After good performances the first few years in which the Macon Heat competed, the travel team comprised of young baseball players struggled through a down year during its 8 year-old season and approximately a .500 season when the players were 9-year-olds.
But the temperature shifted from cold to hot this past season. Playing at the 10-and-under AA level, the Heat rolled up a 38-7 record, six victories, three second-place finishes and one third-place finish in 11 tournaments.
The Heat’s manager, Brian Smith, said the vast improvement was even a surprise to him.
“Obviously, your hopes going into every year are just to be better than you were the year before,” Smith said. “We felt like we were a better team this year than we were last year, but nobody ever imagined us being what we’ve done this year.”
The team mostly plays USSSA travel ball but also played in the CAMsports circuit and a Grand Slam Sports event in Florida. One of its six victories thus far was in the USSSA state championship, where the team outlasted 21 teams vying for the title. The Heat won all five games in which they played, including a one-run victory in extra innings in the title game.
Smith called his team “persistent,” alluding to the players’ ability to shake off past poor performances and come back from deficits and ups and downs.
“It says a lot about the character of our boys. The determination to get better, to never give up,” Smith said. “There’s been plenty of times this year where we’ve been down in games by four or five runs, and that never die attitude got them back in the game.”
The team decided against going to the USSSA World Series, however, because of timing and a lack of competition. Recreational baseball teams must progress through district, state and regional tournaments to reach the World Series, but travel baseball’s system is different.
“Anybody can go play in the World Series in travel ball; you could have not have won a game all year and go play in the World Series if you want to pay the money,” Smith said. “So, it’s not like you have to win something. We try to play in every big tournament we can because it’s the best competition.”
Instead, the team will attend the CAMsports Summer Nationals in Dublin at Southern Pines Baseball Park starting Friday. Smith said the 16 teams currently registered will be more competitive for his team, and the tournament fit the team’s schedule, which revolved around prior vacation arrangements for the players’ families.
“There are quite a few good teams in this tournament,” Smith said. “I would say we’re probably, out of the 16 teams, we’re probably one of the three or four if you were picking teams that had a chance to win it, we would be one of them.”
But what’s the difference between this year and last year’s Macon Heat team?
“The biggest transformation in the kids was the fact of going up there and not thinking they can win but knowing that they can win,” Smith said. “Basically, not because they had a chip on their shoulders, but they expect to do good. They didn’t go up there scared to swing the bat; they went up there looking to hit and looking to make an out. They were just a lot more confident.”
The Macon Heat’s roster is made up of Camden Smith, Carsen Gibson, Colton McDonald, Cole Blackwell, Carter Brown, Leighton Judd, Cayden Pugh, Cole Hetes, Josh Holt, John Michael Kitchens and Carson Craig. The other coaches are Jon Kitchens and Keith Hetes.
“Nobody is going to give us anything,” Smith said. “If all our kids stay confident in themselves, I think baseball will be the easy part. The mind you have to keep, their focus, is what they have to keep intact. Because they’re 10 years old, and they can wander.”