May 22, 2009
Steve Hancock hopes the building process will continue this summer.
In his first season as baseball coach at Heritage Academy, Hancock guided the Patriots to a trip to the Mississippi Private School Association AAA playoffs and a 10-16 finish.
Although Heritage Academy lost to Hillcrest Christian in the first round, Hancock was pleased the program raised its competitiveness and its confidence.
But Hancock, like other baseball coaches throughout the state, will have to battle a number of factors in the next two months as he tries to prepare for the 2009-10 season.
Hancock will begin those preparations Monday when he leads the Heritage Academy high school team into Dizzy Dean play.
Between jobs, vacations, time with their families, and playing other sports, student-athletes have plenty to occupy their time in the offseason.
For instance, Hancock said Heritage Academy''s Matt Sykes already plays as many as six sports, so his time this summer likely will be split between a variety of activities, not to mention time with his family.
"If other kids are doing what some of these kids at Heritage are doing I don''t know how they have time to eat and sleep," Hancock said. "It''s a choice that they make, but they''re never pressured by me to do something."
Hancock said his goal in the summer will be to evaluate players, especially his younger kids, to get a feel for what his squad might look like next season.
The Patriots will lose five seniors from this season''s team.
With the Dizzy Dean season now condensed into one month to accommodate high school restrictions, Hancock and his peers could face an even busier end of spring and beginning to summer.
This season, the 12 Dizzy Dean high school teams will play doubleheaders on Mondays and Thursday. The junior varsity teams will play doubleheaders on Tuesdays and Friday. All of that will lead up to the Dizzy Dean World Series the final weekend of June in the Golden Triangle.
Hancock said half of his summer team will be incoming freshmen. He said the Dizzy Dean experience will provide a perfect opportunity to see what they will face at the next level.
"A lot of them have had some success on the junior high level, but it is just a different game when they get to the high school level," Hancock said. "What they have to be able to do is so much more precise. It is not enough to be able to throw a fastball and to hope to throw it over the plate. You also can''t just go up there hacking."
Hancock said unselfishness is the key to making the Dizzy Dean season work for everyone. He said he won''t tell his players they have to focus on one sport or that they have to give up summer jobs.
As a result, Hancock might not have all of his players for every game, but he will do his best to make sure the players with him get as much instruction and experience as they can to help them for next season.
"The month of June is probably the toughest for athletes," Hancock said. "Once they realize they can do it, they see a lot of growth and maturity and learn how to budget their time and, hopefully, what it means to be committed to things."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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