GUYTON — The fellow who wears the No. 5 jersey on South Effingham’s baseball team is No. 1 as far as Wendy Eubanks is concerned.
And why wouldn’t he be?
No. 5, head coach Todd Eubanks, has filled her life with big diamonds and fun for nearly two decades.
“It’s been about 18 years,” Mrs. Eubanks said.
The Eubankses wed 16 years ago but they were “buddies” a couple years before entering holy matrimony.
“We went to a Heard County basketball game on our first date,” Mrs. Eubanks said. “While introducing me to one of his coaching friends, he referred to me as ‘his buddy.’”
Coach Eubanks had an explanation for the faux pas. He said he was caught off guard when his friend asked him if Mrs. Eubanks was his wife.
“I didn’t know what to call her,” he said sheepishly. “It was our first date. I didn’t want to call her my girlfriend and I didn’t want to say, ‘It’s my date.’
“I just said, ‘No. This is my buddy.’”
Mrs. Eubanks was obviously not offended by the social blunder. She attends virtually all her husband’s home contests, often wearing a sparkling No. 5 shirt that she received from him as a Christmas gift.
During games, Mrs. Eubanks doesn’t get involved in strategic decisions. She punches a lot of buttons in the press box, however. She plays catchy tunes and noises on the public address system that are intended to liven up the crowd.
“He asked me to do it (in 2002 at Heard County)” Mrs. Eubanks said.
She didn’t start her baseball career by playing music and special effects, however.
“The first time that he asked me to help with his baseball program was to take up money at the gate,” she said.
Mrs. Eubanks was promoted during their second baseball season together.
“I had some young kids (playing music) and they weren’t doing a very good job,” the coach said. “She said, ‘You need to let me do it.’ So I said, ‘Let’s go,’ and she was literally doing it with a tape recorder and a CD player.”
Coach Eubanks said his wife took the job seriously from the outset.
“I’d go watch the Braves play (on TV) and she’d be listening to sound effects saying, ‘Oh, I’ve got to have that one! I’ve got to get this one! It took on a life of its own,” he said. “It’s her baby. She does a great job.
“She plays the right song at the right time.”
Mrs. Eubanks plays snippets of songs before each Mustang at-bat. About 20-30 seconds of player-selected tunes are used.
“We have to make sure the songs are clean,” she said. “Every year, we have to reject one. We have to make the player go back and pick something else.”
The technology Mrs. Eubanks uses to do her job has greatly improved over the years. Each Mustang's preferred song and an array of strategic noises are at her fingertips on a computer keyboard.
“This is a high upgrade,” she said before a Feb. 14 game against Effingham County.
Despite the advancement, a lot of preparation is still required.
“It takes a long time to put it all together,” she said. “We have a lot of help, too. It’s not just me.”
Even with the best of planning and intentions, Mrs. Eubanks has endured an occasional glitch.
“Early on, if I accidentally hit the button and it was live play (on the field), I would get that look (from the coach) that all his players know (when they commit an error),” she said with a laugh.
Coach Eubanks downplayed that accusation.
“There have been some times when I was looking for a clip to be played and she didn’t play it. I would look at her and she would give me ‘the look’ right back,” he retorted.
Mrs. Eubanks always strives for perfection.
“It’s important because — if you are not careful and you do too much — you can get thrown out of the game,” she said. “I haven’t had to leave yet but it’s easy to accidentally hit a button.”
Mrs. Eubanks has never tried to get out of her press box duties even though she is paid nothing except her husband’s warmest personal regards. She aided him at Cass and Bowdon before arriving at The Corral.
“I like it,” she said. “It allows me to be a part of what is going on. If I was a coach’s wife and I sat at home, I’d be sitting at home a lot by myself.
“It gives us a chance to be a part of each other’s time.”
Coach Eubanks appreciates her contributions.
“Being a coach’s wife is tough,” he said. “When things are going good, they don’t get to see their husband — which is hard anyway — and when they are going bad they have to hear the negativity. And they are single parents.
“We have four kids and Wendy has done her part to make sure that they get to places when I couldn’t be there. She makes sure supper is on the table and takes care of them.
“She’s a very good mother and a great wife, and I’m fortunate enough that she likes being at the ballfield.”
The coach’s devotion to baseball doesn’t end when the Mustangs’ season concludes. Each summer, he leads Team Georgia, a prestigious squad that boasts the state’s best prep players, in the Sunbelt Classic, a national series that alternates annually between Oklahoma and California.
Mrs. Eubanks, who used to be assisted in the press box by her children, estimated that she and the coach only have about six weeks each year that is “not as hectic” as baseball season.
“Even during that time, that’s when he is planning and figuring out what new songs we can put on the program,” she said.
Mrs. Eubanks expects her contribution to her husband’s team to extend into extra innings.
“If you are going to be a part of each other’s lives, you have to be a part of all of it,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to stay at home all the time and not be out here because this is fun. Baseball in itself is fun but to be out here and be a part of it is awesome.”