Just because the high school baseball season came to an end nearly two months ago doesn't mean teams have to stop playing.
Many schools have continued playing baseball into the summer as a way to keep up the team chemistry and improve their skills and fitness in the offseason.
Athens High is one of the teams that is continuing as if the season was still going. The Golden Eagles were one of the hosts of the recent Athens Wood Bat Showcase tournament, which featured 24 varsity, 24 junior varsity and 12 middle school teams and lasted an entire week.
Games were also played at East Limestone and Austin high schools, with the championship games being played at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
The Athens junior varsity team won the junior varsity portion of the tournament, which made Athens head baseball coach Chuck Smith happy.
“Those guys did a great job and played some really good baseball,” Smith said.
Smith said the tournament has grown a lot since the school first started hosting it three years ago.
“This was the largest one we've had,” he said. “We were able to get a few folks to sponsor us as well, which really helped. Prep Baseball Report of Alabama also came out and ran a showcase that coincided with a camp. There were 54 players in the tournament who went through the showcase.”
While professional teams use wood bats, high school and college teams use aluminum bats, so not many young players are used to hitting with wood. That makes the Athens Wood Bat Showcase a bit of a special tournament, Smith said.
“It adds a different dynamic to it,” Smith said. “It's something different a lot of these players aren't used to. A lot of them play travel ball during the summer, and some of the travel leagues use wood bats, so we figure why not do that with a high school program?”
The Wood Bat Showcase was just the start of a June full of baseball. The team also attended a camp at Jacksonville State University, where they worked with the Gamecocks' coaching staff.
“Since I've been here, each year in the summer, I've taken the 10th- through 12th-graders to a team camp,” Smith said. “We go to a different school each year so we can see what other schools do at the next level. First, we went to UAB, and then Berry College. We went to Alabama last year, and this year we went to Jacksonville State.”
Smith said the camp is a great experience for his players to learn what it takes to play baseball in college and learn from collegiate coaches.
“They're getting to do basically the same things the guys who are recruited to these big schools do,” Smith said. “They see what the players do and what the coaching is like. Jacksonville State did an awesome job. All four coaches were there every second our players were there. At no time did they decide to sneak off and work on something else. They were super professional.”
Smith said the team camp isn't just a chance for his players to experience college coaching and atmosphere. It's a way for the new team to come together as a unit early in the new year.
“Every year it's a new group,” Smith said. “We lost 12 seniors off last year's team. It's a new team every year, and they've got to find their own identity. This is the way I like to kick it off, for us to get away from everything. That kind of starts the developing of the chemistry of the whole program. It starts then, during the summer. That's where I like us to get it going.”