I have often wondered what opposing baseball coaches talk about when they stand together on the field before games.
I always assumed it was idle chatter meant to give the impression they were cordial, that the talk was of ground rules, the weather, and the latest high school baseball rumors circulating on the Internet.
I recently discovered the bond runs deeper than that.
Riverside Park was littered Tuesday with coaches who form a list of "Who's Who" of area baseball.
University of Georgia coach Dave Perno was there, as was former longtime Swainsboro High School coach Hank Aldridge, Thomson High (and former Evans High and Greenbrier High) coach Terry Holder, Harlem coach Jimmie Lewis, former Greenbrier coach Rodney Holder, and plenty of others.
They came together two days before Christmas to help Westside coach Gerald Barnes, whose wife, Sissy, has struggled through three years of health problems since suffering a stroke in 2005. All proceeds from Tuesday's clinic will go to the Sissy Barnes Foundation, which was set up in 2006 by Gerald Barnes' former players to help the family with medical bills.
Tuesday's event was organized by Aldridge and Rodney Holder. Aldridge routinely holds clinics to promote and sell his Pitch Rite instructional system, which he patented a year ago. The system was used Tuesday, and Aldridge talked afterward to those interested in it.
But clinics such as the one Tuesday aren't done for profit.
Aldridge held a similar clinic Monday in Twin City, Ga., to benefit Bill Bonds, a football coach and assistant principal at Emanual County Institute who suffers from a rare form of cancer. Aldridge is excited about his system, which he started using with his Swainsboro teams in the mid-1980s, but said his clinics are as much about ministry as they are done for personal gain.
"Anybody that needs our help, we'll come do it," Aldridge said. "Now, we'll put on money-making clinics, too. But anybody that calls with a need that's a good need, we'll come."
The coaches showed up in force Tuesday. An estimated 70 boys and girls ranging from 6 years old to eighth grade braved the cold weather to learn from the area's best.
The group was split according to age and rotated among stations geared toward hitting and bunting, pitching and throwing, and fielding.
Sissy arrived about noon in a green custom conversion van. Gerald pushed his wife's wheelchair around to the various stations at the clinic, where she was greeted warmly by coaches and players.
Perno was there as a guest of his friend Lewis, who also called on the Bulldogs' coach to speak at Harlem Middle School earlier this year. Perno had no speech for the players Tuesday; he was there mainly to offer encouragement.
"I had a free day and felt like I could make a difference if I came down here," he said.
Perno spent some of his time visiting with one his players, Bulldogs first baseman and former Greenbrier standout Rich Poythress, who was home on Christmas break.
Poythress, who was mobbed with autograph requests when the clinic was finished, said he left the event impressed with the turnout of coaches.
"It's awesome," he said. "I can't imagine how many collective wins are over there."
Poythress named second-team All American
Poythress was named to the 2009 Louisville Slugger All-America second team Tuesday.
The junior, who was in Evans for Tuesday's baseball clinic benefiting the Sissy Barnes Foundation, said he received a text message with the news from Georgia's sports information department.
He said he was excited about the honor, but was more concerned with the Bulldogs' upcoming season. Poythress and his teammates finished runners-up at the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., last season.
"Going out there to Omaha, that's every college player's dream," said Poythress, who batted .374 with a .995 fielding percentage last season. "I think a lot of the guys we're bringing back have a lot of experience. That experience is going to help us get back out there."
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