During the late 1980s, Evans High School baseball was taking off. The 1985 squad nearly won a state title with three freshmen starting in the infield. That trio of Craig Cassidy (shortstop), Lenny Springs (second base) and Ben Hayslip (first base) led Evans to its first state championship during their senior year in 1988.
I was fortunate enough to be on that 1988 team. That was a fun year, with the camaraderie, the winning, the practical jokes and the bus rides. Yes, even the bus rides were fun.
One thing you could always count on during road trips for the Knights in 1988 was that you would get to hear the latest rap song written by Hayslip. Outfielders Ryan Bennett and Bernard Marshall would join "Slip" performing the rhymes he had scribbled down that day.
Who knew that one day Hayslip would be paid to write songs? Who even knew that was a dream for the former All-State first baseman?
After graduating from Evans, Hayslip went on to play ball at Georgia Southern. However, after he finished school, he immediately made plans to pursue a career in music. His genre of choice had changed from rap to country music by then, so in 1994 Hayslip packed his belongings and moved to Nashville.
He already had a good friend there.
Before moving to Columbia County, Hayslip had grown up in Valdosta. His best friend there was national recording artist Rhett Akins. Akins had already moved to Nashville, and him being there made Hayslip's move a little easier.
However, after arriving in the country music capital of the world Hayslip read an article that noted fewer than 1 percent of aspiring songwriters actually make it. Despite those terrible odds, he plugged away. It wasn't easy. There were many times he thought, "What am I doing? How long can I really do this?"
It took a long time for Ben to have success. That breakthrough came in 2005 with the song Long, Slow Kisses , which cracked the Top 20, peaking at No. 17.
The road had been long, but Ben's hard work was finally starting to pay off.
Though his first decade in Nashville didn't produce much commercial success, the past few years have been incredible for the former Evans slugger. He paired with Brooks and Dunn for the 2008 hit Put a Girl in It , which was his first Top 5 hit, reaching No. 2.
Last year, he added a pair of hits. Blake Shelton's I'll Just Hold On cracked the Top 5, and Barefoot and Crazy by Jack Ingram reached the Top 10.
Things were going great. He and his wife, whom he met in Nashville, by then had been married for more than a decade, and they had three boys (Tarver, Camden and Knox). The only thing eluding Hayslip was a No. 1 single.
That wait is over.
Last week, Hayslip's Gimme That Girl, performed by Joe Nichols, spent its third consecutive week atop the country music charts. The No. 1 hit is garnering a lot of attention for Hayslip and his writing partners (The Peach Pickers), but it is only the tip of the iceberg for what could be a monster 2010 for Hayslip.
Hayslip currently has singles out by Rodney Atkins, Blake Shelton, Josh Turner and Colt Ford. He has also worked with Willie Nelson and Tim McGraw, and he recently collaborated with Darius Rucker.
Hayslip's star is certainly on the rise. There is even some talk of a possible songwriter of the year nomination.
To say I am happy for Ben is an understatement. I admit I had no clue those days writing rap songs on baseball road trips would have led to a career for him. I am just thankful he did not give up. It would have been easy for Ben to pack it up after a year. Heck, even after seven or eight years he could have decided to get a 9-to-5 job. Instead, he stuck it out. He did not let go of his dream, and now it is starting to pay huge dividends.
So, always follow your dreams. Do not let people tell you that you can't make it. When they do, remember Ben, the rap-song writing first baseman from Evans, and keep plugging away.
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