Former Henry County baseball players fill summer league team

Photo by Brian Paglia
OTC Bearcats players Mike Venturelli (from left) and Jared Arrington (third from left) watch a Sunbelt Summer League game from the dugout.

Photo by Brian Paglia OTC Bearcats players Mike Venturelli (from left) and Jared Arrington (third from left) watch a Sunbelt Summer League game from the dugout.

Hometown flavor

The OTC Bearcats roster is filled with names familiar to Henry County high school baseball fans. Here’s a look at local alumni on the team:

Name School Class College

Jared Arrington Dutchtown 2010 Albany State

Cameron Crawford Ola 2012 Point University

Jordan Dukes Locust Grove2011 Gordon College

Kellan Holiday Dutchtown 2010 Middle Georgia

Trey Nelson Dutchtown 2009 Calhoun CC

Kelvin Tanner Dutchtown 2010 Clark Atlanta

Mike Venturelli Ola 2010 Brewton Parker

John Welborn Luella 2009 GCSU

D.J. Wilson Luella 2009 ABAC

Dion Lowe needed a baseball team, and he knew Mike Venturelli and D.J. Wilson could help him build one.

Indeed, that’s how many teams are built in the Sunbelt Summer League, a wooden-bat league for college players. A few calls here and there, a little word of mouth and some local contacts can usually fill out a roster.

That’s how the OTC Bearcats got its Henry County feel. Lowe scanned the network of former players from the club baseball organization of the same name based out McDonough. Enough replied to field a team that plays out of Strong Rock Christian Academy, including a game today at 7:15 p.m. against the Berkley Lake Tides, out of Norcross.

“We just started canvasing kids that we know could play,” Lowe said.

Call Venturelli and Wilson co-general managers. The Ola and Luella graduates, respectively, are two of nine players who played their high school baseball in Henry County.

There’s Jared Arrington, Kellan Holiday, Kelvin Tanner and Trey Nelson of Dutchtown; Venturelli and Cameron Crawford of Ola; John Welborn and Wilson of Luella; and Jordan Dukes of Locust Grove.

While they share baseball roots, they’ve since spread far and wide. Some stayed nearby, like Tanner, who is a rising junior at Clark Atlanta University. Some have racked up the frequent-flyer miles, like Holiday, who went to St. Clair County Community College in Port Huron, Mich. He'll be at Middle Georgia College in the fall.

But when the college baseball season is over they come home.

Most, like Tanner, just need to keep playing to stay in form until the college intra-squad season in the fall.

“I just use it to get better,” Tanner said. “It’s better competition than the conference I play in. Good players from good schools. There’s better pitching and a better chance to get my skills right.”

Others, like Wilson, are auditioning. Wilson played three years at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton. With two years of college eligibility remaining, he’s now a free agent of sorts.

“I just want to have the opportunity to play,” Wilson said.

He’s gets that opportunity with OTC. Indeed, everyone needs that chance, and it’s Lowe’s job to get his players enough action on the field to keep them in proper form for their college.

“I’ve got a heck of a juggling act,” Lowe said.

On Monday night, after the Bearcats hung on for a 5-2 win over the Tides at Strong Rock, Lowe spent most of his time juggling. He spoke with a player about his pitching availability, another about how he was getting home from the game. Several players who have been injured are expected to be healthy enough to play this week.

As formal as the league can be — it keeps full statistics and standings, has a playoff round and a championship game — it can be just as informal. OTC was without its best hitter Monday, Ennis Coble, a rising senior at Dartmouth who graduated from Chamblee High School, because he didn’t have transportation.

“I’ve got all good kids,” Lowe said, “and that’s the best thing about it. When you’ve got good kids you can put the lineup out and nobody grumbles. You figure out how to get everyone in. As long as we win, everybody’s happy.”

OTC had enough on its roster to earn its third win in the past four games, improving its record to 3-7-1. Welborn started in centerfield, Nelson at shortstop, Wilson at catcher and Tanner at first base. Venturelli came in relief in the ninth inning and pitched around trouble to preserve the win.

And the handful of fans in attendance got a chance to see some familiar faces.