The bigger-than-life portraits are gone from behind home plate, but the tradition remains.
History — in the form of signs on the outfield wall — greets visitors once they enter Trojan Field. Beginning from the left-field corner and stretching around the field to the right-field corner, the yellow signs chart the success and the records of past New Hope teams.
Members of the 2011 New Hope High School team hope one day to add to that tradition.
For the past two months of the Dizzy Dean season, New Hope coach Lee Boyd has been testing and tinkering with his personnel to see just what he might have next season. He won”t have the experience on the mound without pitchers Jake Smith, Jake Upton, Blake Roberts, Gabe Franks, and Mitch Elkin. He also won”t be able to rely on the steady hitting and fielding of Philip Tice, Brent Younger, Davis Lee, and Seth Stillman.
“It is completely different,” Boyd said. “The first summer league game I didn”t even know where to start. I was like, ”Who is going to lead off, who is going to play where?” ”
But Boyd will have a young team full of potential that is showing each day it just might be scrappy enough to make people forget about he latest senior class.
“We had three seniors that played today, and I had freshmen pinch running,” Boyd said. “My battery in the last game was a freshman on the mound and a freshman behind the plate. They”re good. It is just going to take some time to get them developed. They work hard.”
New Hope showed Friday in its first two games at the Dizzy Dean World Series that it has the resiliency needed to be a contender. It rallied from an early deficit against Ridgeland to take the lead before falling 15-13. The Trojans had the bases loaded in the final inning and needed only another extra-base hit to earn a victory.
In their second game of the day, the Trojans overcame a 5-0 first-inning deficit to score six runs in the bottom half of the inning en route to a 9-8 victory.
Coupled with Saturday”s victory against Tupelo and its result against Gulfport, New Hope will advance today to the second round of the annual event. New Hope High will play host to games at 1, 4, and 7 p.m. today.
The surviving team from New Hope High and from Columbus High will meet at 6 p.m. Monday for the Dizzy Dean World Series title.
Jared Shelton, Dusty Dyson, Dillon Hawkins, and Josh Grimes likely will be the only seniors on the 2011 high school team. Those four players saw varying degrees of playing time this past high school season and contributed to the Trojans” 23-8 finish and their district title. The season ended too soon with a loss to Hernando in the second round of the Class 5A North Half playoffs.
Next year, they likely will play key roles on the high school team. Shelton, who played second baseman this past high school season, started at shortstop, while Dyson, a designated hitter on the high school team, played first base. Grimes took Davis Lee”s place in left field. Hawkins, who is hurt, was the only player who didn”t see action.
Dyson had the most success of the three against Newton County, with two hits and an RBI.
Rising freshman Taylor Stafford had a double, triple, and four RBIs to lead the hitting attack. He also came on in relief to close out the victory.
Right-hander Landon Boyd, who is the coach Lee Boyd”s brother, pitched the first 5 2/3 innings. He overcame three errors in the first inning (four overall) to get the victory. He also had two hits.
Boyd isn”t sure how the latest group of players will respond now that it is there chance to assume leadership roles, but he has been encouraged by what he has seen this spring and this summer.
Boyd said the abilities of his players will determine his coaching style, and that he is still learning what many of his players can and can”t do. That will take time considering only seven or eight of the players on the Dizzy Dean World Series roster dressed out with the high school”s varsity team. Boyd said many of the players were on the junior varsity, the freshman, or the middle school team.
“It is fun,” Boyd said. “The seniors had been molded before I got here, and these guys are fresh with me. It is fun to see what they can and can”t do. There is more teaching involved. You”re trying to mold the kids to your system and how you want to do things.”
Boyd admitted the Trojans won”t be as talented as they were in 2010, but he believes hard work will help the team be OK.
Boyd tipped his cap to his days as an assistant coach at Neshoba Central by having Grimes lay down a sacrifice bunt in the second inning and Thomas Woodruff lay one down in the third. Aside from the fielding miscues, Boyd was pleased how his team executed. He hopes “scrappy” is a term people will use to describe the 2011 New Hope team and future versions.
“I tell them all of the time, be that little bug that won”t go away,” Boyd said. “That is kind of what I want them to be. I want them to play hard. We”re not going to have that guy on the mound who is going to hit seven or eight home runs. We”re not going to have that guy on the mound who is going to hit 87 or 88 mph. We”re going to have to do the little things correctly. We”re going to have to bunt, play small ball, run bases, play smart, and put the pressure on other teams.”
If the 2011 plays with the right attitude — and the Trojan pride — it just might be able to secure a place with past teams on the outfield wall.
“They know what they”re working for,” Boyd said. “Those signs are special to so many people here in the community, especially for me. I played for some of those teams. Everybody wants to leave their mark on the program. I think our guys are working hard and that they understand they have to work hard to get it. It is not just going to come.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.