MURFREESBORO — From 1984 to 1998, a span of 15 years, Northeast Tennessee put a team in the state baseball championship game 18 times.
In the last 15 years, however, this area hasn’t sniffed a title game.
So what happened? There are many reasons, but one of them is fundamentals — the basics of the game.
Most of those great Northeast Tennessee teams were absolutely rock solid in the field. They made an extremely high percentage of the routine plays. They ran the bases with discipline, executed bunt plays, fielded bunt plays, got clutch hits, hit the ball out of the park, and always seemed to have Ace 1 and Ace 2 at the head of their pitching staffs.
They also worked at their craft. If they weren’t practicing on a sunny day, it was usually because they were eating or resting to get ready for the next practice.
When the games came around, they handled the pressure like veterans — and won most of the tight ones.
Fast forward to 2013, and today’s high school baseball players sometimes perform more like Little Leaguers.
It wasn’t too rare to see teams with good records commit four, five, six or seven errors in a single game. And they didn’t just boot the hard-hit balls. In fact, when a ground ball was hit around Northeast Tennessee, “routine” rarely seemed to fit the equation. It was often a mystery whether the play would be completed. Even pop flies became adventures at times.
And then there was the baserunning. The old adage of “make a line drive go through” seemed to be a foreign concept. Another adage sometimes ignored was “don’t make the first or third out at third base.”
Fielders made bad decisions with their throws, players had poor plate discipline and approach, and so on.
Yes, this is a negative view of high school baseball in Northeast Tennessee. However, it’s also a call to arms, so to speak. This area can return to baseball relevance on the state level.
Unicoi County authored 10 of those aforementioned state-title game appearances, winning four times (1984, 1991-92, 1995). And the Blue Devils had company.
Science Hill earned a title (1998) as did Sullivan North (1983, 1985) and Sullivan South (1987). Dobyns-Bennett battled to a pair of second-place finishes (1994, 1996) while Sullivan North (1984) and University High (1987) also took the runner-up spot.
There’s enough diversity in that group to show Northeast Tennessee was a hotbed for growing baseball teams. And there’s reason to believe it can happen again.
Is it completely up to the coaches? No. It’s mostly up to the players.
There needs to be less emphasis on distractions like Playstation, texting, Facebook, Twitter and the like.
Get outdoors. Get in a batting cage. Dedicate the mind to relearning situational baserunning. Watch a major-league game and pay attention. Take a few more grounders. Work on arm strength, and pitch location.
Why? To do what Pigeon Forge and Goodpasture Christian did Friday. They battled tooth and nail for a Class AA state title on a field of dreams in a beautifully designed major-college stadium in front of a bunch of fans.
Stories were developed that will last a lifetime. Memories were etched forever.
High school sports careers come and go in the blink of an eye. Make the moments last by accomplishing something great.
Douglas Fritz is a sports writer for the Johnson City Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.