It was a moment David Kelton had been dreaming of for most of his life.
Kelton had been playing baseball basically since he could walk, and he had been playing the game for a living since 1998 when he was drafted by the Chicago Cubs out of Troup High.
In 2003, the moment finally arrived.
Kelton, at the age of 23, six years into his professional career, was finally a big-league player.
Kelton’s first major-league game was at Wrigley Field, and the opponent was the New York Yankees.
Last week, during baseball day at Florence Hand Home, Kelton talked about what that experience was like.
Kelton was part of an 11-person contingent representing LaGrange College, Callaway, LaGrange High and Troup High that participated in the event.
Kelton, who is in his first season as the LaGrange College head coach, recalled what he was feeling when he made that long-awaited big-league debut.
“That night that we played the New York Yankees, I don’t know if I will ever feel those nerves again,” Kelton said. “It was one of those nights where every time you get in the box, you’re literally shaking. You finally look around and realize that all of these guys you’ve watched on TV your entire life, you’re one of them. You’re playing with them.”
“That’s the biggest thing is trying not to get awed by so many of the guys you’ve watched for so long, but try to get up there and be one of them.”
Making the moment even more special, Kelton was able to share it with his family.
“My whole life, that’s all I envisioned was being able to play professional baseball,” Kelton said. “I was able to have my family be a part of that process throughout the entire week.”
Kelton ended up playing in 10 major-league games in 2003, and he played in eight more games with the Cubs in 2004.
By 2006, Kelton’s professional career was over, and he soon turned his attention to coaching.
He was an assistant coach under Kevin Howard for four years at LaGrange College before taking over the head job this season.
Looking back at a playing career that nearly lasted a decade, Kelton has no regrets.
“I wish it would have been longer, but I enjoyed every moment of it,” Kelton said. “You play the game you love for nine years, it was a grind to no end, stressful as all get out at times, but I absolutely loved every moment of it.”
Also taking part in baseball day was Troup head coach Craig Garner, who organized the event.
A year ago, baseball day included a handful of local players who used to play the game professionally, as well as players from Troup High.
This year, Garner asked the coaches from Callaway and LaGrange to participate, and they both readily agreed.
“We started last year, and I think everyone that was here enjoyed it thoroughly,” Garner said during his introductory remarks. “And we just want to thank y’all for having us and allowing us to be here today. These guys here are representing all the schools in the county.”
Garner, who played at Troup High, has led the Tigers to back-to-back appearances in the state semifinals.
Troup lost a bunch of players from last year’s team, though, but the team is in the playoff race in Region 5-AAAA after some big wins last week.
“Hopefully from now until the end of the season we’ll take some steps forward, and progress, and hopefully get back in it and make another run,” Garner said.
Garner also bragged on Kelton, who played at Troup when he was an assistant coach.
“If you have nine guys on your team like this guy here, go ahead and order your state-championship rings, because that’s how good of a player he was,” Garner said.
Herrington, who is in his second season as LaGrange High’s head coach, talked about how much being a part of the LaGrange family means to him.
Herrington was a freshman at LaGrange in 1987, and with the exception of a few years after college, he has been affiliated with the school ever since then.
“I’ve pretty much been a part of LaGrange High since that time,” Herrington said. “Even when I graduated from high school, I came and helped with the summer baseball team.”
Herrington’s first job after college was at another school, but he said “the first opportunity I got to come back home, I jumped on it. I have been associated with LaGrange High for quite a few years, and I’m very proud of our tradition. We take a lot of pride in how we play the game.”
Herrington was an assistant under former head coach Donnie Branch for years.
When Branch decided to step down following the 2012 season, Herrington was the choice to replace him.
“I was really humbled when I was named head coach,” Herrington said. “I really appreciated the opportunity to continue to be at LaGrange High School in a leadership role. It means a lot.”
Like Garner and Herrington, Hubbard is also at back at his home school, with a twist.
Hubbard played at Hogansville High School, which no longer exists.
Callaway High opened its doors in the fall of 1996 to replace Hogansville High.
“I’ve been very blessed to be back home, and to have good players, and to work with good people,” Hubbard said. “It’s been very enjoyable.”
Hubbard inherited a program that had already enjoyed a lot of success, and he has kept it going.
“We’ve made the playoffs now for nine straight years at least that I know of,” Hubbard said. “We had a semifinal run, a couple of quarterfinal runs. We’ve been lucky.”
Each of the high schools also had players represented at baseball day, including two each from Callaway and Troup, and three from LaGrange.
For Troup, Brannon Weathers talked about how nice it has been to be a starter this season after being a role player the past few years.
Weathers is a second baseman for the Tigers, and he has been one of the team’s top hitters.
“I had to sit a few years. I think it taught me a lot, taught me to work hard every day,” Weathers said. “I’ve just had to work really hard.”
Fellow Troup Tiger C.J. Tatum added that, even though you’re in the lineup one day, you have to keep working hard to remain there.
“You can’t have a bad practice,” Tatum said. “You have to be ready every day.”
Representing Callaway were Cody Mimbs and Perry Keith.
Keith, an infielder and pitcher, is the younger brother of former Callaway Cavalier Kane Keith, who was an exceptional player.
Perry Keith said he enjoys the challenge of trying to do even better than his brother.
“It’s definitely motivation to push yourself to be better,” Keith said. “You always want to try to out-do your older brother. But it’s tough.”
Mimbs, meanwhile, said the team has done a great job of overcoming some key injuries.
“It’s been a grind this year with all the injuries. But with the group of guys we’ve got this year, we feel like we’re in every game,” Mimbs said. “We always fight. I feel like we have a good team this year.”
LaGrange’s representatives were Logan Hood, Logan Moody and Chas Pardue.
Pardue, son of former LaGrange football coach Steve Pardue, is a senior who has had to wait his turn.
This year he has been playing a lot, and he has embraced the opportunity.
“You’re there, and you’re always waiting on your chance,” Pardue said. “You’re ready. It’s something you’ve been waiting on. You’re ready to go.”
Moody, meanwhile, is in his first year at LaGrange High after transferring from LaGrange Academy.
Moody said it helps that he had already played with many of his teammates.
“I’ve been playing with all these guys before, since I was like 10 or 11 going back to rec ball,” Moody said. “It’s made the transition a lot easier. Logan and Chas, I’ve played with them a long time.”
As for making the move from private-school baseball to the public-school game, Moody said “the competition is definitely a lot better in this region. It’s been a good transition so far. I’m looking forward to rest of the season.”
Hood has made a big impact for the Grangers this season with shutout victories over Cartersville and Shaw.
The Grangers were in first place in the region before losing to Troup on Thursday, but Hood said everyone is still confident.
“I think we can pick it up and finish strong,” Hood said. “I like the way we fight, and never give up in a game. We’ve fought back a lot this year.”