By Ben Munro
These Raiders writing new legacy for baseball program
References to Madison County’s glory days in baseball are usually limited to what happened at a field that no longer exists “that little ball park with all the dirt in it,” as head coach Charlie Griffeth once called it.
When the diamond Raiders relocated across the street back in 2005 from their old field to the new field, they left behind a lot of victories and memories.
That old park had its beloved oddities. It had the quirky, oft-mentioned grassless infield. And if you hit a fly ball to right field, chances were it was headed out since the fence was only 280 feet deep in that spot.
Over in left field, trees once stood. You could compare home runs by how high they flew into the pines.
Of course, there was a championship or two or six (the Raiders won region titles in 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1998 and 2004) celebrated during those glory years.
I can still recall one of the last great Raider baseball games at the old place. Madison County beat Newton County 8-4 in 2004 with a walk off grand slam from Conrad Carey in a colossal region match-up en route to winning the 8-AAAA title.
Nothing makes a place feel like home like great memories.
But since moving after the ’04 season, Madison County had been in baseball purgatory somewhat.
Records of 15-11, 13-13 and 14-12 since the move certainly weren’t bad, but weren’t great either.
Just breaking even isn’t exactly the standard of Raider baseball.
To be fair, the 2005-2007 Madison County teams played in a tough 8-AAAA. Still, they added no new fresh paint to the program’s accomplishment’s billboard that greets patrons before they reach the ticket table at the new Raider Field.
So, ironically, in a year that Madison County has held two ceremonies to honor its past (retiring Jake Westbrook’s number and honoring the 1998 state runner-up team), this Raider group has added its own chapter in Madison County’s baseball tradition.
And what an addition it has been.
Madison County is again in the state playoffs. As winners of 17 of their last 20 games, the Raiders head into Friday’s first-round contest with Marist as perhaps the hottest team in Region 8-AAAA right now.
The starting rotation is as reliable as you’ll find around the region (Madison County’s pitching staff has two combined no-hitters this year, while Taylor Hart fired a one-hitter). The offense has averaged over 10 runs in its last six games and seems to hit better with two outs. And the defense is as fun to watch as it is dependable.
As a result, this Raider team is fashioning a season that fits right in there with those years of old. Those 20 wins Madison County earned in the regular season are right on par with some of the program’s greatest teams.
There will be new paint on the new billboard at the new field when the year is over.
Of course, what that inscription for 2008 will be is still out there for this new generation of Raiders to decide.
Ben Munro is a reporter for The Madison County Journal.