Russ Winter's hand hurts.
"It's swollen pretty good," he said. "Sometimes it'll go all the way up my fingers. I need to go get a new palm guard."
That's the price he has to pay as Greenbrier's starting catcher for the past two years. It's his job to stand in the way of fastballs from both Wolfpack aces Brandon Cumpton and Nolan Belcher. Both can regularly hit the high 80s on the gun. Once in a while, they might crack 90 mph.
For each and every game this season, Winter has been behind the plate at the Greenbrier baseball diamond. It hasn't always been that way. He was once on the other end of the pitcher-catcher process as a child playing ball at Martinez-Evans Little League.
"I actually pitched and played first base for a while," he said. "The coach put me at first base because I could catch the balls the infielders threw. I always asked him if I could go to catcher."
He finally did make the move behind the plate after a shoulder injury forced him to undergo surgery during his freshman year. He missed the entire baseball season and the next summer ball season.
When he came back for his sophomore year he was a catcher.
"I hung up the pitcher's glove and said I wanted to catch for sure," he said. "I love it because there's no break. I'm always in the play."
Last year, Winter started as a junior on the Class AAAA state championship team, but his role was limited. He always took the field, but there wasn't room for him in a power-packed line-up full of sound hitters. He was often replaced with a designated hitter.
"It was hard because I'd catch, but I couldn't put runs on the board for the team," he said. "When I knew I was going to get to hit this year I was really excited about it. We fight for every run we get, and I'm able to help out with that."
He's done more than help. Winter estimated his batting average at .350 entering today's state playoff second-round series. He reached base four out of six times in Friday's first-round state tournament double-header and also laid down a sacrifice bunt. He went 2-for-3 with an RBI in Game 2 to help in an 11-0 win.
Last week, he was named to the All-Region 3B-AAAA First Team as a catcher.
Winter also has plenty of support from his family. His grandmother, Barbara Burton, is a regular attender. Winter's father, Les Winter, often makes the hour-long drive from his job at Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro to see his son play.
"I don't think he's ever missed a game," Russ said. "It's pretty nice knowing they're there supporting me. It helps."
Winter and his teammates will begin the second round of the Class AAAA state tournament today at 4 p.m. in a home double-header against Thomas County Central.
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