Jefferson County baseball back after two-decade hiatus

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 7, 2005

FAYETTE &045; On a field they literally helped build from the ground up, the Jefferson County baseball team practiced its defense on a sunny, warm Wednesday afternoon.

Back in December before the season started, most of the boys helped head coach Vincent Turner haul dirt in to build a mound and put around home plate.

&uot;My sister’s having a house built, and there was a lot of clay around,&uot; Turner said. &uot;We went over there and loaded some up to bring here. We went back a couple times for more.&uot;

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The team all pitched in to help out with the project.

&uot;I used the shovel to help out,&uot; freshman catcher Ivan Mays said. &uot;We made three trips to get it all done.&uot;

The field is an apt metaphor for a team that’s starting from the ground up itself. Two decades ago Jefferson County’s baseball program folded, leaving aspiring Little Leaguers in Fayette without a team to play for at the next level.

&uot;I remember it was 22 years ago because I was a freshman here,&uot; Turner said. &uot;We had a team my freshman year and I came back as a sophomore and we didn’t.&uot;

But last year, Jefferson County brought back baseball with the support of John Hollowell, a former teacher at Jefferson County who left this year to go into a seminary, leaving the team in the hands of Turner, who had coached Little League baseball in Fayette for several years.

The coaches set to work getting a team together and got solid response from students.

&uot;We had a good number of kids sign up, and we had pretty good numbers just from the older kids,&uot; Turner said.

But it wasn’t until Turner went to the middle school that he hit paydirt.

&uot;I went to eighth grade to get some kids I knew from Little League,&uot; Turner said. &uot;A bunch of them came out and they played better than the older guys. By the end of the season, most of the high school guys had dropped out or been injured, so we finished with (the eighth-graders) last year. That’s the core group we’re working with.&uot;

This season the team is 3-5 playing as an independent team in the MHSAA. Next season the Tigers will play in Division 7-3A. With 11 freshman and three sophomores making up the core of the team, Turner looks to get competitive in stages.

&uot;We’re just trying to compete this year. With these freshmen going in, they’ll have a chance to play in that region for a while,&uot; Turner said.

Crucial to the development of his young players is simply getting them games to play, something that hasn’t always been easy as an independent team.

&uot;We went out and just tried to find teams that could fit us in, teams with open dates,&uot; Turner said. &uot;With all the rain early this season, we got pushed out of the way because teams had to make up district games, but we’re hoping to get six or seven more games in the next two weeks.&uot;

Tonight the Tigers will play a doubleheader against a Natchez High team that’s also dominated by young players. The Bulldogs start one junior and one senior.

The Tigers do have a steadying influence in their lone senior. First baseman Eddie Davenport is the old man on the team, the only upperclassman on a team dominated by freshmen.

&uot;I’m the daddy,&uot; Davenport said. &uot;I have to help them out. We’ve got the younger ones to build up for the next few years to come. I try to push them, try to get them to play hard.&uot;

The next step for the Tigers is getting a home park. Their current field is just for practice. There aren’t any fences in the outfield or bleachers for fans to sit on. In fact, the Tigers have made their home on the road. Without a place of their own to play at, Jefferson County has been relegated to playing all of their games as the visitors.

&uot;I wish we could play a home game once in a while,&uot; Davenport said. &uot;It’s hard to do so much travel all the time.&uot;

Turner is hoping to change that before next season.

&uot;The school and the city are trying to get things squared away so we can use the one field we have in town,&uot; Turner said.

Playing home games might also help get more fans for the team.

&uot;A lot of people don’t even know we play,&uot; Mays said. &uot;We don’t really have any fans except our parents.&uot;

With such a young team, Turner has to continually adjust his expectations. Like making sure his guys can get to and from practice. Since most of them can’t drive yet, he has to make sure parents know what their children’s schedule will be.

&uot;It’s kind of like Little League all over again,&uot; Turner said.

&uot;Usually in high school, you’ll see guys drive off in three or four to a car. Here, we have three or four parents come up and pick up a few guys each for the carpool and the rest take the late bus.&uot;

Davenport plays the unofficial position of team chauffeur. As the only upperclassman, he sees it as his responsibility to make sure his teammates get home if they need a ride.

&uot;I drive, so if they need a ride all they have to do is tell me,&uot; Davenport said.