Forsyth Central High School Athletic Director Dan Kaplan was less-than-encouraging when approached about this column.
“He’s not going to like it.”
If Bulldog baseball coach Kevin McCollum had his way, he’d be one of those posters where you have to look hard to see the aircraft carrier. Upon glimpsing the ship that was there the entire time of taxing your vision, it provides a perfect “Aha” moment.
The darned thing had been in plain sight the whole time.
That’s McCollum, whose Bulldogs just put a bow on a 7-A season that refuses to end. On Thursday, Central overcame the top-ranked team in the state, Grayson, to get a seat at the table for the Final Four in the state baseball playoffs.
Central will head west to Dallas, needing two more wins to earn a spot in the state championship. North Paulding is the only barrier preventing Central from playing a best-of-three series at Truist Park.
It feels surreal to type that last sentence. You think the Central boys would relish getting dressed in a big-league locker room?
McCollum has been the maestro of a season that started dismally and is galvanizing a fan base that was ready to erupt at the conclusion of a 6-1 Central win.
Even though the county’s oldest baseball program has never gone this far, anyone who knows anything about Bulldog baseball has been watching success for the past 12 years. That’s how long McCollum has been toiling in relative anonymity at the corner of Sawnee Drive and Tribble Gap Road.
Forget anonymity, his teams have made the playoffs nine times out of his 12 years. Even better, his team’s gone to the post-season for the past six years.
No wonder coaches, administrators and former players won’t say a bad word about him.
Chase Hillenbrand played centerfield in 2018-19 and played for me until age 12. To say Chase was a “handful” is like saying Johnny Manziel had a slight problem with authority. I used to call Chase “Dennis The Menace.” There was a slight physical resemblance, but he was spot-on in terms of antics and chicanery.
For years I’d nod at Chase and on cue he’d bellow: “Hello, Mister Wilson.”
Chase has grown up and waxed philosophical about what it was like to play for his former coach.
“He teaches you how to play the game the right way.”
That makes sense. So does the coach’s “throw the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball” philosophy of simplifying the game that his teams have played so well for all these years.
Look at baseball stats virtually encompassing all the letters of the alphabet (BAPIP, OPS, WHIP?) that will necessitate a stronger vision prescription, McCollum boiling it down to those basic skills has paid off more-than-fairly well.
For 20 years I’ve lived with one his former players, my son Greg, now coaching travel baseball. Why is his old coach so successful?
“He can take a group of strangers and in two weeks, they’ll be best friends.”
No wonder there were so many hugs after the game.
You couldn’t have shoe-horned any more fans into The Boneyard on Thursday. Of course, there were parents and students, but it was remarkable at the number of former players on the field to share in the celebration.
The bedlam was welcomed and well-deserved. No one was thinking of Monday’s challenge. And there was the Coach, square in the center of the throng, accepting the well-deserved congrats.
It was a remarkable sight, fans sticking around for more than an hour after the last pitch. Those who had been around the program for many years couldn’t remember a bigger more boisterous crowd.
As someone who has observed Bulldog baseball for 7-plus years, the best high school coach I’ve seen in these parts (the region’s coach of the year), was a bit emotional during a post-game conversation.
He deserved that.
Now he and his players are focused more future celebrations. And a trip to Marietta via Dallas.
Mike Tasos’ column is published every other Sunday. High school sports can be so refreshing. But as an old guy, I want everyone to enjoy themselves because the good times go by so fast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is also on Facebook.