JACKSON County’s alumni baseball game is as much about sharing stories, both past and present, as it is giving former Panthers another chance to swing for the fences.
And there should plenty of time for all of that Saturday. The game is set for 2 p.m. with a homerun derby preceding it at 12:30 p.m.
“It’s a cool opportunity for me … to see those guys and see how things are going, check up on them, figure out who’s married, who’s having kids,” said coach Tommy Fountain, who’s coached the Panthers since 2007.
The game, played annually since 2009, usually draws over 20 Jackson County baseball alums back to Panther Field. For some, their old ballpark might have changed since they last took the field.
“It’s fun for them, especially some of the older guys, to see what we’re doing with facilities and the success we’ve been having and that kind of thing,” Fountain said.
Alumni game regulars include players like Austin Robinson, Josh Farmer, T.J. Sims and Matt Bolt, now a coach at Jackson County.
Newer alums like Chase Dunlap and Chandler Malecki are expected to play and should hold up better than the rest.
“They’re still in playing shape,” Fountain said. “Most of them are still playing college ball. It’s the coaching staff and those older guys — we feel it the next day.”
The game also draws former Panthers that pre-date Fountain’s arrival, like brothers Russ and Ryan Williams and Chris Foster.
“Russ and Ryan have been big in helping get this thing going,” Fountain said.
Coaches play, too, “which is always kind of fun for them,” Fountain said.
Fountain still makes a random plate appearance or two. And the coach, who played college baseball at Shorter University, can still swing it.
In fact, he humorously remembers driving the ball off the outfield wall one year for what ended up being a very long single.
“I watched it the whole way and stopped at first,” he said. “I can still hit. I just can’t move.”
Fountain said coaches Brian Vance and Jon Veldhuis probably have the most fun on the staff, though.
“They like to give the players a hard time,” he said.
The game lasts seven innings, though the alums tried to play nine innings a few years back.
“We made the mistake of doing that,” Fountain said. “We realized in the eighth inning that we were way too old to do that any more.”
As far as the homerun derby, 2014 graduate Patrick Overstreet — who will play at Truett McConnell this spring — is the early favorite to take this year’s crown after homering eight times just this past spring.
Still, others might challenge.
“Chase Dunlap says he can hit a few out now,” said Fountain, who also noted that 2011 graduate Tony Holton would be a contender as well if he plays this year. “He said he’s gotten stronger in his old days.”
The game always seems to be a barnburner. In fact, last year’s meeting was the first time in three or four years the game wasn’t decided by one run.
Fountain said it all makes for a fun day.
“We have a good time, and relive the old glory days I guess,” he said.