Middle Georgia’s Young stunned by honor

Former Middle Georgia coach Craig Young had 47 players who played professional baseball and took four teams to the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.

The phone call Craig Young received when he found out he’d been inducted into the NJCAA Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame came in an unexpected place.

“I was getting my oil changed,” the former Middle Georgia College coach said with a laugh. “And when I heard the news, my reaction was like, ‘Who? Me?’ “

It wasn’t too long afterward when he got a phone call from one of his former assistants coaches, Brian English, who told him something that made the achievement hit home a little more.

“He told me, ‘This is what we all aspire for,’ ” Young said. “And I couldn’t feel more honored.”

The 54-year-old Young received plenty of honors during his 22-year coaching career, which included the first six years of his career at Abraham Baldwin College (Georgia). He received numerous coach of the year awards — he was a five-time winner of the American Baseball Coaches Association’s regional coach of the year — and his teams made appearances in the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series in 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2009.

Each time the Warriors made the trip the Grand Junction, it was a special accomplishment.

“It was always our goal to get to that point,” Young said. “To me, JUCO is the greatest college world series there is, so achieving that goal where you have a chance to play for a national championship, and it’s such a treat because of the kind of effort the city of Grand Junction puts into making it happen.”

Young accumulated a 761-380 record during his career and five times was selected as the NJCAA’s Region 17 coach of the year. His most recent award came in 2012, one year before his final year at the school before it merged with Macon State College to become Middle Georgia State College, which competes at the NAIA Division I level.

The Warriors, even though they never won more than two games in their four JUCO appearances under Young, had plenty of memorable moments. One of them came in their tournament opener in 2009, which started after 9 p.m., thanks to a 70-minute rain delay in the third game of the day. It ended well after midnight, when Santa Fe (Florida) prevailed 17-13.

Young needed plenty of talented players for Middle Georgia to even get to Grand Junction, and the Warriors had their fair share. Fourty-seven of Young’s former players were drafted by Major League Baseball franchises.

Among them were Abraham Baldwin pitcher Kyle Farnsworth, who played for nine big-league teams from 1999 to 2014; Willie Harris, a retired 11-year MLB infielder who won a World Series with the Chicago White Sox in 2005; and Josh Reddick, an outfielder with the Houston Astros who won the Gold Glove with the Oakland Athletics in 2012.

When Young was coaching, he took more pride in developing players who weren’t blue-chip products, hoping they would take the lessons and use them long after they were out of uniform.

“I would hope they came out of our program feeling like they were part of a team and part of our program for the rest of their lives,” Young said. “And I would hope those players would tell you the experiences they had made them not only better ball players, but better people.”

More than a few players and coaches can attest to that.

One of them was English, who was an assistant under Young for the 2013 season and is now an assistant coach for NCAA Division II Armstrong State in Savannah, Georgia. English said there were multiple times he and former assistant coach Christian Castori would make suggestions on practice or pregame workouts. Young would go with it and, if the result didn’t turn out well, Young would wait to have a discussion with his coaches on what went wrong.

“He would wait to let you go to him and afterward, he’d say, ‘Here’s what you should have done,’ ” English said. “He would allow us to grow and learn without letting ourselves get in our own way.”

English went so far as to call Young a father figure, and actions spoke louder than words in that case. English lived with Young during his one season at Middle Georgia and, every once in a while, there’d be a couple of pitchers rummaging through the refrigerator in the kitchen.

The fridge and freezer were always stocked because Young’s wife, Lynn, would have enough food ready for an impromptu team meal. Sometimes it would be two players, other times it was as many as 20. Either way, they were always ready.

“The thing that made him stand out is a no-brainer. He loved those players, and they all knew it,” English said. “You know how you didn’t want your dad to yell at you because you didn’t want to disappoint him? None of those players wanted to disappoint him. That’s how much respect they had for him. They feared him a little bit, but every one of them knew he loved them.”

That respect garnered him more recognition from the junior college and local baseball communities. He was selected as the Georgia Dugout Club’s coach of the year in 2002, 2004 and 2009, was Middle Georgia’s athletic director from 2003-06 and was also a member of the American Baseball Coaches Association for 20 years and was recognized by the NJCAA with its 20-year service award.

Now in his time away from the baseball field, he teaches in the health sciences department at Middle Georgia State. It’s not baseball, but it still gives him a chance to be around kids.

That is rewarding to him.

“At least it keeps me young,” Young said with a laugh.


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