AB&T

Scot Hemmings: Teaching More Than Baseball

By Brad McEwen

Scot Hemmings’ success on the baseball diamond has been well-documented. As a player, the Columbus native turned heads as a standout in both high school and college, ultimately being drafted into Major League Baseball and playing four years in the “bigs” with the Sand Diego Padres and Detroit Tigers organizations.

As a coach he’s seen even more success, helping rebuild programs at Andrew College, Central High School in Phenix City, Ala., Darton State College and now Albany State University, amassing an impressive record and taking those schools to new heights.

But for a great many people in the Albany community, however, his greatest triumph is not his win/loss record. It’s the positive impact he has had on area youth through the little league baseball camps he and his wife Amy have been running every summer since Hemmings took over the Darton baseball program 2011.

True, the school’s prior coaching staff had run a week of camp following the completion of each season but under Hemmings’ leadership that program has grown into a summer event both children and their parents eagerly await as each school year comes to a close.

With his trademark humility the coach that led the Cavaliers to back-to-back conference championships in 2015 and 2016 and then led the Golden Rams to victory in the Eastern Division just a few weeks ago will tell you that the camps, which are run by his coaching staff and players, are just something baseball coaches around the country do primarily as a fundraiser. But dig a little deeper and you’ll discover that Hemmings’ true motivation is much more inspirational.

“Why do we do this,” Hemmings asked me rhetorically during a recent chat following the conclusion of ASU’s 2017 season. “Well, coaches do it for various reasons—it’s a fundraiser, it’s a community service, you make a little money. But really and truly what we want is for kids to leave out of here with a positive thought about baseball.”

While that might seem like a fairly simple mission, anyone who has witnessed the unseemly side of youth athletics—where coaches value winning above teaching and parents eager for their children to shine often put undue pressure on them—knows the value in making sure young people understand that baseball is a game and more importantly a way to play and have fun.

“Sometimes you might have had a bad season; you might have had a bad coach, maybe you had a bad experience, maybe you had a bad parent on the team that ruined it, maybe you had a good coach, or a great coach, I don’t know what your situation is,” explained Hemmings. “This is an opportunity for us to bring in kids, and when they leave out of here, whether they’re an all-star or a first year player, they have a positive thought about baseball.

“Let’s face it there’s a lot of pressure on these kids, even at 5 years old, to perform and sometimes they perform and then sometimes they don’t. But in this camp they can leave for the summer with just an incredible experience regarding baseball. Baseball is supposed to be fun. That’s why we say ‘PLAY ball.”

Over the years Hemmings has certainly kept playing and having a good time at the forefront of the camps, basing the daily instruction around games and having a Friday fun day at the end of the week-long session where even learning how to slide is designed to be enjoyable and exciting.

“We play games,” Hemmings said with a broad smile. “We have the fastest runner, the hardest thrower, the home run king, the ground ball champion, the line drive machine, anything you can think of. Then on Friday we teach them how to slide using a slip and slide. And the coaches get into it too. We allow the kids to come up with their own names. We have anything from the Bottle Rockets, the Scramble Dogs, Da Bombs, you name it. It’s just another way to have fun.”

In fact, even though his prime motivation to extend the camp days from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to an optional extended day that runs 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., was to help parents who needed an extended day to accommodate their responsibilities, he made sure that fun factored into the decision. For the campers who take part in the day-long sessions the afternoons are spent bowling, swimming, playing dodge ball or whiffle ball and enjoying a movie with friends.

“Everything’s about fun and happy and really growing this game into a positive experience,” he said.

In addition to making it fun and using it to instill a love for the game of baseball, Hemmings has also worked to make sure the camp is affordable and safe so that families from all over the community feel welcome and are comfortable leaving their children in the care of Hemmings and his staff.

“We have kept our costs down in order to not eliminate people from coming to our camps; I think that’s important,” Hemmings pointed out. “And then we want the parents comfortable dropping their kid off with us and saying ‘hey I’ll see you at 5 today,’ and not having to worry about what’s really going on. 

“That’s all of our concerns as parents I would think—who your kids are with. Anything can happen but we take great pride in parents having confidence in our staff to leave them.”

Hemmings has also put an emphasis on making sure the camp is inclusive and open to the greatest number of children possible, welcoming players of varying ages from a wide geography.

