June 15, 2009
Baseball players never stop growing.
For Ben Fleming, Brent Hallmark, and Garrett Harris, there is no better place to learn more about the game they love than close to home.
The three former New Hope High School standouts are teammates on the Golden Triangle Jets in the Cotton States Baseball North Division. The former Trojans have helped the Jets get off to a 2-3 start in the inaugural season for the four-team wood bat league.
The CSBL expanded to give more baseball players from the state of Mississippi an opportunity to keep playing closer to home.
It also is giving players like former Columbus High School player Dylan Anderson, who hasn''t committed to a college, a chance to showcase his skills and, possibly, catch the eye of a college coach or scout.
Most of the players, though, are like Fleming, Hallmark, and Harris in that they are in between seasons with their college teams and are looking for a way to stay sharp before they begin fall baseball.
Fleming, the only hitter in the bunch didn''t have his best season but Southern Polytechnic Institute advanced to the College World Series in Lewiston, Idaho, and finished 53-10.
Fleming hit .299 (29-for-97), scored 24 runs, had five doubles, five home runs and 22 RBIs. Still, he felt he didn''t do enough to earn more playing time.
"I just didn''t produce for the team and some other guys stepped up and did the job," said Fleming, who is 5-for-14 with four RBIs in five games with the Jets. "That is part of being on a good team. It was really nice to be on a team like that where I could underachieve and we still could win a lot of games."
Fleming didn''t question his preparation and felt he worked as hard as he could. He feels he needs to continue to make adjustments on things like pitch selection to help him have a more successful 2010 season.
That''s why he feels playing in the CSBL will be so helpful.
"I just ant to get the reps," Fleming said. "Hitting is all about timing, and playing is the best practice."
The season is only in its first few weeks, but the players agree that it is fun facing opponents they have faced most of their youth and high school careers. He said the competition has been strong and will help put him in position for his final college season.
Hallmark redshirted at Delta State in 2008, and pitched only four innings this season as a redshirt freshman. He admitted sitting and watching as much as he did was difficult but he is confident the lessons he learned will help him contribute in the future.
Hallmark has been busy at the start of the CSBL season. He is 1-0 in four games (6 1/3 innings) and has nine strikeouts.
Hallmark said he knew at the beginning of the season that he wasn''t going to get a lot of innings. He said the team has moved him into a position where he could be a closer next season or the year after that.
Like Fleming, Hallmark plans to use the CSBL season to get more comfortable at the college level.
"This is a really good chance for me to see what I expect to see next spring," Hallmark said. "I think this is a really big chance for me to get better and for me to see how good I can be."
Harris made his first appearance of the season Thursday against the Tallahatchie Rascals. The Meridian Community College standout allowed 14 hits and eight earned runs in seven innings and earned a no-decision. Hallmark got the victory after the Jets scored eight runs in the eighth inning en route to an 18-10 victory.
Harris went 33-5 with a 1.20 ERA and 320 strikeouts in his career at New Hope High. He planned to go to MCC from New Hope High, but he said Southern Miss came over the top and he decided to go to school in Hattiesburg.
Harris redshirted his first season at Southern Miss and then decided to transfer to MCC. He said MCC likely is where he should have been from the start.
Harris went 5-2 with a 3.15 ERA in 2008 and was 5-3 with a 5.53 ERA this season.
"I grew a lot more as a person than a player." Harris said. "I believe the second year at Meridian is the reason I think I have grown to be successful just being with successful teammates and them pushing me and wanting me to do better and to work out more."
Harris said playing with the Jets will give him more exposure and better prepare him for the competition at South Alabama. He said his goal is to develop better command of all his pitches so he can have the confidence to throw them at anytime.
Harris will continue to work toward that goal, and like all of the players in the CSBL will keep working hard so one day he might be able to accomplish something else that has been on his mind ever since he started to play baseball.
"I can remember when we were all playing Tee Ball at the park and we talked about being Major Leaguers," Harris said. "That is something I have always wanted to do with my life, ever since I could walk. I think it is a realistic goal. I have to push myself to the limit and give it all I have got."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.