It's no big wonder that Austin Groves is spoken of in glowing terms by every coach he's ever played for -- and by many he's played against.
Groves, first baseman for the Columbia Reds 18-and-under baseball team, brings a genuine enthusiasm for the game, one that can't be taught and that sometimes proves contagious.
When a teammate watches Groves take extra batting practice in the rain after a particularly frustrating game, it hopefully makes that player want to work a little harder, also.
And when a teammate watches Groves endanger his body by diving for a foul ball just out of his reach, it hopefully makes that player want to hustle a little bit harder.
Most players who, like Groves, fail to make their college teams, don't even bother playing summer baseball. Jobs and girlfriends seem more important.
At Groves' college, Clemson University, baseball is a big-time sport. The Tigers were ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation last spring. So it was no huge surprise when he was among 40 or 50 hopefuls cut during tryouts for that squad. He hadn't been recruited.
In high school, however, the 5-foot-10, 160-pounder produced some impressive stats for the Centennial Eagles, batting .416 as a junior and .426 his senior year.
And the one season he played for the Columbia Reds 16-and-under team, batting .430, it qualified for the Dizzy Dean World Series.
So it was a bit of a shock when he found himself on the
18-and-under Reds bench at the start of this season.
"I hadn't played in nine months and had to relearn a lot of things," Groves said. "I had to get my batting stroke back."
He spent the first six or seven games on that bench, biding his time and trying to be a positive force by keeping his head in the games and cheering for his teammates.
"I knew I'd come around sooner or later," he said.
He finally broke into the lineup as an outfielder -- a move necessitated by injuries. Before long he was hitting like the Groves of old, so well that he eventually moved back to first base and made the Baltimore Metro League's All-Star team.
"I can't say enough about him," Reds coach Tom Showe said. "He's played every outfield position and first base, and would play anywhere if you asked him. It's amazing how much he gives -- 110 percent every time. I wish I had nine Austin Groves."
Groves looks to a doubleheader against the Yankee Rebels as the high point of this season.
"In the first game, we we trailing, 4-1, in the sixth inning, the team was down and the season seemed to be slipping away fast," Groves said. "We really needed a win."
Groves tried verbally to fire up his teammates, and it worked. The Reds starting hitting and took a 6-4 win.
"People saw we could do it, and it had a snowball affect," Groves said.
He went 5-for-7 in the two games, as the Reds split the doubleheader against one of the league's best teams.
"Good things happen when you get into the game and don't think about anything else," he said. "And no matter how frustrating things get, you can never let yourself get too down."
Groves said he'll try out for Clemson's baseball team again next season, and that he'll probably play for the Reds 20-and-under team next summer -- even if he gets cut again by Clemson.
"I love the game of baseball, even though it's frustrating at times," Groves said.