For the past few years, Billy Roper had tried to balance his time wearing the two hats he wore as head baseball coach at Adairsville High. With eldest son B.J. on the team, Roper often spoke about the difficulty of trying to balance wearing the "coach" hat with being able to switch to the "dad" hat, when given the chance.
Billy Roper admits, in hindsight, that B.J. didn't get to see his father shed the "coach" hat as often as he would have liked. It took until the end of B.J.'s senior season this spring for the realization to finally hit.
“It started with the last game, senior night I just got flooded with emotions,” Billy Roper said. “For so long with him, I tried to treat him as a player how I treat everybody. But there’s no way. Most players, when they go home, they get to get away from it. With him, he had to go home and listen to it. He handled it very well.
“Looking back on it, I wish I would have enjoyed more of ‘dad’ with him as opposed to ‘coach’ with him."
Well, B.J.'s time with the Tigers has come to a close, but his playing days aren't finished. He's following in his father's footsteps, signing to play baseball at Truett McConnell — just as Billy Roper did roughly three decades ago.
“It’s weird how things come full circle,” Billy Roper said. “I truly believe the good Lord puts you where he wants you. Thirty years later, he gets to go to the same place I got to, and it was not my choice. The decision was on him.”
Truett McConnell was a JUCO, when Billy Roper attended the school from 1989-90 before transferring to Shorter. Ironically, the fact that Truett McConnell is now a four-year school played heavily into the decision to have B.J. join the Bears program.
“We just needed someone to give him a chance,” Billy Roper said. “He’s smaller than most people. He’s not going to hit the ball as far as some people. …
“I think by the time he’s a junior or a senior, I really think he can play and help them. Not saying he can’t help them earlier, but we just wanted a four-year program that could develop him.”
After going through a tryout, B.J. said he was promised a spot on the Bears JV roster. Once he is able to better adjust to the college game, the hope is that B.J. will carve out a role on the NAIA program's varsity team.
“They told me it would be a natural progression,” B.J. Roper said of getting to that point. “I would have to get used to [playing at the collegiate level]. They said once I got used to it that I’d be pretty good.”
Having played center field the past couple of seasons, B.J. showed off good range and a decent enough arm. Offensively, he always displayed great plate discipline, hitting .343 with a .476 on-base percentage this year. After reaching base, B.J. proved to have some of the best speed in the country, swiping nine bags in 2019. It helped him score 15 runs to tie for the team lead.
Based on his abilities showcased at Adairsville, he certainly has the tools to make an impact at the next level.
“I’m really happy and excited,” B.J. Roper said of the opportunity to play collegiately. “Now, it’s just time to move on.”
It will certainly be an adjustment for B.J. to play for someone other than his dad. He only played one summer of travel ball, so most of the time he's spent playing baseball has been working under the guidance of his father.
That wasn't always the easiest thing for B.J. to handle. However, he thinks the situation helped his improvement.
“It’s tough, because he’s harder on me,” B.J. Roper said. “He expects more from me, but I’ve grown up a lot to be able to take [the criticism] and get better at what I need to do.”
As for Billy Roper, he should get to enjoy more of B.J.'s games as a father, now that he'll be playing for someone else. Also, the elder Roper can finally sit back and appreciate everything that B.J. has accomplished on and off the field.
"I can’t ask for anything more from him. He exceeded all expectations I had of him as a ballplayer," Billy Roper said of his first born. "Growing up, I just wanted him to love the game and treat the game the right way. Just let the fruits of the game [come] and see what they give you. Look what happened, it blossomed into this right here. I couldn’t ask for any more.
“As a coach, I’m proud, because he showed up, he did everything we asked and I couldn’t ask for a better ballplayer. On the other side, as a dad, I couldn’t ask for a better child. … You can tell by the people that came [to B.J.'s signing ceremony], he’s well liked and teachers respect him. That says a lot more than even the game of baseball that he’s respected in the community.”
As older siblings often do, B.J. also has paved the way for his younger brother Chris, who is a rising freshman. When the middle of Billy Roper's three sons takes B.J.'s place next year as resident coach's kid on the Tigers, Chris should know that his dad believes he's learned how to better balance his dual role.
“When it’s really time for [B.J.] to go to school, I’ll probably break down,” Billy Roper said. “Senior night, I boohooed like a baby, just because the emotions hit me. For so long, you have to wear two hats. Senior night, that ‘dad’ hat finally came out. …
“If anything, I learned with the next one coming through that I’ll appreciate it more and find more ways to be ‘dad’ than more ‘coach.’”