Debra Merritt, widow of former Delta Bank CEO Cliff Merritt, throws the ceremonial first pitch to Johnny Lee Hoffpauir on Saturday afternoon before the first game of a double-header to be played at Cliff Merritt Memorial Field at the new recreation complex in Vidalia. Standing beside Merritt are Josh Hoffpauir, left, Barry Bowden and Jarrett Hoffpauir, right, who all through out ceremonial pitches. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)

Baseball standouts return home for junior college games

Published 12:01am Sunday, February 10, 2013

VIDALIA — When Jake Brumfield stepped onto the mound for Pearl River Community College, it was a moment he had been waiting for his whole life.

The former Adams County Christian School pitcher had dreamed of playing college baseball since he was young. Saturday afternoon, that dream was finally realized — and where better to fulfill it than right in front of his hometown fans?

Brumfield and the rest of the Pearl River baseball team played a doubleheader against Baton Rouge Community College at the new Concordia Parish Recreation District 3 complex. After winning Game 1 8-1, Pearl River fell to Baton Rouge 3-0 in 12 innings, but Brumfield had a strong showing as Game 2’s starter. He went five innings and gave up no runs on four hits with two strikeouts and three walks.

“It’s everything I’ve always imagined,” Brumfield said after Game 2’s conclusion. “Playing in college is what I’ve always wanted, and it didn’t fail. It’s something special.”

Pearl River Community College pitcher Jake Brumfield, left, throws a ball back to home plate during a team practice Friday afternoon at the new recreation complex in Vidalia. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)

The doubleheader was a grand opening of sorts for the new complex. Concordia Parish Parks and Recreation Director Johnny Lee Hoffpauir said the event was the culmination of two and a half years of work.

“We’re lucky to have two schools come to play our first collegiate game in Vidalia,” Hoffpauir said. “When this is over, I think I can finally breath. I’ve heard nothing but compliments. This is a big day for Concordia Recreation District 3 and the City of Vidalia.”

Brumfield wasn’t the only Miss-Lou native to return home for the complex’s big event. Both of Hoffpauir’s sons, Jarrett and Josh, were on-hand, as was former Vidalia High School standout pitcher Barry Bowden. Jarrett, a professional baseball player who recently signed a minor-league deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, was set to host a children’s camp Saturday morning before a family emergency Friday evening forced him to cancel. He wasn’t able to return until Saturday afternoon.

“I hate that I somewhat let people down,” Jarrett said. “When I was asked to do it, I didn’t know how involved I’d be, but I hate that it didn’t work out nonetheless.”

It didn’t stop Jarrett from enjoying the new facilities, however. And he was more than happy to help his father promote the new complex, he said.

“Anytime you can show your face and give back, it’s special,” Jarrett said. “I enjoy this town, and it’s good for this community to be able to come out and watch baseball on a Saturday.”

Though he signed with Toronto, Jarrett said he’s not sure whether or not he plans to continue his baseball career.

“We’re scheduled to report March 4, but I don’t know if I’ll 100 percent pursue it, me having a family and all,” Jarrett said.

Josh, head coach of Pearl River, said he was more than happy to have his team open its season in the town he grew up in.

“It’s beautiful,” Josh said of the complex. “Dad and the city have done a great job. It’s a tremendous benefit for the city, and hopefully we can help get it started.”

Pearl River Community College starting pitcher Chrisian Talley, left, delivers a pitch to Baton Rouge Community College batter Bond Babin on Saturday afternoon during the first game of a double-header at the new recreation complex in Vidalia. Pearl River, coached by Vidalia native Josh Hoffpauir, won Game 1, 8-1. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)

Bowden, who played for Southern Mississippi in college and played minor league ball for several seasons before tearing his ulnar collateral ligament in 2011, was one of several people to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

“I’m hoping it was a strike,” Bowden said. “It’s good to come back and see something like this, especially at the collegiate level.”

Bowden was especially impressed with the new facility, he said.

“Everything looks good,” he said. “I wish we had something like this when I was growing up. We were always driving two hours to (play youth baseball), and having it in your own backyard is awesome.”

Debra Merritt, widow of former Delta Bank CEO Cliff Merritt, was also one of the ones to throw out the first pitch. It was a special moment for Merritt, as the field was named in honor of her late husband.

“It’s a good way to leave a legacy behind for him, because he was all about the sport itself, the leadership of the coaches and working together as a team,” Merritt said.

Like Bowden, Merritt insisted that her pitch was a strike, but the most important thing was throwing it for Cliff, she said.

“I was honored,” she said. “It was a privilege for me to be out there for him.”

As a player, Brumfield complimented the field, saying it was a good one on which to play baseball.

“It played great,” he said. “The mound was perfect. It had a good, flat top and dropoff, and my teammates were telling me the infield slid well. I think Coach Hoff did a great job.”

And above all else, there’s nothing like being back home, in front of a large crowd.

“I haven’t come home since Christmas, and getting to play in front of hometown people is a good feeling,” Brumfield said.