Successful season cut short for Howard
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
Everything was falling into place nicely for Jake Howard.
Howard, a LaGrange High graduate, is a member of the University of North Georgia baseball team, and he was having an outstanding 2020 season when everything came to a halt because of the coronavirus.
Howard, a red-shirt junior, had the best batting average on the team through 19 games when the season was canceled.
“It was definitely disappointing,” Howard said. “Everything was coming together.”
Howard was a four-year member of the LaGrange High baseball program, and he helped the team reach the second round of the state playoffs as a senior.
After high school, Howard headed to Dahlonega to join the North Georgia baseball program, and he was red-shirted during his freshman season in 2017.
Howard was a part-time player in 2018 and 2019, getting fewer than 20 at-bats each season while he waited for his opportunity to be a starter.
That opportunity arose this spring, and Howard took full advantage of it while playing third base and second base.
“I played behind a guy that was an All-American the last year and really should have been the year before that,” Howard said. “He was a great guy. So I learned a lot from him. I was feeling really confident going into the year. Our team was good. We were very old this past season, so it was going to be a good year for us. It was disappointing that everything ended like it did.”
Howard played in 14 games with 13 starts, and he was hitting .367 with one home run, seven doubles, 12 RBIs and nine runs scored.
In what turned out to be his final game, Howard was 3-for-5 with a double and RBI against Southern Wesleyan.
Howard was 4-for-5 in an early-season game against Auburn Montgomery, and he had three other multi-hit games.
Thanks to an NCAA ruling, Howard won’t lose a year of eligibility, so he’ll be able to play for two more seasons at North Georgia if he chooses to.
“I love North Georgia. It’s been a great place for me,” Howard said. “Everything about the school is great. I’m actually studying exercise science because I’m applying for physical-therapy school coming up this fall. They’re program in exercise science is one of the best in the state, so it’s been great in baseball, but also in academics.”
Howard is hoping he’ll be able to play baseball this summer, but whether that happens or not is still to be determined.
Howard has played summer baseball for the Savannah Bananas the past few summers, but he decided to play in Ohio this summer for the Champion City Kings of the Prospect League.
The games in June have already been canceled, and the new report date for the players in the league is July 1.
Howard’s father, Kevin Howard, is from Ohio, and playing there would give his family members in that part of the world an opportunity to see him on the field.
“I’ve always played down here, and my grandparents always commute a lot to come watch me play,” Howard said. “I’d played in Savannah the past two summers. This year, I decided that since is my last year of summer ball I’d play in Ohio so my grandfather could see me play every game.”
The students at North Georgia were sent home in March, and while Howard would prefer to be in Dahlonega playing baseball with his teammates, he is appreciative of the time he’s been able to spend with some of his former classmates at LaGrange High.
“This has kind of given us an opportunity to all get back together for one last time before everybody starts getting their real jobs,” Howard said. “That is one positive. It’s been fun to get back with those guys.”