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Wooden bats line drive success in new league

Brookhaven’s boys of summer have been swinging some new sticksthis year.

Armed with wooden bats, the Brookhaven Brakemen are wrapping uptheir year in the inaugural season of the eight-team Cotton StateBaseball League. The Brakemen’s last home game is today at 2 p.m.at Moyer Field and the season concludes Thursday with a gameagainst Hattiesburg at William Carey College.

Kenny Goza, president of the Brookhaven Diamond Kats, theBrookhaven High School baseball team’s booster club, said the clubsaw having a team in the new league as a way to help the highschool team.

“The booster club decided this was something we thought we’dlike to do as the primary fund-raiser for the club,” Goza said.

Brookhaven’s brand of baseball has been bringing out the fansand club officials have been pleased with results.

“We probably average about 100 a game,” said Randy Spring, theteam’s general manager who has doubled as announcer for some homegames.

The single-game high attendance was 178, Spring said

“It’s worked pretty well,” Spring said in looking back on theseason. “We’ve been pretty pleased with how it’s gone.”

As the “Final Jeopardy” theme plays during a coach-pitcherconference on the mound during a recent game, Sound CoordinatorGreg Hoff joked the fans come out to hear the music. Though thatmay not be the main reason, Spring said the music and soundrepresent another effort by the team to provide a good experiencefor fans.

“We’re trying to run everything in a first class manner,” Springsaid. “We’ve gotten a lot of compliments on how everything’sgone.”

While the team on the field has hovered with a little betterthan a .500 record, off-the-field indications suggest the Brakemenhave hit a home run.

“We’ve been one of the most successful franchises in theleague,” Goza said. “We’ve been working well with it.”

Goza attributed the success to promotions and sponsorships. Onepromotion that has been successful has been having little leagueteam members join Brakemen players on the field during the nationalanthem.

“It’s been really good for us,” Goza said.

Brookhaven Orthopedic Center has been the team’s major sponsorfor the year, Spring said.

Individual game sponsorships have also been beneficial. For $50,a business is mentioned throughout the game and for $100, abusiness may sponsor a promotion like drawings for prizes, Springsaid.

“You can keep that foul ball courtesy of Stan KingChevrolet-Oldsmobile,” Spring says as he is interrupted to make apromotional announcement during the game.

The car dealership has provided balls for use during theBrakemen games.

Perhaps befitting a wooden bat league, Columbus Lumber Companyhas supplied bats for the team. Spring said the team appreciatedTerry Byrd’s help and support from the business.

Byrd is also host for several team members.

One is Justin Entrekin, a pitcher from Tennessee currentlyattending Freed Hardeman College. Entrekin, who played two years ina wooden bat league in Kentucky, said the team has received anexceptional reception in Brookhaven.

“Kids come up all the time asking us to sign things,” Entrekinsaid, while mentioning the positive impact of having around 100fans in the stands for home games.

Whether swinging or pitching against wooden bats, team officialsand players say the bats provide a challenge the college levelplayers find beneficial.

Spring said players can get away with more using aluminum batsfound at high school and college games. He said wooden bats have asmaller “sweet spot,” so hits are harder to come by.

Entrekin illustrated the difference from a pitcher’sperspective. He said wooden bats allow pitchers to be moreaggressive and pitch inside more.

“(With an aluminum bat) you can make a perfect pitch and hecould still foul it off or send it into the outfield,” Entrekinsaid. “With a wood bat, it might break or he could miss it.”

In the league, Spring said players pay a participation fee whichcovers cost of uniforms, umpires and insurances.

The franchisee is responsible for getting a coach, providing aplace to play, travel expenses and providing players with places tostay and jobs if needed. Spring indicated the team has beenfortunate in that only a few players have needed places tostay.

“One advantage of having a lot of Co-Lin guys is they livearound here,” Spring said.

Brakemen officials plan to review the year and determine wayssome things might could be done differently in the future. Theyalso expected some “growing pains” with the league itself, but Gozasaid the team is looking for “bigger and better” things nextyear.

“We want to do a better job of it next year,” Goza said.