“We have girls here; we have guys,” he said. “We run from 5 year-olds to 12 year-olds; we’ve even had a four year old in the camp before. And it’s kids from all over the community. Lee County. We have people that drive up from Sylvester. It’s not just Albany. It’s just amazing how blessed we’ve been.”

When it comes to the camps the notion of blessing takes on a different meaning as it is truly a powerful part of why Hemmings holds the camps each year. The coach shared with me that he and Amy view the camp as a way of sharing their Christian values with others and  as an avenue for giving back to a community that has embraced them.

“We’ve also used Darton State College and now Albany State University, as a mission field for me and my wife,” Hemmings explained. “We think this is where we can impact a lot of people in this community in a way that resembles a Christ-like mentality in that we treat everybody like family. And we firmly believe that. This is also a way to show and express our gratitude for this community.”

Hemmings’ Christian faith is something that is very important to him and he doesn’t shy away from sharing the fact that it is the driving force, not only in the way he runs the camps, but in the way he lives his life, something that became more apparent after his playing days came to an end and he had to learn how to deal with that void in his life.

“It took me probably a good year mentally to get over not playing; it was tough to realize that I was never going to play again,” he said. “I kind of got out of baseball for a few months once I finished playing pro ball and almost had a bitter feeling toward baseball because I wasn’t playing. But then I realized I’ve got to give back to the game what it gave me. When I got away from playing, I said, ‘you know what? I need to give back.’ And that’s why I got into coaching.”

Hemmings explained that coaching not only gave him a way to give back to the game that had provided him with so much, but it also gave him an opportunity to honor his faith and have a positive impact on the world.

“I think that a lot of it has to do with our Christian faith of serving others,” he told me earnestly. “Some people are indifferent, but think about how this world would be if we treated everybody the way we wanted to be treated?

“Now, I’m not perfect and I’ve got a long way to go, but think about how good this place would be if we just went out and thought about always doing for others and we took ourselves out of it. It would be a lot better place to live.

“But what do we say? ‘Me, me, me.’ And I did that after playing. ‘Look at me, why am I not playing, what did I do wrong?’ I didn’t do anything wrong. We just all run out of gas. I just think that serving others is what we should do. I think our transformation, our Christian faith, has really brought us to that. I think that’s the biggest thing.”

Although the camps provide a great way for the Hemmings family to serve others and teach important lessons to children, the summer program is also another way for the coach to expose his players to how some of the lessons they learn on the diamond can apply to life.

Hemmings told me that he puts a high level of importance on making sure his players—regardless of whether they are high school or college players or even campers—are model citizens that reflect the coach and his values.

“We talk about it in our program all the time; whether you like it or not you’re a role model,” Hemmings said of his players. “Whether you’re playing or not playing or out in the community or you’re out here working camp or you’re running down first base and you’ve got a little league team here, you’re being looked at.

“And that sends a strong message to our campers. How did coach CJ behave? How is he carrying himself? Parents are not going to send their kids to a place where they’re unsure of the character and the class and the professionalism. That’s one of our philosophies—how we act, how we behave, how we talk in the community, on this field, matters. It is a reflection of me. If you’re going to be a reflection of me, then we’re going to send the right reflection. And I think that’s another example of the success of our program.”

As parent whose peewee league son is getting ready to attend the Hemmings camp for the third straight summer, there’s no doubt the camp has been a success. In addition to the dozens of parents who have shared their positive experiences with me over the last couple of years, I can see the impact of what goes on at the camp with my own eyes.

Despite being tired from a long season of playing ball my player always emerges from the camp energized and excited about playing the game considered by many to be the national pastime.

More importantly though, he’s learned valuable lessons about sportsmanship and he sees Hemmings and the other coaches and players as positive role models he wants to emulate.

Bear’s reaction to the camp is really not surprising given Hemmings’ feelings about what lessons are the most important for players of all ages and his thoughts on how the game should be viewed.

“I’m worried about manners, independence, respect; we might be a good baseball player, but we’re going to be a good person,” said Hemmings. “You mouth off to your mama we’re going to have problems. You drop that fly ball, we can overcome that.

“When they leave out of here after camp they realize that baseball’s fun. They might not learn one other thing about baseball, but I know that they learned that this is a fun game and they’re ready for it again.”

And thanks to Hemmings, the kids who participate are not just ready for more baseball; they’re a little better prepared to be good people. And to a parent, that’s well worth the price of admission.

Connect with Brad – 229.405.7212 - brad.mcewen@abtgold.com - @BradGMcEwen