Gone fishin: Gordon (Ga.) College angling for runs, fans at JUCO World Series
Win the crowd.
Win the game.
After waiting to play its first game in school history in the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series until Sunday night, the Gordon (Ga.) College baseball team made quite an entrance.
Smiling and waving — and tossing caps into the stands — the Highlanders quickly won the crowd.
“I told them anything that you want to give away, if your baseball career was over, and you think you’d never use it, just bring it,” Gordon coach Travis McClanahan said after his club’s 13-3 win over Shelton State (Ala.) College.
“There’s going to be a lot of kids, and a big part of this is having a great time.”
The team giveaway usually doesn’t happen until after a club is eliminated, but Gordon, a club with only 20 players on the roster, established a quick fan base.
And the Highlanders don’t just bring the swag — they’re in-game entertainment.
Keep an eye on the bullpen, where the relief pitchers aren’t just waiting for the call to go in.
Nope, they’re fishing.
Fishing for runs.
“We actually just bought the fishing pole (Sunday), and we cut out a cardboard fish,” freshman pitcher Dylan Griffin said, holding up a child’s red fishing rod, complete with a spinner reel. On the Highlanders’ “fish” was one word: Runs.
“We normally take fungoes (bats) and throw them out (like casting a fishing rod) when we get guys in scoring position to catch the runs,” Griffin explained. “We wrote runs on there, so we can catch the runs and reel them in. We reel the runs in and then take a picture of what we caught.”
When the Highlanders score and the run is landed, one of the players hops in front of the rest of the group and snaps a picture, with whoever caught the run holding up his prize.
In baseball, relief pitchers are known to be just a little … unique.
“I don’t even know what was going on down there today,” McClanahan said. “What were they doing?”
He’s fine with the pitchers having a good time, as long as they’re ready when they get the call.
“It’s a baseball game. We’re not out here trying to save the world, we’re just having fun,” McClanahan said. “These guys have worked hard to get here, and when they put that kind of hard work into it, we want them to enjoy it. We understand work and practice and all that is tough and grinding; let them have a good time. We’re not trying to show anybody up or do anything not classy. We just want to have the guys have a good time.”
Freshman Brad Swinney is the dancer of the group, and he loves fan-participation music. Y-M-C-A? Always a crowd favorite, but even better is the Chicken Dance or the Cha-Cha Slide.
“I like it when we have good songs playing and the crowd does something and I can do it with them, get my teammates going,” Swinney said. “My teammates are embarrassed half the time. They don’t want to dance with me.”
“Don’t lie,” Griffin chimed in. “I dance, too.”
“Yeah,” Swinney said. “We have the most rhythm on the team.”
They say their actions in the pen help the players on the field stay relaxed, and when you arrive in Grand Junction on Thursday and don’t play until Sunday, you need to find a way to relax.
They started fishing for runs earlier this season. After beating Gulf Coast State 9-6 in the season opener in late January, the Highlanders lost three straight and four of five.
“We started about the second game of the season,” Griffin said. “The first game of the season we didn’t score that many runs, and we thought we needed some kind of luck. We started going fishin’ and started trying to shoot birds. We started catching runs fishing, and it started to work.”
The fish aren’t always biting, though, so sometimes the Highlanders have to find other ways to help their hitters.
“When there’s two balls, two strikes, two outs, we act like we’re going to shoot a bow and arrow at the pitcher. We take it and act like we’re gonna shoot it,” said Griffin, drawing an imaginary bow out of an imaginary quiver.
“When he comes set, we pull it back, and when we let go of it, most of the time he either throws a ball, or our hitter gets a hit.”
And if that doesn’t work?
“We pretty much hope for the best after that,” he said. “We just put it on our hitters.”
They’re a bunch of Georgia boys just having a good time trying to win baseball games. And making some friends along the way.
“That’s the one thing we really wanted to do, make sure we had a fan base,” Swinney said. “Right when we got here, we wanted to be real nice to everyone, introduce yourself, let them know your name, ask how their day’s going. Sign an autograph if they want one.”