Major league baseball historian John Thorn once said, “Baseball is not a conventional industry. It belongs neither to the players nor management, but to all of us. It is our national pastime, our national symbol, and our national treasure.” While football is as close as religion and hunting
in the South, this quote runs tried and true in the hearts of many small-town baseball players who are filled with memories of their days in Dixie Youth League. Very few Swainsboro kids grew up without a moment on one of those legendary fields, where the smell of hotdogs, 50 cent dill pickles and fresh cut grass wafted throughout those rusty stands. As you drive down Empire Expressway, in the late afternoon past those well-loved fields, you can still almost hear the smack of a baseball and the overjoyed, hootin’ and hollering of happy mamas and daddys cheering on their boys with the excitement of a double play, a home run or a slide into third.
While the days of Dixie Youth in Swainsboro are over, the talent that came from its
existence is still carried within the local athletes that those sandlots created. Some have even traveled across the country just to get a little more time on turf, win a few tournaments and put Emanuel County on the map for the love of the game. In May of this year, 10 Swainsboro boys and three of their coaches decided that spring just wasn’t long enough for baseball, so together, they created a pre-major summer ball league that they call Swainsboro Georgia 17-U.
“They’re just a group of Swainsboro boys who wanted to play summer ball. So, we got together, formed
a team and did just that,” one of the coaches, Billy Chapman, explained. Chapman has coached and been with many of them since they were children and played for Dixie Youth. Since their establishment, the team has won several games throughout the duration of the super 6 tournament, including State in Columbus on July 1, which gained them access to play in the World Series tournament in Monroe, Louisiana, from July 22 to July 25. This unlikely "miracle team" not only represented our hometown but the entire state of Georgia in their division. Though that’s incredible on its own, this isn’t their first time taking on a world series.
“Most of these boys played in the Dixie Youth World Series when they were between seven and 10 years old,” Coach Billy Lively explained. “They’ve always been a team but just seeing them really come together and grow overtime is just awesome. I think that they’ve learned that when you put the work into what you love, there isn’t anything you can’t accomplish.”
The team consists of Swainsboro high school graduate Kaleb Edenfield, Swainsboro high school
seniors Jakari Nobles and River Green; Swainsboro high school juniors, Brandon Chapman, Lenox Lively, Caden Dailey, Jackson Gray and Isaiah Fultz; Swainsboro high school sophomore, Ashton Deloach; and David Emanuel Academy freshman, Richard “Peanut” Braddy.
“The most rewarding experience I've had with these guys is witnessing their growth,” Coach Rick Mitchell said. “I only had a few weeks to work with them and in that short period of time they took in what was said and used it to their advantage. They trusted me and trusted each other. That quality was best shown at the World Series fight! They battled every single inning to try and come out on top! Even when we were down, they were still ready to come back and win! We faced setbacks in spirit along the way like when we had to go all the way out there with barely enough guys to get by. Most of our guys were physically exhausted and gave out towards the end, but they still gave 120% to try and win!”
One of the toughest losses of their lives that the team experienced together was not on the field,
but was the loss of their teammate, Cody Parks, who heartbreakingly passed away earlier this year. Cody was a devoted player that had been with them from the very beginning. Even though his absence was deeply felt, his memory was a driving force that inspired his teammates to give it their all. Each player made it a priority to share the moment with him, by carrying him with them in their hearts. With his initials on their uniform sleeves, Cody was with them for every play, and helped them push through the exhaustion to keep going.
“I would like to point out that this group of guys gave everything they had. The town of Swainsboro
should be extremely proud of these young men and where the future will lead them,” Mitchell added in conclusion.
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