Wesleyan, the two-time defending state champion, has an interesting twist to its baseball schedule during the middle of the season.
Every year during spring break, the Gwinnett private school and its athletic programs are completely shut down for a week.
While other baseball teams are holding practices and playing games, Wesleyan’s players — along with rest of the student body — are encouraged to go a mission trips to foreign countries.
It’s a time to serve, rather than to be served a fastball.
The players hit — not with a baseball bat, but rather a hammer or tool on a third-world building project.
It’s not exactly the way that top-tier baseball teams normally expend valuable time on spring break. However, it works well at Wesleyan.
“I guess if we didn’t win, then we’d have our skeptics,” said Michael Shaheen, the team’s seventh-year coach.
“When I was first coaching here, we went to the semifinals and state championship and lost. You always had people saying ‘If you didn’t take off 8 days for spring break …’ But once you win, you kind of silence that.”
Wesleyan captured the Class AA championship in 2008, and won it all in Class A last year. Shaheen has found positives in the unorthodox mid-season break from baseball.
“In retrospect, in May, when other teams have pitchers with their arms worn out and players mentally drained, because baseball is such a long season, we’re not (tired). We’re fresh.
“The other thing is that the mission trips are changing our kids’ lives. When they go to Romania, the Ukraine, Costa Rica, or the Dominican Republic, their lives are changed when they come back.”
More than half of Wesleyan’s 18-man roster has been on mission trips, including four players this spring. Junior outfielder Alex Thykeson traveled with 16 classmates and four teachers to Belize, where they taught arts and crafts to children, built picnic tables, and did minor construction repairs.
“You get so much out of it, helping people,” said Thykeson, who went to the Dominican Republic as a sophomore.
“Yes, it’s tough getting back into the baseball routine after a week away, I’m not going to lie. On my first day back, I looked like I hadn’t swung a bat in my life. You just have to rely on God to get you through that.”
Wesleyan is the favorite to win for a third year in a row, despite winning only two of its first eight games. The team’s best pitcher, Devin Stanton (signed with Georgia Tech), made his debut last week after being sidelined with arm tendinitis. The team’s best hitter, outfielder Conor Welton (Georgia), tore his ACL during football season and is out until late April.
“With 10 seniors coming back, our expectations were higher for the start of the season,” Shaheen said. “But we didn’t expect the injuries. If we get healthy, we have a shot at being a contender again.”
Shortstop Kevin O’Leary (Furman) is the leading hitter with a .402 average and two homers. Strother White (Rhodes University ) is Wesleyan’s biggest surprise, posting a 3-0 record and 2.63 ERA.
HERE’S THE BLOG QUESTION: Who are your state championship picks for all five of Georgia’s classifications? State your case and post below. We’ll revisit your picks in late May.
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