Chris Bridges is a columnist and former sports editor for The Walton Tribune.

Chris Bridges Mug

Chris Bridges

What a difference a year makes.

It’s not difficult to think back to one year ago at this time and remember how all high school baseball fields were eerily quiet. The season had ended prematurely with no region titles won, no state playoff brackets set and no state championship trophies on the line.

Fortunately, things are much different in 2021. While COVID-19 still tries to raise its ugly head from time to time, overall, there is much improvement in all aspects of our lives.

Many businesses have re-opened. Schools are holding in-person class. Student-athletes have been able to return to the field.

With the weather having more of a summer feel to it in recent days, it’s the perfect time to welcome back the high school baseball playoffs. It’s been 24 months but things are back to the way they should be, at least on the diamond.

Several local teams earned the right to play beyond their regular season finales.

High school baseball playoffs are always special. At times there seems to be so much riding on every pitch, every strike, every hit, every run and every error.

The pressure is greater for players, coaches and even fans. How often have we entered the local ballpark and hoped our team would be able to win and advance to the next round, nervously biting our fingernails throughout the process?

You will always have upsets so even if your favorite team is supposed to advance, it doesn’t always happen.

Having covered high school baseball for more than three decades, the sport at this level has an All-American feel to it. Maybe it’s the game day atmosphere with the smell of hot dogs and hamburgers cooking on the grill or maybe it’s the national anthem before the first pitch.

It could also have something to do with the late spring sun in the sky above causing fans to have plenty of water on hand. At times, I’ve felt like I have competed in the contest once the final out is recorded.

I still recall being there when the current Loganville High School baseball dynasty started. The Red Devils made it all the way to the state championship series against Gainesville High School.

That season would be the first of many successful ones to unfold for coach Jeff Segars and his program. I still remember after the series was over, star LHS player Brandon Moss looking at me and saying he wanted to jump into the lake. That honor went the Gainesville High School players that day as they won the series on their home field which happened to have a scenic lake beyond the outfield fence.

During the past three decades on the high school sports beat, many things are still the same about the game of baseball. Games are still seven innings. Pitchers still throw strikes and batters still try to connect for home runs.

There will always be debates about whether the teams of this year would do against ones from 10, 20 or 30 seasons ago. It makes for interesting discussions but, unfortunately, we will never know the outcome of those hypothetical contests.

We can all agree that hopefully we never again have a situation like we did in 2020. Seasons were cut short and high school seniors were denied their final performances. It was something all of us never thought would occur.

The state baseball playoffs have now gotten underway and it will be interesting to see how far our local teams can advance. Here’s hoping they all turn it into a long postseason stay.

Even while compiling these words, flashbacks of past seasons remain vivid. It doesn’t take much imagination to recall the smell of the hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill. Thankfully it all has been returned to us in 2021. Play ball.

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