Chase Belcher and Paul Anderson threw a baseball back-and-forth in the Coastal Georgia quad during the fall of 2014. As freshmen at the College, the two former high school players still itched for life on the baseball diamond. That is when an older student saw them playing catch and approached them.
"We were thinking about playing baseball, but we didn't think they had a club here," Belcher said. "One day, we were throwing out in the quad, and this guy comes by. 'Why don't you come up to practice?' I was like, 'Practice? Y'all have a team?' We hopped on out there, had some practice."
At the time, the team wasn't much more than a group of guys who gathered for Sandlot-style practices. There were no jerseys, no organized games, no formal team titles. They simply got together to spend some time playing the sport they loved during high school.
Belcher and Anderson had bigger visions, however. And when one of the older participants told them he'd gotten a constitution approved by the school, they saw the formulation of a legitimate club baseball team in sight. The only catch: The older player wanted Belcher and Anderson, only freshmen at the time, to take over the program.
It was unexpected, but they were happy to do it.
"'Can you take over the reins?' I took it over, and we got going," Belcher said.
Belcher, now the acting club president, had never coached before, aside from assisting with a local Little League team while in high school. So the transition to leading players his age, or even older, was strange at first, though Belcher said it's a "good group of guys" that made it easy. He spent the remainder of this first semester of college trying to set up games with other club teams nearby, while also continuing normal practice routines.
By the spring of 2015, Coastal Georgia set up unofficial games with Armstrong State, Stetson, Georgia Southern and Columbus State — four club teams established for five years or more. Through playing these teams, and communicating with their club presidents, Belcher soon realized the immediate future he envisioned for the Coastal Georgia club team.
"I went to them because they had longer programs than we did, obviously. They gave me some pointers, and I kinda went off on that. The first thing I wanted to do was be a part of the National Club Baseball Association (NCBA)," Belcher said.
Back in February 2015, the Mariners' newest club sport, with an allotted budget from the school and team dues, finalized its deal with the NCBA to join the District III-South conference in Division II. The Mariners spent the rest of 2015 practicing and gearing up for a spring 2016 schedule that included 15 games against their conference opponents — University of Florida, University of South Florida, University of South Florida-St. Petersburg, Florida Gulf Coast University and Stetson University.
It's some pretty stiff competition for Coastal Georgia's first stint in NCBA play, but it's welcomed.
"We'll be traveling to other colleges, and they'll be traveling to us. It's a competitive league. All the schools we'll be playing have a lot of talent," Belcher said. "It's a legit conference. It feels like we're part of a family now. We're a part of something. We're not just Coastal Georgia club baseball. We're part of something bigger now."
Coastal Georgia has been practicing five days a week at Selden Park from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. — or later, if possible. But the Mariners know the real fun is set to start in February when the conference slate gets underway. Home games will be played at Frederica Academy and Edo Miller Park. The team's first NCBA-sanctioned series will be in Gainesville, Fla. on Feb. 13-14 against the Gators' club team.
In the past unofficial games, Coastal Georgia would take a Saturday trip up for a doubleheader and return that night. With the new budget — that supports hotel, gas, uniforms and umpires — the Mariners will now have overnight stays, which will allow for a three-game series over an entire weekend.
Naturally, the next logical step would be a transition from the club level to the NAIA varisty level, though Belcher knows that will require a higher university enrollment and more donors, something school president Gregory Aloia expressed to him during personal conversations about the team's inception.
For now, the Coastal Georgia baseball team will enjoy taking on other nearby college club teams, something many players didn't think would be possible.
"President Aloia is working very hard to do what he can to help this team," Belcher said. "For right now, it's just a lot of fun. The best part is seeing kids your age, or even a little older than you, come onto the field and just have a good time. They'll say, 'Man, I miss this.' It brings them back."