Feb. 12 -- at Screven County, 6 p.m.
Feb. 19 -- at Bleckley County, 4 p.m.
After last year, I just want our kids to have a chance to play the game of baseball for their high school — to represent their community and their school. They can do it through travel ball but there is something special about wearing a local high school uniform and representing your community.Mustangs head coach Todd Eubanks
GUYTON — Want to know how badly South Effingham head coach Todd Eubanks wants to see some baseball?
“I don’t care if I have to wear a zebra uniform to coach third base,” he said following practice Thursday while recalling a conversation with a Georgia High School Association official.
Fortunately, Eubanks won’t have to wear any silly costumes for his team to play in 2021. Quite a few accommodations will have to be made because of COVID-19, however.
The 2020 season was aborted in March because of the virus. The Mustangs owned a 10-3 record at the time and appeared destined for a postseason run.
“After last year, I just want our kids to have a chance to play the game of baseball for their high school — to represent their community and their school,” Eubanks said. “They can do it through travel ball but there is something special about wearing a local high school uniform and representing your community.”
The new Georgia High School Association rule likely to have the greatest impact on the 2021 season is one that precludes pitchers from blowing on their hands.
“Fortunately, we are in south Georgia so we aren’t going to have as much cold weather as some of the folks north of us do,” Eubanks said. “Baseball players, though, are creatures of habit and blowing on their hand is something they are used to doing. They are going to have to break the habit.”
The penalty for not following the rule is harsh.
“The first time is a warning and the second time is a charged defensive conference,” Eubanks said. “If by chance we have already used our three, that means we have to remove our pitcher from the game.”
Pitchers will also be prohibited from licking their fingers. This is usually done to improve their grip.
“They can’t blow on their hand but they can have a wet towel in their pocket,” Eubanks said with a quizzical look. “That’s something Major League Baseball did last year but I can’t imagine having a moist towel in my back pocket on a cold night. The governor of the towel needs to make sure people are putting water on it and not Sprite or some other tacky substance so that they are getting extra grip on the ball.”
The new rules — including the banning of sunflower seeds — were inspired by Major League Baseball and the National Federation of High School Sports.
“You can’t come out of the dugout and congratulate a kid after he hits a home run,” Eubanks explained. “The kids are going to have to stay in the dugout to celebrate.”
Visits to the mound will also be different as coaches and players are required to stay on the grass.
“You have to be outside the circle but as long as you can talk to them that’s good,” Eubanks said.
Eubanks regrets that teams will no longer be able to exchange postgame handshakes. Customarily, he greets every opposing player after a contest — win or lose.
“It’s sportsmanship,” Eubanks said. “I wish that could be different.”
During the pandemic, teams in other sports frequently wave at each other as they leave the field or court. Occasionally, winners have done so derisively.
“Some teams don’t wave at all,” Eubanks said. “As a coach, I’ve always been the last one to come through the line and I shake each kids’ hand and look him in the eye and say, ‘Good game.’ I do that because it’s baseball and I appreciate the effort that they put into it.
“It’s sportsmanship and gratitude for playing the game right, and that’s something we can’t do now.”
The loss of half a season last year has caused Eubanks to appreciate his favorite sport even more than he already did. He is hopeful that the 2021 campaign can be completed.
“As long we get to play, I don’t care (about the new rules),” he said. “It’s about the kids. Plus, I’m getting on up there in age and I don’t know how many more years I’ve got so I don’t want to lose another one, either.
“There are other states that still aren’t playing.”