Former Ariton athlete sacrifices baseball career for country

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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) -- Things have changed since Ben Key Jr. studied at Ariton High School more than 50 years ago.

"I transferred back to Ariton when they desegregated it back in 1966 I believe it was a matter of fact I was one of the first black students to go to Ariton," said Key.

He went on to play pro baseball, pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals for less than an inning.

"I went in one time for the last two batters of the inning and I got them out.

Ben Key never returned to the major leagues.

"I got drafted in March - March 31, 1971"'

Uncle Sam needed him and it was a higher calling fighting for his country.

Before long Ben Key found himself in Vietnam facing death.

"A good friend of mine and you know sometimes I hate to think about it. What he had done, he got his M16 and he had it in his mouth. He said 'I'm about to end it all right now,' and about 2 o'clock in the morning he ended it. I thought I was gonna die. He was my best friend."

Ben returned to the states where he continued to serve for 34 more years of active duty and reserves.

"I worked in Houston, Texas at a National Guard armory working on aircraft and then I left there and went to Louisiana."

He had a chance to return to baseball.

"I just lost interest in playing pro baseball I guess and so I just stayed in the Army."

Some might consider that a sacrifice, but Ben sees it as service.

That's why Ariton High School chose to honor Ben Key at their Homecoming game September 13th.

In the future Key hopes to work with players in various sports.

Ben saw time in Iraq before his retirement in December of 2003.

Now, he lives in Dothan where he is taking care of his mother.

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