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Sports Talk: High schools get ready to sparkle on the diamond

Like the Yankees and A-Rod and the retooled Braves, high school baseball teams are starting preparation for a new season. Using the word "preparation" in discussing high school baseball may be a stretch. Building a successful high school baseball program cannot be done within the time frame permitted by the Georgia High School Association and a 180-day school calendar.

The GHSA permits official practice to start on Feb. 16 and the first game can be played on March 1. Excluding Sundays, that is 12 days. A GHSA school can play 26 varsity contests in baseball and the region championship must be decided by May 8. Excluding Sundays, that leaves 60 days to play the regular season and region playoff games. In this area, you can practically delete Masters week from that slate as well as rainy days.

My point is that strong high school programs are not built during the cold, windy days of February and March by practicing and squeezing in a few games. Baseball is a game that a kid must play in game situations in order to reach a high level of competiveness. Pitchers don't just loosen up the old arm in 40 degree or below weather for a few days and immediately throw blazing fastballs and hooking curves. Hitters don't learn to hit screaming line drives off batting practice pitchers and pitching machines. They learn these difficult skills best by facing live hitters and pitchers with a game on the line and an umpire calling balls and strikes.

The key to developing a championship high school team is for the players to play in the summer and as in Atlanta, Athens and north Georgia, even the fall. Cobb County and neighboring Columbia County are examples of ultra successful high school baseball squads that have enjoyed the luxury of future major league draft picks on their rosters.

Kids that endeavor to be solid baseball players must have the opportunity to play in a well-organized summer program. Playing a full slate of games in hot weather is what really sharpens a kid's baseball skills. Even the best high school coaches will tell you that their biggest job is managing their pitchers, game strategy and motivation. Time is too short to expect to hone the fundamentals.

Among others, Vernon Harrison is one gentleman that has devoted a lot of time to summer league ball in McDuffie County by organizing traveling squads. Scott Swann has started to do the same with the younger guys, and we can't forget the recreation program. These efforts are vital for our local high schools to be successful in baseball. The calendar, in and of itself, won't allow for the development of championship caliber teams otherwise.

Web posted on Thursday, February 26, 2004

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