The last time the Statesboro Blue Devils took the field they were one of the last teams in the state of Georgia to play what proved to be the final game of 2020 on March 13 at home against Effingham County.
COVID ended the season from there, and many of the Blue Devil seniors played their final baseball game of their careers. For the returning players taking the field for pre-season practice was something they were looking forward to the entire off season, and something they would never take for granted again.
“Whatever we have to do at practice we work even harder as we know nothing is promised to us,” said senior catcher J.D. Kaiser. “We had no idea the season was going to be shut down last year, and don’t know what will happen this year. All we can control is the effort we give, and we are all giving all we can especially those of us who are seniors."
“We came out this year with the mindset to finish things we couldn’t last year," said senior outfielder Will Yawn. “You approach things a little differently when you know it can be taken away at any time. It is definitely in back of your mind that it could be the last game or last practice but all we can do is take each day one day at a time.”
The Blue Devil players also got some news during the off-season that head coach Jim Simmons was retiring, and Statesboro hired former Blue Devil head coach Chris Bishop to take Simmons place. Bishop has been gone for 10 years but feels at home putting the blue and white on again.
“The more things change the more they stay the same,” said Bishop. “Everything is the same from cutting the scoreboard on to getting the field ready, it’s like coming home. The biggest thing was not knowing the kids. I knew a lot of them from church, but it’s been a process really getting to know all of them and what they bring to the table.”
What they bring to the table is quite a lot of talent. The Blue Devils had three players recognized by the Georgia Dugout Club as the Top 100 in the state of Georgia. Kaiser at catcher, junior Thomas Ponder at pitcher and sophomore infielder Mason Johns. Sophomore pitcher Landon Yates committed to Georgia Tech as a freshman, and the Blue Devils also return starters like Yawn, Ames Rackleff, Dake Williams and Hunter Saussy.
“We have a lot of leadership on this team,” said Bishop. “Since we started practice on January 18, we have found out that if we are not here, they will start things themselves. We have probably scrimmaged seven time and it has been a welcome surprise to see the leadership and dedication these guys have.”
Aside from the returning starters Bishop has also been impressed by some of the younger inexperienced players on this year’s team.
“We have 19 guys out of the 35 on our team who can pitch and have seen time on the mound since we began practice,” said Bishop. “I think we have the depth to compete in 6-A, but we don’t really know until we see them.”
“What I can tell is these kids don’t want to waste a moment,” said Bishop. “I’m sure that is the way it is everywhere. The spring has an end for these guys especially the seniors. When football season comes to a close most of them know they still have another sport to be able to play. When baseball comes to a close the school year is ending, and they understand this may be the last at bat you will ever take. Last year made that crystal clear.”
The Blue Devils are in a new region, but it is full of teams Bishop is familiar with, and he feels it should be a competitive baseball region.
“We had the Effingham County teams, along with Glynn Academy and Brunswick as well as the teams from the Augusta area. I know those programs are usually pretty talented and we are going to have to play well consistently in order to beat them.”
Statesboro is scheduled to open the 2021 season at Mill Creek Park Monday Feb. 15 at 6:00 against Southeast Bulloch.