Game three of the region championship series, bottom of the seventh, the score tied at 2-2 with two outs and the bases loaded against Cedartown’s Polk County rivals Rockmart. The Yellow Jackets had their best pitcher on the mound and Bulldogs Head Coach Doyle Kelley sent a player up to bat because as he would later say, “I had a hunch.”
Kelley sent the kid up to the plate because he said he had been paying attention throughout the game as he sat in the dugout and was mentally prepared to bat. After working deep into the count, the junior took ball four to walk in the game-winning run.
The year was 2000 and it would be Kelley’s only region championship as the leader of the Bulldogs baseball team.
I remember the day so fondly because I was the kid that Kelley sent to bat in the most pressure packed moment of the year.
And I reflect back on that moment today, not to toot my own horn, but to relive the only region championship the 17 year head coach ever won at his alma mater.
As many of you know, last month Kelley decided to resign as the head coach of the Bulldogs. And despite what reasons people may offer up, he simply said it was because he needed a change.
Kelley, as he proved during the final inning of the final game of the 2000 region championship series, has always gone with his hunches. And his hunch now is that it is time to walk away from coaching at Cedartown High School.
And while Kelley will go with his hunch, as he always does, that doesn’t mean walking away was easy.
Recently as I was interviewing him about his resignation as the Bulldogs lead man, he began to reflect back on the athletes he coached over the years.
As he was reflecting back, you couldn’t help but tell how much it has meant to him to have the chance to influence so many young men.
“I’ve coached some great athletes,” Kelley stated, who also spent time as an assistant football coach and a two-year term as a track and field coach.
Kelley said three of his baseball teams stand out to him.
“The three teams that stand out to me are the 2000 region championship team, the 1989 team and the 2005 Elite 8 team,” Kelley said.
The 1989 team stood out because it was Kelley’s first.
“I remember in 1989 I coached some guys like Jamie Newsome, Ron Ray, Brian Burgdorf and Benjie Frazier,” Kelley said. “I put that team through so much.”
The 2000 team stands out to Kelley because it was his only title team.
“The 2000 team was my only region championship,” Kelley said. “That was special. That team kind of came out of nowhere to win region. I remember your bat like it was yesterday.”
The third team, the 2005 edition, stands out to Kelley because of how deep they went into the state playoffs and for who was on that talented team.
“The 2005 team was special because my son (Trey) was the catcher and we went all the way to the Elite 8,” Kelley said. “That team was full of talent and our region was so tough that year. Cartersville won state, Carrollton made it to the semifinals and we made it to the quarterfinals.”
While those three teams stand out the most to Kelley, he is fond of each and every team he coached. And whether he realizes it or not, 17 different teams are fond of him as well.
Just call it a hunch.