“Baseball is sunshine, green grass, fathers and sons, our rural past.”
— ALBERT THEODORE POWERS, The Business of Baseball
20 years ago, a high school kid from Elkhart named Bridges batted lead-off for a state-bound Elks baseball team coached by one John Adair.
Wednesday, the Elks take the field at Dell Diamond in Round Rock to open the state tournament, where a high school kid from Elkhart named Bridges should bat lead-off for a team coached by John Adair.
Coincidence? Not hardly.
Cole Bridges, the Elks’ lead-off hitter and starting third baseman/shortstop had heard all of the stories from his father, Matt. A starting shortstop and leadoff hitter on the 1992 Elkhart team that last made the trip to the state tournament, Matt told his son about the experiences of playing at state.
Since then, the younger Bridges said he’s dreamed about the day that finally comes Wednesday.
“Ever since he told me about it when I was a little boy, I’ve always dreamed of being in the same situation and it’s here now,” Cole said. “It’s really exciting.”
As Matt Bridges watched his son and his teammates celebrate on the field at Driller Park in Kilgore Saturday, he thought back to those days 20 years ago.
He said that, as much as he enjoyed the experience from two decades past, they had nothing on what he felt watching the celebration as a parent.
“I’d probably have to say today, you soak it in more as a parent,” he said. “We’ve worked hard. Him and (Levi Smith) and (Jacob Cheatham), they’ve played together since they were 7 or 8 years old and we kind of groomed them. It’s just a heck of an experience.”
Cole spoke of that grooming on the field Saturday, crediting his dad with instilling the love of baseball in him early on, and feeding that fire as he got older.
“Everything I know now is what he taught me,” Cole said as his sister, Catie — a standout athlete in her own right — looked on. “If it wouldn’t have been for him I wouldn’t love the game as much as I do now. He taught me all the things I know.”
It wasn’t just Cole that Matt was invested in, but a lot of the kids. Many of them played for him as they were growing up, just little kids whose dream was to make it to the state tournament.
Now, it’s here.
The journey wasn’t without its trials and tribulations. Elkhart needed a late comeback and extra innings to win Game 1 against Central Heights in the regional finals, and it was Cole who scored the game-winning run on a Cam Reeves single in the eighth inning.
Then, the Elks dropped Game 2 as the Blue Devils’ forced a deciding Game 3, which Tyler Tutt put in Elkhart’s favor early with a first inning grand slam.
All the while, the usually calm Matt watched from the stands.
“I’m not a nervous person, but I was as nervous these last two days as I’ve ever been in my life,” he said. “After Game 1, after that comeback when the ball started rolling our way, everything just kind of started rolling their way in Game 2. Then, in Game 3, (Tyler Tutt) hits the grand slam and we get up six and everything just fell into place.”
So, what now?
“Let’s get on the bus and go back,” he said with a laugh.
The parallels don’t end at a father and a son playing in the state tournament for the same school. In a small town like Elkhart, it’s bound to have happened plenty of times before.
But, playing for the same coach? That’s another story.
Matt gave a lot of credit to Adair for the team’s success, and said Adair is a coach as much outside the lines as in them.
“John’s a good guy, a family guy, a good Christian guy,” Matt said. “He brings a lot of stuff to the table for the kids. He’s not just a coach, he’s mentor. It was the same for us. He was a little younger when he coached us, but he’s in it for the kids.
“He’s a heck of a guy and I’d let my kid play for them anytime.”
The only debate really unsettled on the field Saturday was which Bridges was the better player. Matt insists its Cole, but the younger Bridges said he’s heard some stories about his old man.
“I don’t know, if I’d of gotten to see him play maybe I’d be able to say but I don’t think I am,” Cole said. “I’ve heard he was pretty sweet.”
“Baseball is sunshine, green grass, fathers and sons, our rural past.”
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