Perhaps there is no greater sign that baseball has begun than the annual Hits for Heroes games.
There are 38 high school teams participating this year and three junior college teams. The first games are Saturday at Northcutt Field in Dothan and the last games are February 29.
On Saturday, three local junior college teams and two local high school teams will participate in this annual event that supports Wiregrass veterans.
At 9:45 a.m., the Chipola Indians will play the Enterprise State Boll Weevils in a junior college game. At 12:30 p.m., Northside Methodist will take on Early County in high school action.
After the opening ceremony and Salute to the Troops, Enterprise State will play Wallace College in the final game of the day, scheduled for approximately 3:30 p.m.
“Our guys are really looking forward to this event,” Enterprise State coach Bubba Frichter said. “We get to play baseball, but most of all, it’s a great way to show support to our military. I’m just glad that Angela Dunning (event coordinator) and her husband Mark invite us every year. They do an outstanding job.
“The atmosphere just can’t be topped,” he continued. “Just to see the helicopter land on the field is something special.”
So far, Hits for Heroes has raised over $275,000 since its inception in 2014. The money has gone to support such organizations as Jeep Sullivan’s Wounded Warriors, care packages for soldiers overseas and a special golf program at the Highlands for wounded veterans.
“Not only is for a good cause, people will also get to see some good baseball,” Wallace coach Mackey Sasser said. “Chipola has one of the best baseball teams in the country. They are currently ranked number five in the nation, so this is the perfect opportunity to come out and see some possible future major league players.”
Frichter and Sasser both said they are just hoping to get on the field. The weather has wreaked havoc on their schedule so far.
“We’ve only played two games,” Frichter said, and that was a doubleheader. “We’ve got a bunch of young guys and we’re still trying to figure out just what some of them can do.“
“The rain has caused us to miss several games and a lot of practice days,” Sasser said. “Last year, we pretty much had our lineup set and we just ran the same guys out there day after day.
“But we’ve got a lot of young guys this year and we’re still trying to figure out things like our starting rotation and our batting order.”
Because these games are so special to the teams, this year some special circumstance will take place. While Enterprise and Chipola will be playing Saturday morning, at the same time Wallace will be playing in Marianna against St. Pete.
When those games are over, both Wallace and Chipola will hit the road. Chipola will return to Marianna to take on St. Pete, while Wallace will return to Dothan to take on Enterprise.
“In all my years of coaching, I’ve never played one game in the morning and then travel 45 minutes to play another game that afternoon,” Sasser said. “This became necessary because the schedule was already set and St. Pete had agreed to travel to play a certain number of games. But Chipola wanted to be a part of Hits for Heroes so this is how we worked it out.”
Enterprise has its own set of unique circumstances. The Boll Weevils will play the early morning game, wait around while the high school game is played, and then play Wallace in the late afternoon game that could turn into nighttime.
“It’s a bit unusual to play that early in the morning,” Frichter said. “But a lot of our guys are used to it. They’ve played travel ball where they often had to play at 8:00 in the morning.
“The difference is, the stakes are a little higher here. Plus, when the sun goes down and the lights come on in that afternoon game, the atmosphere changes. There’s something different and more exciting about a night game.”
While both coaches are still trying to familiarize themselves with their players, both coaches said they are hoping for a large turnout Saturday.
“Whether you are a baseball fan or not, I hope everyone comes out and supports our veterans,” Frichter said.
Sasser added, “We all need to keep in mind these veterans have sacrificed a lot for us. Because of that sacrifice, we are free to play the game of baseball.”