On Monday, Jackson Dyer had a stern look on his face but was feeling pure joy on the inside at Ivey-Watson Field as soon as he entered the game as a relief pitcher for the Gainesville Braves.
The North Hall High graduate, who redshirted in Year 1 of college at Georgia Southern, took the ball from manager Micah Owings, already trailing big but extremely grateful to be toeing the rubber.
“It was good to be back on the mound,” said Dyer, who is playing this summer with the locally-based Sunbelt League squad.
The left-handed pitcher has experienced many setbacks, mostly notably having his promising 2020 senior season of high school cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, along with elbow problems during his first season in Statesboro. However, his first summer showing was a success with 3 1/3 innings on the mound for the Braves in a 6-1 loss.
Dyer is one of many former local standouts spending the summer playing for the Gainesville Braves, their first real season after 2020 was impacted by coronavirus restrictions.
In the opener against Waleska, Lakeview Academy graduate Sam Stewart (Mercer University) was behind the plate, Gainesville graduate Zach Valentine (Georgia Highlands College) got the start on the mound and Harris Bell (Delta State) came on to close the game.
Chestatee graduates Joe Sutton (South Alabama) and Caleb Carter (Georgia Highlands) both started in the field.
Once the college season concludes, Flowery Branch graduate and left-handed pitcher Zander Sechrist (University of Tennessee) is expected to join the Braves, along with a few players from Southern Mississippi.
“I really like the makeup of our team,” said Owings, who has the father-son pairing of Cris and Sam Carpenter working as his pitching coaches. “These guys are going to play hard all 27 outs.”
Owings, who had a successful big-league pitching career, said all the games will be live streamed online at www.gainesvillebraves.com. Attendance will also be strong in person, based on a full house in the opener against the Waleska Wild Things, despite dreary conditions earlier this week.
Up next, Gainesville hosts the Gwinnett Astros at 7 p.m. Friday at Ivey-Watson.
Owings said their will be a food truck for fans and bouncy house for kids in attendance.
Dyer is certainly one of the players who made a favorable early impression on his new squad.
His first season at Georgia Southern was a bit of a holding pattern with so many players returning with an extra year of eligibility, after 2020 was cut short at the college level too.
Before taking the bump for the Gainesville Braves, Dyer’s closest thing to action was throwing in practice games for the Eagles.
The former North Hall standout, who posted an 8-3 mark as a junior in 2019 for the Class 3A state semifinalists, plans to pitch a couple times each week in relief for Gainesville. According to Dyer, college coaches relay the work their respective players need during the summer-league schedule.
Dyer said it can only make him better learning from Owings and Cris Carpenter, who both sustained long pitching careers in the majors, and Sam Carpenter, who recently wrapped up his college career at Piedmont as a Division-III All-American.
Already with an adequate velocity, topping out with his fastball in the mid-to-upper 80s, Dyer is focused on working on his arm slot and release point, under the instruction of Owings and the Carpenters.
“Jackson’s been around the plate throwing strikes and effective hitting his spots,” Owings said. “Anytime you have a lefty who throws strikes and has some deception, he’s going to be hard to hit.”
The Gainesville Braves manager, who spent most of his professional career with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Cincinnati Reds, said he doesn’t want to wear down his players during the summer schedule. Instead, they want to continue to see top-tier competition during time away from school.
“Our goal is to get these guys back to their colleges better than when they came in,” Owings said. “If we do that, we’ll win a lot of games.”
This offseason has been particularly eventful for Dyer.
He started throwing in practice with the Gainesville Braves when he got home for the summer in May.
Then, he got to cheer on his close friends and younger brother, Baker, as the North Hall High baseball program captured the Class 3A state championship.
Once home, Dyer said he made it to each of the final three rounds of the postseason against Pierce County, Ringgold and championship series against Franklin County.
In the postseason, North Hall coach Trevor Flow utilized Dyer to throw in practice, before they were going to face a similar left-handed pitcher.
Even this week, Dyer was worked with the North Hall summer baseball camp, which has drawn more than 100 kids to learn from players and coaches who recently garnered the state championship.
“I love that kid,” Flow said. “(Dyer) is another example of a kid who’s worked his tail off to get where he is as a player. He was always a great teammate for the guys here at North Hall and they learned a lot from him.”
Flow recalls giving Dyer his first opportunity on the mound, just a couple innings, his sophomore season.
However, North Hall’s coach said the young pitcher wasn’t ready for the varsity stage quite yet.
Then, as a junior, Dyer blossomed into a team leader and was poised to have a remarkable senior season before it got shut down in the middle of March.
“Micah pours his knowledge of baseball back into these kids he works with,” Flow said. “This is a great learning opportunity for Jackson and chance for him to get even better.”