June 15, 2013

The love of the game

Former Southeast Whitfield player leads Kennesaw State club team to title

Devin Golden

— One year playing at the collegiate level was enough for Southeast Whitfield High School graduate Caleb Moore to lose his love for baseball.

Then he started playing with people who shared the same experience, and together they reclaimed their passion for the game.

They also claimed a national championship.

Moore and his Kennesaw State University club baseball team captured the National Club Baseball Association Division II World Series last month in Paducah, Ky., defeating the Stephen F. Austin (Texas) squad 5-2 in the title contest.

Moore graduated from Southeast in 2009. He spent his freshman and senior seasons playing catcher, and sophomore and junior years in the outfield.

But it was the next level that crippled his spirit.

Moore began his collegiate career in middle Georgia at Brewton-Parker College, a two-year National Associa-tion of Intercollegiate Athletics institution. He only stayed at Brewton-Parker for one season before transferring to Kennesaw State, where he “didn’t have any intention” of playing baseball.

“I played at Brewton-Parker and it seemed like a job. It wasn’t fun to me there. They just made the love of the game go away,” Moore said.

Then he noticed a poster advertising a new club baseball team, and Moore decided to give it a try.

“The club team is self-run,” Moore said. “It’s mostly to have fun. That’s what I care about. I love winning, don’t get me wrong, but I was there just to have fun and continue playing as long as I can.”

Winning is what the squad spent most of the past three years doing. Moore joined for the inaugural season, and the Owls lost in the regionals, a four-team bracket between the conference schedule and the World Series. In 2012, Kennesaw State reached the World Series — a double-elimination, eight-team bracket — and finished third overall, one game shy of the finals.

In 2013, Moore and the Owls finished 24-2 overall and 15-0 in the District IV West Conference. At the World Series, the squad won each game and Moore won the MVP award. He finished the season 19-for-51 — a batting average of .376 — with 15 runs and 13 RBIs. In the World Series, he went 6-for-12, with seven RBIs in a 19-15 win versus the University of Maryland, and six runs scored.

“At Southeast, I never made it to the state playoffs. At Brewton-Parker, we were decent,” Moore said. “Finally being able to win something huge, with it possibly being my last year and me winning the MVP and World Series, if there’s a way to end it then that’s how I’d want to end it.”

Kennesaw State is one of many colleges around the country to add club baseball, which Moore said has a skill level just below NCAA or NAIA and far above intramurals. The NCBA, which started in 2000 with a 34-team club baseball league, is now part of the National Federation of Collegiate Club Sports Leagues.

In 2007, the NCBA split into two divisions, and in 2009 grew to more than 170 teams. There are 106 teams and 21 conferences in the NCBA’s Division II. There will be 10 new club teams next season.

In 2006, the umbrella organization formed the National Club Softball Association with 36 inaugural squads around the country.

“That was something that has just picked up recently,” said Coahulla Creek High School coach Michael Bolen, who was an assistant coach at Southeast for part of Moore’s high school career. “There is a need for that. There are people who enjoy the game but maybe didn’t receive an offer. Or maybe there are people like in Caleb’s case who want to play the game but don’t have the time at the highest level because there is a huge commitment in that.”

The Kennesaw club baseball team’s coach for the past three seasons, John Brinson, has seen the club programs increase quite a bit at the school.

“Just speaking from my experience here at Kennesaw State, our club sports program as a whole started in 2007 with a small complex and has grown into an entire recreation department,” said Brinson, an undergraduate at Kennesaw State. “We’ve got some kids specifically from our team that played at LaGrange College and other small colleges. ... For our team, it mainly is an avenue for kids to come and play baseball who could at another team but don’t want to because they don’t have enough time or whatever.”

Said Moore, “Seven of our nine starters on the field came from colleges like me. Two of our infielders came from LaGrange College. They didn’t like it just like me.”

He wouldn’t trade these past three years for any other baseball experience. During the World Series, he and his teammates participated in question-and-answer sessions with elementary school students from around Paducah. Moore described the experience as “a taste” of what the College World Series, beginning today in Omaha, Neb., is like for players.

“In Kentucky, I never signed so many autographs in my life,” he added.

Moore is a secondary education major with a focus on history. He wants to teach the subject in high school and coach baseball and football, which he also played as a Raider. However, he’ll be at Kennesaw State for a fifth year in 2013-14. His options are wide open, whether he wants to play, coach or call the World Series win and MVP his final song.

If he does stop playing, at least his lasting memory of the sport will be a good one.

“At the end when we won, we did a dog pile. It was a blast,” Moore said. “It was something I always wanted to do.”