Small ball is crucial to success

Published 12:01 am Sunday, February 3, 2008

Years ago, I overheard long-time Vidalia High Baseball Coach Johnny Lee Hoffpauir say something to his team that I’ll never forget.

I’ve forgotten the specifics of the game, but I believe it was late season, perhaps a playoff. Much was on the line and Vikings had fallen behind early in the first few innings.

Hoffpauir gathered his team around just outside of their dugout and he told them all to relax. The key to getting back in the game, the coach said, was in their ability to play “small ball.”

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It’s a phrase that’s often batted around in baseball circles. The definition is a bit like the strike zone; it moves depending upon who’s looking.

But generally, small ball means just bread and butter baseball — bunts, base hits, etc.

No one swings for the fences in small ball. It’s teamwork; it’s slow and steady progress toward a common goal.

As the Miss-Lou prepares for two sets of municipal elections — next week in Louisiana and in a couple of months in Mississippi — people seeking election would be wise to heed Hoffpauir’s advice.

The key to a growing, prosperous community doesn’t depend on having a slugger who can occasionally hit one out of the park. A team working together, playing small ball, will out match the divisive, star-powered one any day.

In Vidalia, the mayor’s race seems a good example of this. While long-time Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland is facing his first serious challenge in years, why on earth would the citizens change course in the sixth inning?

Copeland’s version of small ball has done some amazing things. Look at the Vidalia Riverfront Development and the new Wal-Mart store as only two of the base hits and bunts that seem to have been beautifully executed in his administration. Obviously, Copeland has been to a few Vidalia High games and witnessed Hoffpauir’s magic.

On the Mississippi side of the river, the mayor’s race in particular is likely to be hotly contested. Though all of the likely candidates haven’t popped up yet, a number of challengers seem intent on ousting Mayor Phillip West from the top Natchez coaching position, and, perhaps, for good measure.

West was elected after talking a big game, but he’s struggled with the basics of running the city, the small ball, if you will.

In four years, West has been plagued with personnel problems within the city’s leadership team.

We’re now looking for our third city planner in three years.

A dispute over the rehiring of an ousted police officer led to the city’s considering abolishing the long-standing — and presumably well-functioning — civil service commission.

The city is still facing a lawsuit over its handling of the former pecan factory land transaction.

Long-time city attorney Walter Brown hung up his municipal leadership cap after two-dozen years of service.

Yet, despite all of these “small ball” issues that need attention and constant focus, West seems intent on hitting the proverbial grand slam.

Hopefully, he’ll hit one with the Lane Company’s development at Roth Hill Road or with plans for a massive, yet-to-be-funded recreation complex or with a YMCA plan.

But while he’s swinging for the fences, the city is missing lots of opportunities to put points on the board with quality of life issues.

Better crime enforcement and fire protection keep residents safe.

Upgrading infrastructure — from repaving streets and repairing sidewalks to reworking drainage systems and improving parks and recreation facilities we already have — is massively needed.

Streamlining government and reducing government debt would be fairly top priorities, too.

Small ball, played consistently over time, can reap big results.

Just ask Coach Hoffpauir.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or