A minor league baseball team that played at historic Golden Park.
He put together an ownership group that included Dr. James Andrews, Dr. Sonny Galbraith, Dr. Jack Lawler, and George McCluskey Sr. The deal was done in 1978.
“Every one of them agreed to come in with me and we bought it,” Preston said in a WRBL “Remember When” feature in 1999.
They owned and operated the team for about 10 years before selling to North Carolina businessman Steve Bryant, who moved the team to Zebulon, N.C. It still operates today as the Carolina Mudcats.
Columbus City Councilor Glenn Davis played two seasons with the Columbus Astros on his way to a successful major league career. He was saddened to hear of Preston’s death.
“I am going to miss my buddy,” Davis said.
Davis was a broke ballplayer when he invited the girl across the street to Golden Park to a game. She showed up and Davis didn’t have the money to take her to dinner after the game.
“I ran into his office, and he loaned me the money,” Davis said.
Since that first date, Glenn and Teresa Davis have been married for 38 years and came back to Columbus when his career was over.
“Dayton always told me I needed to marry that girl and I needed to come back here when it was over,” Davis said. “And I did.”
But when it came to baseball, Preston, who carried the dual role of owner and GM, carried a big stick in the old Southern League, Davis said.
“Man, he had a world of contacts,” Davis said. “He knew anybody and everybody. A good baseball man and so well respected.”
That translated into someone that big-league executives would listen to.
“Dayton had some clout with big-league organizations, and he could crush you if he wanted,” Davis said. “If you did the right thing, kept your nose clean, and stayed out of trouble, Dayton was your best friend. … If you were a troublemaker, he was like the good sergeant major, he could terminate your career quickly.”
After the baseball team was sold, he went to work as an economic developer luring the industry into Columbus.
Preston was a longtime member of First Baptist Church in downtown Columbus. He was one of the greeters at the church.
“He loved that job,” said his son, Dayton Preston.
First Baptist Senior Pastor Jimmy Elder had a special relationship with Preston, who was a deacon.
“He was in charge of the greeters,” Elder said. “He was the face of warmth and hospitality. And he was committed to it. He loved the Lord. He loved his church. And he loved his community.”
He is survived by his wife of almost 60 years, Terry; two sons and daughters-in-law, Dayton (Karen) Preston and Benjamin (Hellene) Preston; and two grandsons, Hayden and Cole.
Funeral arrangements are pending.