Why no love for baseball?

By Justin Hubbard

 

I love the sound of a bat hitting a ball and a ball popping a glove.

I love the smell of a freshly cut field and the way the infield dirt looks right after it’s been dragged.

To put it more concisely, I love baseball. For as long as I can remember, I have always been enamored of this sport. Baseball is the greatest game ever played. End of discussion.

Back when I was a kid, I loved playing it, too. Some of my earliest memories include playing tee ball at the old Greene County Recreation Department, which was then located at the site now occupied by the Greene County Sheriff’s Department. I eventually worked my way up to a more advanced little league team.

Unfortunately for me, a broken leg during kindergarten (it happened away from the field) spelled the end of my athletic career. I watched the rest of our season in a wheelchair while my dad and great-aunt powered through a coaching gig they no longer wanted once I couldn’t play. (They were no coaching prodigies, just like I was never destined for an on-field career. Plus, our team was really bad.)

The thing I remember most about those days, though, was how many people were interested in baseball. All of my friends played and it seemed like there were enough kids to fill dozens of teams. I’m sure there weren’t quite that many of us out there but the point stands: We were excited about baseball.

Somewhere along the way, that early age love for the sport nearly evaporated in Greene County. Admittedly, I’m writing this without any knowledge of the number of rec teams and baseball participants in Greene County but here’s what I know for a fact: There isn’t a legitimate feeder system for baseball in this county.

Of course, we’ve got tons of kids interested in football and basketball. That’s fine – to each their own.

As a lifelong baseball fan, though, it’s disheartening to look around and see how little people care about baseball compared to those other sports. I see it on the high school level every time I attend a baseball game at Greene County High School, Lake Oconee Academy or Nathanael Greene Academy.

The Tigers have a handful of guys who never played before this year, according to head coach Joe Smith, and you can tell it. The Titans, on the other hand, are in a little better position but they’re in sore need of pitching depth. NGA is doing pretty well with second-year head coach Garey Clark leading the way but it’s still apparent (and Clark will tell you) the players there don’t have a strong baseball background.

This game really isn’t hard to learn. Sure, there are elements, such as the infield fly rule, that could confuse those new to the game. If you start learning the sport at a young age, though, all of that comes naturally.

There’s never been a legitimate baseball or softball culture in our county. Meanwhile, if you drive over to Madison you’d think you’re watching the New York Yankees compared to the teams in Greene County.

I don’t intend for that to demean any single player in Greene County. The kids at GCHS, LOA and NGA are trying their best and, I must say, those at GCHS and LOA are admirably fighting through tough seasons.

It’s just upsetting for me to see the institutionalized way in which Morgan kids learn baseball, knowing that’s not the case in my hometown. They start at a young age and regularly play the game. By the time they make it up to Merritt Ainslie’s high school varsity squad, they’re ready for Region 8-AAA competition.

Trust me – I saw that on full display last year with the likes of underclassmen Ethan Stamps, Hunter Lane and Jacob Anderson providing a nice spark for the Diamond Dogs. Morgan baseball will still have its ups and downs, but it will always been in a much better spot than the teams in Greene County.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Greene County families and their kids can help change our community’s baseball culture.

Parents, go outside and play catch with them. Let them watch “Field of Dreams” and “The Sandlot.” (You can save “Bull Durham” and “Major League” for when they’re older.) Take them to a college or professional game and show them the sport at its highest levels.

I’m 100 percent convinced many kids in our area would love baseball if they just had a chance to learn it and play it.

I hope they get that chance. I don’t want to see our area’s baseball culture die – I want it to flourish.

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