Nothing says summer like hot dogs, Cracker Jacks and the ping of a baseball coming off a bat.
High school teams across the county have broken up for the summer leaving the diamonds mostly empty. However some of the area's prep stars are still playing summer's best game in American Legion baseball in Rockdale County.
American Legion Post 77 begins its season Saturday and players from Eastside, Newton and Piedmont Academy will be among those in uniform.
The American Legion teams are allowed to pick players from high schools across the state with only enrollment numbers as regulations. Rockdale coach Jack Murphy likes to select from private schools to keep those numbers down and allow more schools to increase the pool of available players.
That philosophy helped lead to the selection of Cole Hamilton, who starred as a right-handed pitcher for Piedmont Academy in 2012.
Murphy continued to pick from Newton County when he called up Eastside coach Brad Weir and enlisted the skills of two Eagles. Keith Buckhault, who signed with Cleveland State, will take the field at second and third base, while Jake Wright will provide depth on the mound and in the outfield.
"I'm probably looking for him to be a late-inning pitcher throwing maybe one or two innings here and there," Murphy said.
Wright will combine with Matt Anderson of Union Grove and Morgan County's Dillan Peppers to help form what Murphy feels will be a strong pitching staff.
"Those are a couple of players, that normally for legion teams, you don't get," Murphy said. "You don't get kids like Matt Anderson, a top-flight pitcher, and Dillan Peppers, who's another top-flight pitcher. We're really fortunate we could get Matt Anderson and Peppers and get Wright to play for us, along with Buckhault."
Another pitcher from the Covington area is Newton's Tripp Loftin, who will serve as a reserve player in case another player from another school cannot remain with the team after July 1. Before July 1, Loftin will remain with the team, playing against non-legion opponents.
"We can't carry him due to numbers, but if someone drops he can play with us to the first of July," Murphy said.
Murphy feels the pitching staff can give Post 77 an advantage it didn't have in the past.
"It appears that we have a good bit of pitching, which seems to always be our weakness when we get to the state tournament and we don't have enough pitching to get through," Murphy said. "You hope you're going to be good but sometimes it's hard to call. After playing five or six games by the end of next weekend we ought to know pretty much what kind of team we've got."
Post 77 opens the season with two doubleheaders at home this weekend. The first is Saturday against Peachtree City starting at 1 p.m., and the second will be Saturday against Alpharetta beginning at 2 p.m. The Rockdale-based team will then host Loganville in a nine-inning game Monday before the two teams meet again, this time at Loganville for a nine-inning matchup on Wednesday, with both games at 7 p.m.
"We're going to start this weekend pretty hot and heavy," Murphy said.
Along with a solid pitching staff, Rockdale also has a deep team with plenty of position players competing for a starting spot. Experience is also big on the team in 2012 with all but a few players either playing in college or committed to play in college.
"I already stressed to the ball players that there's a lot of good athletes out there and we have some playing the same positions. They're going to have to fight for playing time," Murphy said. "It's going to take everybody on the roster to get where you want to go."
Where Murphy wants the team to go is to the state tournament and eventually the American Legion World Series, and up to this very early point in the season - just two practices in - likes its chances.
"I kind of like the makeup of this team," Murphy said. "If we can get good chemistry than we can do well."
This is the first time in six years that Post 77 will field just one team due to Eddie Bagwell's retirement after the 2011 season. Bagwell coached the Conyers team.
Bagwell usually recruited from Alcovy, among schools such as Rockdale, Salem and Heritage, but Murphy did not have enough time to make inroads into those schools. Post 77 was trying to find a coach to replace Bagwell but couldn't do so before Murphy had already selected the majority of his team.