The end of high school inevitably scatters Forsyth County’s athletic talent across the state and beyond, but that doesn’t mean reunions are out of the question.
The Windward Academy Braves, an Alpharetta-based team in the Great South League — a wooden-bat summer league for college baseball players with teams in Georgia, Florida and Alabama — has a handful of former Forsyth players on the roster.
Braves head coach Ed Black said that leagues like the Great South have grown out of the necessity to give college-aged baseball players the chance to play in the summer, and get the chance to swing wooden bats, a degree of hitting challenge not found in high school and college.
“When college guys come home [over summer], they don’t have a place to play,” said Black, a former player for Troy University who has been involved with Atlanta-area baseball for 20 years.
Black said that 10-20 percent of the players in the league are Major League Baseball draft selections, making the opportunity to play with wooden bats more important for those players.
One of that small portion of draftees is Eric Swegman, a former Forsyth Central standout who just finished his freshman year at Young Harris College. The right-hander was taken by the Kansas City Royals in the 33rd round of this year’s draft, having only pitched 26 innings during the season.
Swegman said he will likely hold off on a professional career for the time being, preferring to return to school for another year and develop his talent further.
That’s also why he’s playing with the Windward Braves, where he averages about 60 pitches in one start a week.
“I had a lot of trouble in the fall throwing strikes consistently, so this is a good time for me to work on throwing all my pitches for strikes,” Swegman said prior to a game at Milton High School Thursday.
Chris Carroll, a 2006 Central graduate now playing at Georgia Southwestern State University and part of the Windward team this summer, says that having access to a summer league allows him to stay in form during the off-season.
“I just enjoy playing all year round. That was one thing in high school ... During the summer, that was basically the time to just keep yourself motivated, keep yourself in shape,” he said Thursday.
Justin Smith, formerly of North Forsyth, says having the opportunity to swing the wooden bats as part of the Windward team is a plus, allowing him to hone his hitting skills as he gets ready for his junior year of college. Smith is planning to transfer to the University of West Georgia from Young Harris.
“I think it makes you a better hitter, and it makes better pitchers because they have to pitch around them,” the infielder said.
Carroll thinks that his job on the mound is simpler when his opponent is swinging timber instead of aluminum, though.
“[It’s a] lot different. I think it’s easier, just because you can make more mistakes because you’ve got to have better hitters,” he said.
Ryan Kirby, formerly of Central and now playing with Toccoa Falls College, is also on the Windward roster.
The Braves scored a big victory on Thursday, knocking off the Mentium Athletics from Conyers 13-1.
The Forsyth connections didn’t stop on the Windward side of the ball, though. Former Forsyth Central standout Daniel Merck, transferring to Chattanooga State Technical Community College from Georgia State University, plays in the infield for Mentium.
Carroll says its easy to play in the same lineup with a guy he spent his high school days trying to best in county match-ups. After all, he and Smith played on teams together before they reached high school, making these days a bit of a restoration.
“It was a little rivalry [in high school], but it was all fun,” Carroll said.