“Our cupboard is hardly bare,” said Roper, who played for Adairsville High under former coach Eddie Chastain. “Out of our 11 returning players, all lettered. We don’t have a young team. We have eight seniors, six juniors and seven or eight sophomores.”
Adairsville compiled an 11-15 overall record a year ago and made the state playoffs. They were 7-6 in Region 5B-AAA, which includes state champion Cartersville.
That experience also includes Roper, who was the team’s pitching coach the past three years after his first year with the program as infield coach.
Roper said he has coached almost all of his players.
The team’s six returning starters, all seniors, include: Cody Melton, pitcher/infielder; Tristin Smith, pitcher/infielder; Nathan Medlock, infielder; Hunter Smith, pitcher/outfielder; Casey McCrory, catcher; and Tyler Washington, outfielder.
The other players with varsity experience are Dakota Hines, pitcher/infielder; Blane Bishop, outfielder; Colin Bearden, infielder; Lane Griffith, catcher; Jacob Smith, pitcher/infielder.
“These are our 11 experienced players who are coming back,” Roper said. “These young men are stepping up to see a lot of field time and, hopefully, will step right into leadership roles.”
• Sean McDurmott, a junior who is new to the program and is a pitcher/infielder. “He is a transfer student with Adairsville roots,” Roper said.
• Reese Spencer was a pitcher/outfielder with the junior varsity a year ago.
• Sophomore Noah O’Kelley, a pitcher/outfielder.
• Spencer Moore, a senior outfielder who didn’t play as a junior but returned to the program in the summer.
The team also includes Landon Howren, a sophomore infielder; Hayden Morrow, a sophomore infielder; Verta Collum, a sophomore outfielder/pitcher; and Brandon Shuping, an outfielder/pitcher.
Roper said he has worked extensively with the players.
“I’ve been with most of these guys since they were in the ninth grade,” the coach said. “I’ve taught weightlifting and baseball, so they already know the system. They are not having to learn everything. It’s just a matter of polishing.
“They know me and my strengths and weaknesses and I know them,” he said. “I’m not a new coach to them. I already have their trust and they have mine.”
Roper believes pitching could be one of the strengths of this year’s Tigers.
“We have about seven or eight players we can throw out there to pitch,” he said. “Some teams will rely on just two or three players whereas we have seven or eight who can throw the ball really hard.”
Adairsville opens up with a baseball tournament in Bainbridge, playing a game Tuesday against Early County with contests Wednesday against Cario and Leon, Fla.
Among other highlights of the season will be March 10 and March 13 games with Cass and March 25 and April 11 matchups with Cartersville. The Tigers will lineup against Woodland in a game that must be rescheduled.
Roper puts an emphasis on a team that fights to the end of each game.
“One of our slogans is we’re going to be committed to the A,” he said. “It means they will be committed to their school, to getting an education, to their community, to each other and to the game.
“If you have young men who are committed to you, they will be the last ones to quit.”
The coach said his coaching staff knows what that commitment to Adairsville is all about, since three of them, including Roper, played for the Tigers during their high school baseball careers.
The Tigers staff includes infield coach Chantry Gulledge, an Adairsville graduate; Kurt Scoggins, outfield coach and also an Adairsville graduate; pitching coach Ray Reece, who played with Roper at Shorter College and formerly coached baseball in Gordon County; and Aaron McCorkle, catching coach.
“[Aaron] is involved in our softball program,” Roper said. “He brings a lot of life to our program. He is our youngest coach and sometimes watching him reminds me of the energy I used to have.”
Roper said the staff isn’t just about teaching baseball.
“It’s a good mix of guys,” he said. “They are good men and good guys. The fact they are good coaches is icing on the cake.”
Roper believes the coaches all have something to give the players.
The new Tiger coach is a 1989 graduate of Adairsville who played his collegiate career at Truitt-McConnell and Shorter colleges, when both programs were coached by Ricci Lattanzi.
Roper was predominately an outfielder in high school and college. After college, Roper was an assistant coach and teacher at Pepperell, Woodstock and Newton County, where he held his first head baseball coaching position. He also was an assistant coach in Cobb County. Five years ago he became an assistant baseball and football coach at his alma mater.
Roper said he still has strong ties to the area although he waited long enough to return that a lot of people just know he went to high school at Adairsville.
He said he wasn’t the only one glad he is getting a chance to direct the Tigers.
“Eddie Chastain is one of the first people I called when I was named head coach,” Roper said. “He said one of his wishes has been that one of the guys who played for him would have an opportunity to be the program’s coach.”