Troup coach thrilled for former players
Published 7:57 pm Saturday, June 15, 2019
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
He wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass him by.
Craig Garner has been Troup’s head baseball coach for nearly two decades, and he has never had a player he coached make it to Omaha for the College World Series.
That has changed this year.
Auburn’s Ryan Bliss and Florida State’s Jonathan Foster, who were both standout players at Troup, will appear in the eight-team College World Series that begins on Saturday.
Garner, along with his wife Stephanie and sons Cade, Carson and Cole (youngest son Cam remained at home), left early on Friday to embark on the 16-hour drive to Omaha.
Florida State will play its World Series opener on Saturday against Arkansas, and Auburn will get things started against Mississippi State on Sunday.
“I’d always hoped I’d have a player go to Omaha,” Garner said on Tuesday after Troup played a pair of summer-league games against Callaway. “I’ve always said that if I did, I would do my best to try to go. And now we’ve got two.”
So the Garners made the arrangements, and they’ll be able to watch the games this weekend.
Foster and Bliss were both special players at Troup.
Both of them were four-year starters, and they enjoyed plenty of individual and team success.
Bliss manned the shortstop position at Troup from his freshman season until he was done, and Foster was a four-year starter at catcher.
They were teammates in 2015 when Troup went 25-6 and made it to the second round of the state playoffs.
While their skills on the field are obvious, Garner enjoyed being around Bliss and Foster because of the kind of people they are.
“What makes this even more special is the fact that Jonathan and Ryan both are just extraordinary young men, aside from the game of baseball,” Garner said. “They could have never played the game of baseball, and I’d still feel the same way about them. It’s just the way they conduct themselves, the way they carry themselves, their work ethic, their character. They’re just both phenomenal young men, and you root for them.”
When Bliss signed with Auburn, Garner paid him the ultimate compliment. Garner has four sons, including three who will be students at Troup High during the 2019-2020 school year, and he encouraged them to use Bliss as a role model.
“I’ve told those boys, do what that guy does,” Garner said. “Stay in his hip pocket, follow him, act like him, get to know him, do what he does. I don’t think there’s any greater compliment than that.”
Bliss returned to his old school on Tuesday to watch Troup and Callaway play, and Garner said the players were thrilled to have him in the dugout.
“Him coming down here today, that’s the kind of person he is,” Garner said. “That just tickled them to death. They’re watching a guy on TV on Monday, and he’s here in the dugout on Tuesday.”
In the Monday game Garner was referencing, Bliss had two hits as Auburn thumped North Carolina 14-7 in the third-and-deciding game of their super-regional.
Bliss is the only Auburn player who has started every game this season, and he has been at his best in the six regional and super-regional games.
Bliss has 11 hits in the six NCAA games combined, including a home run against Georgia Tech, and he has 11 runs scored and five RBIs.
It’s been a different story for Foster, who hasn’t appeared in an NCAA game, although he has played in 36 games with 17 starts this season.
Foster actually began his college career at Auburn, and he spent one season there before transferring to Chattahoochee Valley Community College. After playing at CVCC for one year, Foster was signed by Florida State, and that’s where he’s been for the past two seasons.
While playing time has been hard to come by at times for Foster and that has no doubt been frustrating, he has been with the team every step of the way.
When Florida State beat LSU 6-4 in the first game of their super-regional, Garner saw first-hand an example of Foster’s supportive nature when he eagerly greeted teammate Reese Albert after he hit a pair of home runs.
“I was watching the games the other day,” Garner said. “I think the Albert kid hit two home runs, and he was one of the first ones out of the dugout, just smiling and happy for his teammate.”
Whatever direction life takes Bliss and Foster, Garner has no doubt they will both achieve big things.
“So I’ve known for a long time that both of them are going to be successful,” Garner said. “They could have quit playing ball right after high school, and whatever it is they do, they’re going to be successful. That’s the kind of people they are.”