May 31, 2009
Players aren''t the only ones who are tested in the spring and summer months.
While parents have to shuttle their children to and from games, coaches are the ones who are on site hours before games preparing the field and hours after games cleaning up and getting things ready for the next day.
Columbus High School baseball coach Jeff Cook and New Hope High assistant baseball coach Chris Ball are two area coaches who will play a variety of roles in the next few months on the diamond.
For Cook, who will coach Columbus'' Dizzy Dean varsity baseball team, May and June will be a little busier than usual.
Eric Ebers, who coached Columbus'' Dizzy Dean varsity baseball team last year, is working this summer as an assistant coach with the Niagara Power, an expansion team in the New York Collegiate Baseball League (NYCBL) and an affiliate of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), a national, faith-based ministry.
With Ebers out of town, Cook and assistant coach Jerald Hysaw are left to coach Columbus'' varsity and junior high team.
In addition to the coaching and traveling, Cook and Hysaw, like all of the other coaches, have to find time to maintain the field, which takes even more time away from summer relaxation and spending time with the family.
But Cook said coaches who want to build a successful program need to invest that kind of time to be successful. He said he wouldn''t be able to do that if his wife, Paige, wasn''t so understanding and did so much for him and his family.
"God bless her because she is a saint," Cook said. "She does wonders with our three kids, who are 8, 7, and 5. It is tough because I love being around my kids and my wife, but it is just part of my job."
Dizzy Dean won''t be the only athletic event on Cook''s schedule in June. Cook and the Falcons will attend a baseball camp at Delta State. He also plans to be a coach with New Hope High School coach Stacy Hester on a team of Mississippi all-stars that will play in the Junior Sun Belt Classic in Oklahoma.
Cook also will make time to see his two girls play softball, so he knows he will be busy.
Hysaw and his wife also have a 1-year-old boy, so they will be busy, too.
In between trips to the softball field and time spent with his wife, Cook hopes to help Columbus get better in the next few months and build momentum for next baseball season.
"We''re looking to build some team chemistry for next year," Cook said. "We''re also looking for some guys to take over and to earn some spots as they enter next year."
Cook said summer always has been a busy time for coaches. He said it is getting tougher and tougher to juggle time commitments as his children get older.
June probably won''t offer much of a break. Dizzy Dean varsity games are schedule for every Monday and Thursday, while junior high games are set for every Tuesday and Friday.
"June is going to be a crazy month," Cook said. "We''re going to be up here (at Sammy Fletcher Field) just about every night."
Cook said May and June will be ideal times to try players at new positions or to see if they might be ready to take on bigger roles.
He said it also will give him an opportunity to give Ben Ellis, a student assistant coach, a chance to coach in some games and to help with everything that needs to be done.
With so many things going on, Cook said the players need to be focused in the summer to help make everything work.
"It is tough because most of our kids are football players and they''re going to be with football during the day," Cook said. "A lot of kids will be working in the summer, so it is not as easy as it used to be. Kids have to have a higher commitment level if they want to be better, and we''re here to help.
Ball and his wife, Jennifer, recently welcomed their second child, a girl, to their family. The addition likely will mean some sleepless nights for Ball, who will coach New Hope''s varsity Dizzy Dean team.
Last season''s team advanced to the World Series title game and lost to Ridgeland at Mississippi State''s Dudy Noble Field.
Many of the players on that team are back this year, but that doesn''t mean there still won''t be plenty of things to learn in the next few months.
"If you don''t learn more about baseball I believe that is when you need to step down," Ball said. "Experiencing each and every situation helps. It is like spring training for all of the kids and for us as a coaching staff."
Ball agrees with Cook the next two months will help build team chemistry for next season. He said the coaches also will use that time to strengthen relationships or to build bonds with younger players.
The hope, he said, is to keep the players'' baseball skills sharp and to give them confidence heading into the next season.
Ball said the ability to help players improve and learn are part of the reason he is willing to stay so busy in the "offseason."
"The summertime grueling and it is a grind because the season is over with, but you''re out there first and foremost for the kids," Ball said. "You want the best for them and to have a shot to win a state championship."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.