COVINGTON, Ga. — Cricket Rider’s life has revolved around his love for baseball. He’s played it, coached it and watched it.
So much so that, in a building behind his house in Oxford, he has photos of players like Mickey Mantle on display. Someone even gifted him an autographed Pete Rose picture awhile back.
Despite the evolution of baseball, Rider’s passion for the sport has never wavered.
“I love the game,” Rider said. “It’s changed. I don’t watch professional baseball as much as I used to. I’d rather go to a college game or high school or maybe even Little League. I still go around the ball field some.”
Rider’s dad served as big influence
Rider turns 69 years old in late August and has lived in Newton County all his life. His dad, Bennie, was the person who got Rider interested in baseball to begin with.
In fact, his first coach was his dad. Rider also grew up playing with his brothers outside with competition.
As a member of his dad’s recreation league, Rider has many memories from that time. They would play at Baker Field in Covington on Saturday. Playing second base was Rider’s primary position, too.
Rider credits a lot of his appreciation for the sport to his dad.
“I just loved the game. My dad taught me well. I knew the game pretty well,” Rider said. “I knew a lot of people. I just enjoyed being on the field and looked forward to it.”
There were some moments he didn’t like seeing a diamond.
“After we played on Saturdays and won 21-1, [dad] was going to find something wrong,” Rider said. “I got to where I didn’t want to go. I said, ‘Dad, we’re 9-0 and we won 21-1.’ He said, ‘Yeah, but you left that pitcher in too long.’ But he wanted us to be good.”
Another significant role model came on Rider’s path in high school.
Ron Bradley — the legendary Newton basketball coach — also coached baseball for the Rams. Bradley served in that capacity while Rider was a student-athlete there.
Just like his dad, Rider gave kudos to Bradley.
“He taught me a lot. He taught me a lot about discipline and physical stamina,” Rider said. “Between him and my dad is where I picked up a lot of knowledge.”
Rider’s coaching tenure
After graduating from Newton County High School, Rider began coaching the game he loved at 19 years old.
His first year coaching with the Newton County Recreation Department was 1975. Additionally, Rider coached three years for the American Legion Post 32.
In total, Rider estimates 25 years worth of coaching.
Across that time span, there were a lot of wins and losses. But there’s one moment Rider will never forget.
“When we won the pony league state championship in ‘76. That group went on to win the high school state championship in ‘79,” Rider said. “A lot of the players told me I had a big influence keeping them in the game and coaching them through that state championship. Then, when they won it in ‘79, all the hard work came home.”
Rider still has the 1976 state championship trophy at home.
Relationships formed through the game
During his coaching career, Rider highlighted how he formed “long-lasting relationships and friendships.”
Whether it be former opponents or players, Rider mentioned how he remains in contact with many of them.
“I can still remember a lot of games. When I see old classmates that I played against, we talk about old games,” Rider said. “[Former players] still come by and such. They still keep in contact with me, mostly via phone, but some will drop by. I met a lot of friends on account of the game.”
There is one relationship that stands above the rest.
While he was coaching, Rider met his future wife, Jeaneen. Rider can recall the events that led to them meeting.
“Her dad came to my house and said, ‘Can you get my son on your team?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. We’ll just have to see how things go in the draft.’ I did get him,” Rider said. “When we started practicing, she came to practice and watched with her mom and dad. We got to talking and we started dating. Actually, we broke up for three years and got back together and have been together 44 years. I credit my marriage to that, too.”
Rider has a son and two grandchildren who are continuing the baseball legacy today as well.
Upon reflection of his playing and coaching career, Rider is grateful for what baseball has done for him. It has given him more than a hobby and a passion, it has given him a family.
A lot of those family members are from Newton County, which adds to what makes his hometown a special place for Rider.
“When a former player comes up and says, ‘Hey coach.’ It gives you a little tingle,” Rider said. “You just know a lot of people. [Newton County] is all I’ve ever known. It’s home and I wouldn’t want to leave.”