Lakeside High School baseball coach Jimmy Smith looked 10-feet tall last week.
Of course, he was standing on a chair trying to repair a batting net adjacent to the diamond at Panther Stadium.
Smith was looping a cord around the netting trying to tie down some loose ends, and that's just one in a long line of chores he'll have to take care of during the 2003 baseball season.
Talk of the upcoming campaign, which begins Tuesday for Lakeside with a doubleheader at Heritage High School, brought Smith off the chair and back to earth.
"We've had so much rain we haven't been able to get on the outfield," Smith said during a Tuesday practice. "We're about two weeks behind on everything."
Center field looks like a disaster area, more suited for mud wrestling than baseball. Five truckloads of sand was scheduled to arrive Wednesday, and Smith was resigned to cranking up a front-loader and polishing the diamond.
Lakeside High Schools Jonathan Crawford (left) and Carl Burrow practice pitching in the school's gym. Wet fields have hampered outside practices.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Meanwhile, inside the locker room, there wasn't much room for the Panthers. Most of the space was occupied by 50-pound bags - 240 in all - of SoilMaster Select, a premium topsoil and conditioner which will be worked into the infield.
"My guess is the field won't be ready the first week," Smith says. "We might have to reschedule. We have to have at least five days with no rain before we're able to get out here."
Smith's dreams of dry weather evaporated Wednesday, as rain invaded Columbia County.
Poor field conditions are the least of Lakeside's concerns. As they say, when it rains, it pours.
The Panthers are coming off a second-place finish in Region 3-AAAA last season, but 11 seniors from that squad have graduated, including all nine starters from 2002.
"I've never had this happen, where we've lost so many players," Smith said. "My main concern this season is the experience part. We have very little of that. We'll have to find out who's going to fit in the puzzle and then go with it."
Pitchers Craig Arrington and Patrick Bagwell worked some innings last year, and will be expected to lead the staff as seniors this season. The Panthers have at least ten other players with good arms, so pitching might be team strength.
"If we throw strikes, we'll be all right. Defensively, we'll probably be all right," Smith said. "I'm a little worried about our hitting right now."
Senior first baseman Matt Shelton is Lakeside's only potential power hitter, and Richard Flake is capable of producing some offense. Smith also is encouraged by what he has seen from Chris Banker (catcher) and Jonathan Crawford (shortstop).
Lakeside's schedule, however, is less than appealing.
The 11 Region 3-AAAA teams all play each other only once this year, while in past seasons all squads had home-and-home region contests.
"It's put us in a bind. I've had to go out looking for ball games to fill the schedule," Smith explained. "We've only got eight home ball games all year."
In order to make up for the loss of region games, Lakeside is traveling to the Atlanta area three times for doubleheaders, and will go to Brunswick for a doubleheader against Glynn Academy.
Things will be even tougher when region play starts next month. Jones County, which advanced to the Class AAAA state semifinals last season, joins Region 3-AAAA, and so does Cross Creek, a rapidly improving club.
Throw defending region champ Greenbrier and dangerous Statesboro into the mix, and the race for playoff spots should be heated.
Lakeside has only missed making the state tournament once in the past decade, and despite so many setbacks for the Panthers this season, Smith is ready to make another playoff run in 2003.
"It's going to be fun in a way," he said. "I hope we catch a few people thinking we're going to be terrible, and Lakeside is never going to put a terrible team on the field. That's just not going to happen."
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