Men’s baseball league kicks off

Published 11:19 am Wednesday, June 5, 2019


Daily News

It felt like old times.

There was a time when Brock Barber and Justin Shaw were ambushing opponents as elite baseball players for Troup and Callaway, respectively.

While it’s been more than a decade since either of them wore a high-school uniform as a player, they both love the sport and still have the desire to compete.

On Monday night on a pleasant summer evening at the George F. Harris Baseball Complex, Shaw and Barber, along with dozens of other men, got an opportunity to rekindle that competitive fire.

The brand-new West Georgia Men’s Baseball League held its first games on Monday night, and games will be played throughout the summer.

The games will be played on Mondays and Thursdays at the Harris Baseball Complex, as well as the local high-school fields.

On one of the fields on Monday, Barber was pumping in fastballs and curveballs while leading the Dodgers to a 6-1 win over the Red Sox.

While the velocity may not be what it was while he was shutting down opposing batters while playing for Troup, he still knows how to maneuver his way through a lineup.

“It’s good. I feel like a little kid again,” said Barber, a member of Troup’s coaching staff for nearly a decade. “I’ve been coaching for nine years, and to be able to suit back up and play again has been a lot of fun.”

On an adjacent field, Shaw had three hits and four RBIs to help the Nationals beat the Marlins 11-1 in five innings.

“Everybody’s older, but it’s fun,” Shaw said. “It’s at our home fields, so our families can watch us, and that feels good.”

Shaw added that his two daughters can “come and see daddy, see that we’re still able to do it.”

Brothers Jake Hembree and Cory Matticola were the driving forces behind the league, and when Shaw was asked to be a part of it, he didn’t hesitate.

“Cory and Jake, they approached me, and I said no doubt,” Shaw said.

Shaw added that “it’s humbling, with a lot of people knowing that you can’t do what you did in high school. At the same time, it’s great being able to be on the field again.”

Shaw had a brief stint playing in a wooden-bat baseball league nearly 10 years ago, but he’s mostly been a softball player since he left his high-school days behind.

“Most of us have played softball,” Shaw said. “Being a part of these leagues, they’re very competitive.”

Shaw noted that one major change between the two sports is the distance between bases.

“The bases are 90 feet, and you start running and thinking, when is this going to end,” Shaw said with a chuckle.

Plenty of other players in the league were standout players in high school as well.

Some went on to excel in college, including Matticola, who played for coach Kevin Howard at LaGrange College in the mid-2000s.

Like so many other league members, Matticola has scratched his competitive itch by playing softball.

“We had a softball team for five years,” Matticola said. “It got boring. I was a decent enough hitter where you could put it where you want. It’s not the same.”

Matticola got the idea for the league while helping Hembree coach his all-star youth baseball team.

“We coached the 9-10-year-olds together, his son’s team, together,” Matticola said. “I’d get out there and throw a little bit, and over spring break we had a practice and two people showed up. At the end of it I had my bat, and I said let me hit a few balls. I hit a couple over the fence, and I was like, I still have a little bit of my swing here. So I asked around to see what kind of interest there was, and in the course of less than two months, we went from a seed of an idea to four teams and 60 players.”

Hembree, who used to be the boys’ soccer coach at Callaway, called the response to a first-year league “incredible.”

“When we first started, we said if we could get two teams, we’ll be fine,” Hembree said. “Then as it progressed we had a meeting, and we had a couple of people show up. We had the first tryout, and about eight people tried out. The next time 15 showed up, and then after that it just snowballed. We ended up with four teams and turning people away. It was really good.”

Hembree realized that there were plenty of people, himself included, eager to put the spikes on again.

“That’s really what it’s going back to,” Hembree said. “There are a lot of guys out there that played baseball. It’s going to be fun.”

Each team will play 12 games. The season wraps up on July 18.

Matticola is hoping to see the league grow, and possibly see more teams added for 2020.

“The hope is that this is the year that gets the word out and gets people inspired, and going forward we’ll have six to eight teams playing every year, and it can be an event for families to come to,” Matticola said.

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