EMERSON, Ga. – Baseball is an expensive sport these days, with the cost of equipment, travel and other expenses that can add up to be a financial burden on many families. Even in the days of paying thousands of dollars to play on travel teams, there is one organization that is providing an opportunity for its players to play for free: the Yalobusha Giants.
“We don’t pay coaches,” said Russ Pratt, the head coach of the Yalobusha Giants. “Most of the kids don’t have the means to play travel ball.”
The organization, which started in 2007, is funded by private donations and is a nonprofit that provides players of all socioeconomic backgrounds a place to play baseball. A few years ago, the organization was provided with a while new facility to be able to utilize for its players and coaches.
“About four years ago, a gentleman by the name of Michael Perry built a complex just south of Oxford, called the Oxford Lafayette Sportsplex,” Pratt said. “We built four turf fields and a 7,000 square foot infield field house.”
The complex has only helped the development of the program, which does its best to practice three to four times a week.
Only a few years after the construction of the new facility, the organization received tragic news when Perry, one of the leading donors and a founder of the organization, passed away in a plane crash on Aug. 14, 2016. The team honors him with the date of his death on their uniforms. Perry’s vision was to continue to grow the model, so that more and more kids could benefit from the organization.
The organization currently has teams from ages seven to 15, and has a coaching staff of former professional and collegiate players including Dr. Chip Wade, who was a letter winner in baseball at the University of Georgia from 1995-96. Pratt along with Wade, a coach on the 14u Giants, are two of the organizational members who are keeping the mission of the organization going.
“We’ve just added a seven-year-old team every year, just kind of growing it organically,” Pratt said.
The team provides a chance for kids of all backgrounds to play for them, with the goal being to send these kids to college on baseball scholarships.
“All these kids we’ve had here since they were six years old. We’ve added some [players] here or there. I don’t think we’ve ever cut a kid,” said Pratt. “We’ve cut parents, but I don’t think we’ve ever dropped a kid.”
With many of these kids having been a part of the organization for years, they recognize the impact that Pratt has made on them as baseball players and as young men.
“I’ve really enjoyed it. There’s no other program I’d play for,” said Trace Bufkin. “[Pratt has] taught me a lot, I don’t think anyone else could teach me what he does.”
Bufkin, listed at 6-foot-2, 180-pounds, is ranked as the No. 11 player in the state of Mississippi for the class of 2020. He has been clocked at 86 mph and offers a unique skill: the ability to pitch with both arms.
“When I was about seven years old, I learned that I could throw with both hands, so I just started throwing in the yard with my left hand,” said Bufkin. “About 10 years old, I started throwing lefty full action, and then last year I started pitching lefty.”
“He was put on the earth to play baseball,” said Pratt.
Joining Bufkin on the Giants’ pitching staff is righthander Bo Howell, who has been clocked at 81 mph in a PG event.
“Bo’s solid, really solid. He throws a really hard fastball, locates really well, and swings it really well,” Pratt said.
Howell, who has been with the program since he was 12 years old, has enjoyed playing for the organization which he attributes much of his growth to.
“I’ve gotten a lot better,” Howell said. “I’ve proven everything I do, and I’m just glad to be here [with this organization].”
Behind the plate, the team also features Kemp Alderman, who checks in at No. 10 on the top prospects from Mississippi per Perfect Game. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound catcher attends Newton County Academy in Decatur, Miss., where he hit .525 with 10 home runs and 54 RBIs (per MaxPreps) as a freshman this spring. Alderman, too, mentioned the impact of Pratt and the Yalobusha program on his development.
“It’s a great experience,” Alderman said. “I think I’ve been playing here for four years. Coach [Pratt] will do anything for us.”
Alderman has been on the scene for a few years now, having been selected to play on the 12u Team USA National Team for the 2014 season. He went 3-for-8 with a double, a homer and two RBIs while playing some of the best talent from around the world while with the Team USA program.
“I’ve improved a lot. When I made Team USA, [Pratt] got me there. I’ve just become a better person and player,” Alderman said.
Pratt said that the team is excited to be at LakePoint once again, something they do regularly during the summer, because they know the talent is among the best in the country. Alderman shared his goals for the tournament, which were mostly team based.
“Not just to do well as an individual, but to do well as a team,” Alderman said.
The Giants were off to a hot start in the 14u Perfect Game East Cobb Invitational, winning 8-0 while putting up 11 hits in only five innings. Jalen Cowan paced the Giants offensively, going a perfect 3-for-3 with two RBIs. Game two of their pool games will be a clash of the Giants as the Yalobusha Giants will take on Giants Sutko on Friday, June 2 at 9:00 a.m. at the East Cobb Complex.