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North Carolinians find a home with the Gainesville A's
Gainesville A's third baseman Tyler Vaughn prepares to hit. Vaughn is one of two A's players that travels to Gainesville from North Carolina. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times


Listen to Gainesville A's players Tyler Vaughn and Kalen Phillips discuss playing in Gainesville while living in North Carolina.
During the summer, Gainesville A’s third baseman Tyler Vaughn and pitcher Kalen Phillips spend most of their time on the road.

But unlike other students out for the summer, they’re not going on any relaxing trips to the beach or to see family. Instead, they’re traveling to Gainesville from their homes in Hayesville, North Carolina for one purpose: to play baseball.

Vaughn, a rising senior, and Phillips, a year younger, are teammates on the baseball team at Hayesville High School— a Class A school, the smallest classification in North Carolina— just north of Hiawassee on the Georgia-North Carolina border.

Wanting to play summer baseball, the two players make the hour and a half trip, usually carpooling with parents, to play in A’s games throughout June and July.

With three to four games often scheduled in a week, the trips are plentiful, and make for a busy two months, which also includes summer jobs back in Hayesville.

“We’ve been working this summer, so we can’t stay down here between games,” Phillips said. “It’s hard to find time to do anything else.”

The trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains is the easiest solution for them to play during the summer. Despite the distance, Gainesville is the closest American Legion team to their hometown. The next closest, in Asheville, N.C., is more than two hours away.

But distance isn’t the only thing that brings them to Gainesville.

Vaughn is the second in his family to play for the A’s . His brother, Brett, who now plays at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn., played for the A’s for two years before playing in college.

Wanting to get a feel for American Legion baseball, Vaughn began making the 63-mile trip with his brother, beginning as a bullpen catcher. He eventually moved to third base when the starting spot opened up.

Now, with only one more year of high school left, Vaughn uses the A’s as a way of following in his brother’s footsteps and preparing for his own chance to play college baseball. He’s currently most interested in Troy University and University of South Florida.

“Right now I’m trying to let everything play out,” Vaughn said. “This is the most competitive thing I can get involved in, based on where I am right now.”

For Phillips, playing for the A’s is a chance to surround himself with older players and take in what they learned after their own four years of high school baseball. At 16 years old, he is the youngest player on the team, but the age gap hasn’t left him out.

“I was able to fit in pretty quickly,” Phillips said.

The quality of baseball the two players get with the A’s has also played a part in their commitment to the team, despite the strenuous travelling. With six A’s currently signed to play college baseball, Vaughn and Phillips are constantly surrounded with a plethora of local talent.

“After I saw the opportunities I had here, I’ve kept coming back since,” Vaughn said.

Even with the long trips, they have taken full advantage of the opportunities and remained committed throughout the season. While starting at third base, Vaughn is also the regular No. 2 hitter in the batting order. Phillips is often used as a late-inning reliever and occasional closer.

“They’re at just as many baseball games as anyone else on the team,” A’s head coach Clay Haynes said. “Every time we have a game they’re usually one of the first ones there.

“When they hit the field, they’re ready to go. They’re both competitors and they’re very committed.”

Half the commitment isn’t even on the field, but what it took for them to get to the field in the first place.

“With three or four trips each week, you have to balance your schedule out,” Vaughn said. “But here you get to have a good time with the guys, so pretty much, this is our vacation.”
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