Banks Griffith never had to think twice about the invitation.
The rising senior shortstop for the Gainesville High baseball team was selected by the Georgia Dugout Club to be Hall County’s lone representative on Team Georgia in the Sunbelt Baseball Classic, which took place June 8-14 at the Atoka City Complex in Atoka, Oklahoma.
In a six-day span Griffith played against some of the best Division I and Major-league prospect level talent from around the nation, while representing Georgia’s finest — mostly from the metro-Atlanta area. Participating states include Oklahoma, Texas, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Colorado and Arizona.
In addition, players are exposed to a large contingent of college coaches seated behind home plate, either clocking pitcher’s velocity with a radar gun or jotting down various notes on their notepads.
“The competition was absurd. I don’t know how to explain it, but it was the best players from every state and it was awesome to be able to wear Georgia across my chest,” said Griffith, a first-team All-State selection in Class 6A for the Red Elephants in 2017.
Griffith said the decision to skip a few travel league tournaments this summer for a baseball-related journey to the midwest that stemmed from some advice given by older brothers Ryan (23) and Sims (21), both once participants in the 10-team Sunbelt Classic during their high school careers.
“It’s a great opportunity to play and represent your state, so I was proud of Banks of getting that opportunity and making the best of it,” Gainesville baseball coach Jeremy Kemp said. “He had a great tournament. I think he led the team in hitting. He was a special guy out there.”
Since the Sunbelt Classic’s inception in 1977, at least 50 major league players have participated, including Hall of Famer Randy Johnson; and former Atlanta Braves J.D. Drew, Brian McCann and John Rocker.
Georgia leads all teams with six Sunbelt titles, including the only three-peat (2000, 2001, 2002), as well as championships in 2004, 2009 and 2010. This year, Team Georgia took fifth in pool play.
It was both physically and mentally daunting for Griffith as teams played multiple games each day throughout the tournament. Griffith had the chance to fine tune his skills at third base and as a relief pitcher.
“I had to step up and pitch a little bit. And I don’t pitch very much. So I sort of got to move around the field,” Griffith said.
Griffith compiled some good at bats and used his sidearm approach from the mound to help Georgia capture wins over eventual tournament winner Missouri, Oklahoma Blue, Oklahoma Gold, and Mississippi. Griffith’s unforgettable moment of the tournament occurred on Day 2, during which he went 2 for 4, then came in relief of starting pitcher Jared Rine (Hillgrove High) to retire the order in the ninth to preserve Georgia’s come from behind win over Mississippi.
“They had a stud on the mound who was pumping 92 (mph pitches). He shut us down the whole game, and they brought me in to pitch,” Griffith said. “It was a tied game, and we scored a few runs off the dude throwing really hard. ..Then I came in to shut them down 1,2,3 to end the night. ...That was fun. That’s the one I’ll remember.”
Griffith went on to go 2 for 3 with a double in a 13-5 loss to Arizona on Day 5, and added a first-inning, RBI-single in Georgia’s 7-5 win over Oklahoma Gold in the fifth-place game on June 14.
Griffith, who considers himself to be a “city boy,” noted that the terrain of Oklahoma, the atmosphere and experience of staying with a host family took some getting used to. But the chance to connect with his Georgia teammates while playing baseball at a high level has Griffith recommending the trip to anyone invited.
“We got to fish and hunt, and do a lot of the things I don’t get to do in Georgia,” Griffith said. “But it was definitely a different experience.”
Just like his brothers, Griffith will continue his baseball career at Furman University after graduation.