TEAMS TO WATCH
Baylor: There is star power with infielder Will Cooper, pitcher-first baseman Jeff Burke, pitcher-outfielder John Tipton and catcher Spencer Craig.
Walker Valley: Left-handed pitcher Brandon Zajac will lead a talented group of pitchers and returnees, and the Mustangs always are pretty good with the bat and above average on defense.
Polk County: Jared Allen is one of the area’s top players, but the Wildcats have a strong starting nine including outfielder-first baseman Michael Hargrove and infielder Tyler Lee.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Jared Allen, Polk County: The Tennessee signee hits for power and average and will be one of the top Class AA pitchers in the area.
Will Cooper, Baylor: The versatile infielder has speed, will hit for average and also has some power — three reasons he was offered and accepted a Vanderbilt scholarship.
Brandon Zajaz, Walker Valley: He’s a commodity as a 6-foot-4 left-handed pitcher with a 90 mph fastball, which may push him to the pros rather than UT, with whom he signed to play last fall.
Life has changed for Trey Hicks.
Although he won’t coach his first game officially until Monday afternoon when Tennessee high school spring sports begin, he already has learned much about being a head baseball coach.
The former Red Bank catcher was named head coach at his alma mater when Bumper Reese moved to Signal Mountain.
Hicks is one of more than a half-dozen new baseball coaches in the area. Others include Boyd-Buchanan’s Josh Rider, Marion County’s Tony Long, Meigs County’s Justin Jennings, Rhea County’s Mike Kinney and Sale Creek’s Josh Gandy.
“Experience? A young coach never has experience,” Reese said. “I told Trey the hardest thing about being a head coach wasn’t the game but everything else you have to deal with. The game is the easy part. It’s managing the paperwork, the fundraisers and all the other behind-the-scenes stuff.
“He can manage the team. He has coached summer-league Cyclone teams, so this isn’t his first rodeo.”
Hicks said Reese gave his assistants a lot of responsibility, and that helped prepare him to take over.
“One year I worked with catchers, one year with pitchers and another year with hitters,” he said.
Reese told Red Bank principal Gail Chuy that Hicks was more than ready for the job.
“He knows the game as well as anybody around, and he is so organized. I already miss him,” Reese said.
Jared Hensley is another of Reese’s former assistants, and he already replaced an accomplished coach when he took the Soddy-Daisy position that had been held by Steve Garland.
“I felt like I had some really big shoes to fill, and Trey’s in the same boat replacing Bumper,” Hensley said, “because Bump had built Red Bank into a team that was competitive across the region. I’m biased because he’s a good friend, but Trey will do a great job.
“We’re similar in that both of us got out of college and has just gotten through [as players] when we began coaching. In cases like that the high school game can seem a little slow, but Trey has developed the patience you need as a high school coach and he’ll do a great job.”
Hicks has drawn from playing for Reese and for Mike Policastro at Cleveland State and Dave Altopp at Lee University.
“I learned life’s lessons from all three, and I have so much respect for each of them,” he said. “I told the kids if I knew when I was playing what I know now, the sport would have been so much easier. It helped that I was a catcher. You can’t go out there to pick flowers. You’re really more involved in the game.
“If I wasn’t playing, I’d keep the scorebook or chart pitches.”
Hicks came to the job with a built-in helper, his dad, and his mother would be approaching millionaire status if she had a nickel for every uniform she has washed and every item she has served from a concession stand.
“My parents have always been there for me whether I was playing or coaching,” Hicks said. “They and Carrie [Johnson, his girlfriend] have been very supportive in my life’s goals, and I don’t know if they’ll ever know how much it’s appreciated.”
Hicks knows he’ll be antsy by Monday, if not sooner.
“If I’m nervous it will be mostly because I’m not the one out there pitching or catching. It’s a lot more nerve-racking,” Hicks said. “Your life revolves around 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds, and lately I have seen more of them than I have my family. I don’t know that I’ll be nervous, but I’m sure I’ll be wired up.”
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...