Darton State College head baseball coach Scot Hemmings revealed that when he got an invitation from Tim Thomas two months earlier to speak to the Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County, “I was sitting on the phone thinking I don’t know what I’m going to talk about.” At the time his Cavaliers diamond squad was 3-9.
By the time day of the April 21 speaking engagement arrived, things had definitely turned around. The Darton baseball team had improved their record to 33-14 and had just set a school record for the most consecutive wins with a 17-game streak.
Hemmings, 36, is in his third season as head coach, leading the team to 85 wins in his first two seasons in Albany. He is a 16-year baseball veteran, having spent four years in the major leagues with the San Diego Padres organization before injuries forced his retirement from the pros and following that with 12 years of coaching at the high-school and college levels.
A graduate of Columbus High School, Hemmings is an Albany convert. “Albany’s been a huge blessing to our family (wife Amy and three children, ages 6,5, and 2), we’ve enjoyed it, we have a great church, Sherwood Baptist, we have great friends.”
Outside of winning ballgames, he sees it as part of the team’s mission to give back to the community. “We’re trying to do a lot of local outreach and really get involved in the community,” by doing volunteer service. Eight of the Cavalier players participated in the Dougherty County School System’s “Read Across America” this year and Hemmings and his staff have also held summer baseball camps and a coaches’ clinic for Sherwood Recreation. (Baseball camps this year are coming up June 9-13 and 16-20.)
He demands good behavior from his players, he said. “The two things we really bank on are discipline and character. I don’t have time to fool with antics, so we tell them from the get-go, you get in trouble and you’re not going to be here very long. So I think that’s where we have our most success, is the guys understand what we’re about and what we’re going to do. We kind of bank on a program of discipline and character, how we carry ourselves, and that’s where we start, so I think that’s been a big part of ours success.”
That success has been not only for the team (ranked 17th nationally and second in its 10-school conference at this point) but personally for players. Thirteen players have gone on to “big-time Division One schools, that’s the guys that play on ESPN. I had two players play on ESPN last year, so people are leaving our program and going on and having success elsewhere, and that’s what it’s about, it’s about graduation and moving on.”
Hemmings added, “One of the things I told my wife I wanted (was) I wanted to be the resource for baseball. I want the Little Leaguers to come out, I want to bring the coaches out.”
He lamented, however, that baseball has become an increasingly expensive sport to play. “Baseball has become such an expensive sport, it’s eliminated the poor families and it’s really eliminated the middle-class families,” due to costs of fees, insurance, uniforms, equipment, and training.
Hemmings praised the total package of Darton baseball. “If you take the 10 schools in our conference, and you take the communities, the facilities, and the facilities as the campuses go, Darton will rank as number one out of all 10 of those schools. Now ABAC’s got great campus and a school up in Atlanta, Georgia Perimeter College, has got a little bit nicer baseball facility, but from a whole regional standpoint, our ranks within the Georgia, Florida, and Alabama facilities, we would actually rank in the top three or four. A lot of people don’t realize that around here.” He credited former Darton president Dr. Peter Sireno with upgrading the baseball facilities and said interim president Dr. Paul Jones has been very supportive as well.
When recruiting players, Hemmings said, “We’re looking for two main characteristics in a player: can you really run fast and can you really throw hard. Those are the two things we really bank on. Speed and strength show up every day. We have five Division One finalists right now and our shortstop and a pitcher are also draft candidates.” Just before “move-in day” this year, Hemmings added, a player from Atlanta that had been signed by Darton changed his mind because the Boston Red Sox offered him a contract. “So we lost a kid to $90,000 before he even showed up to campus.” Another prospect went instead with a Division One school that offered him a scholarship and two more were picked up in the major league draft.
“So you take those four guys out of this year’s team, and this year’s team is great, but you give me those four guys and you’ve got an unbelievable team. So the level of play we’re able to do at Darton is unbelievable. A lot of people say, ‘Well, it’s only junior college. Well, this junior college is pretty good. We have five guys we’ve clocked at over 90 mph on the mound. That’s not to brag or anything like that, but those guys bring a high brand of baseball, and on any given day there might be two or three professional scouts at a game.”
Asked about scholarships, Hemmings explained, “We have a pot of money and that pot has to go to 24 players.” He added, “It’s a partial scholarship. The only way a guy could get a full scholarship is if he’s a very good player, a very good student, and a very poor person who got Pell Grant money.” Hemmings encourages parents of promising ballplayers “to try to balance it out. Some of the money you’re spending on baseball or travel ball, whatever, you could be putting that into a college fund” to help make up the difference between a scholarship and the full college cost.
Hemmings also said he will take “second chance” players on a very limited basis, one or two a year at the most. A second-chance player is someone who has been kicked out of another school for academic or disciplinary reasons. He cited the case of a player, who he declined to name, whose parents sat down with Hemmings and said, “Coach, you’ve got a history of straightening out careers. Will you straighten my son out? I said, ‘Will you let me straighten him out?’ They said, ‘Oh, yes sir!’ I said, ‘So you’re not going to get involved. I’ll straighten him out.’ Well, he’s the pitcher who signed for about 50 grand last year with the San Diego Padres. So yes, I will take a second chance guy, but I’ll only take two of those. You don’t want to have a full team of guys who cause way too many problems.”
The Darton Cavaliers baseball schedule is posted on the college’s website. A four-game series this weekend against Georgia Perimeter College offers the squad a shot at taking over first place in their conference, said Coach Heming.
Darton Cavaliers head baseball coach Scot Hemmings tells Kiwanis of Dougherty County members about the team and his approach to coaching. (Photo by David Shivers)
Coach Hemmings (far right) is greeted after the Kiwanis DoCo meeting by (from left) Larry Price, Chuck Darsey, and Doug Lorber. (Photo by David Shivers)