Erik McDougald is probably more tickled than his baseball squad to get to Pensacola for the Bulldogs’ pair of games this weekend.
The Thomasville head coach has this weekend circled on his calendar every year.
“It’s just a real good experience for everybody,” McDougald said. “I love the challenge it presents our guys – mentally, physically and in another number of areas. ”
This is the second year that McDougald has crossed the Florida border with his Bulldogs. He has strived to take a lengthy road trip once per year to accustom the team with travel, but the destination has changed at times; from Helen, Ga. to Tuscaloosa, Ala. to Panama City, Fla. among other towns.
The idea of Pensacola generated from assistant coach Ron O’Quinn, who grew up in Milton along the Florida panhandle. O’Quinn approached McDougald two years ago and broached a shift in the annual road trip.
“I thought it was a great idea,” McDougald said. “Sometimes we forget in South Georgia how much baseball talent there is out there. Then you go down to places like Pensacola, which is rich in baseball tradition and talent. It’s great for our guys to see that.
“I firmly believe is makes us a better baseball team in the long run otherwise I wouldn’t do it.”
Thomasville played Tate High School in last year’s trip.
McDougald recalled an inspirational moment when the team arrived at the ballpark and saw big league bound Chase Boyd taking batting practice with the team.
“He was launching missile after missile,” McDougald said of the former Florida State star.
On the other side of the field were two 4x8 boards with names penned of Tate graduates drafted to MLB.
“You didn’t make it on there by just going to college,” McDougald said.
“Your boys get exposed to that and, hopefully for some of them, it makes them realize they have a dream of playing at the next level, they’ve got a whole bunch of competition – not just the few schools in the area up here. It’s a big pot.”
McDougald said the trip also prepares the team for the grind of travel, which could become a factor come playoff time.
The coach attributed that the Bulldogs are shooting for home games in the postseason, though that goal is never guaranteed.
But the biggest benficiary of this weekend? The competition.
“Let’s face, it, Florida guys don’t want to lose to Georgia guys, and Georgia guys don’t want to lose to Florida guys,” McDougald said.
The Bulldogs hit the road Friday around lunchtime to arrive in time for their 8 p.m. first pitch at Washington.
They will then return to the hotel for much-needed shut-eye before heading to Pine Forest on Saturday for a 1 p.m. game.
“After that, you get to enjoy yourself as a baseball family,” McDougald said.
The Bulldogs will dine “somewhere fun” on Saturday night, McDougald said. “A kind of place where we can hit the arcade and play some laser tag.”
After a Sunday breakfast and devotion, Thomasville will return home for a mid-afternoon arrival.
McDougald said he’s not sure if the team will hit the beach.
“I hope so, but we’ll have to see,” he said.