East Cobb baseball prepares for another busy season

By TYLER DUKE

MARIETTA, Ga. – Each year, thousands of youth baseball players make their way to the East Cobb Baseball Complex, located in Marietta, for the summer time baseball season.

Hosting many of the best youth teams in America, East Cobb is chosen for some of the biggest travel baseball tournaments in the nation due to its world-class facilities and reputation.

Representing its success are the 248 players who have played for East Cobb and made it to Major League Baseball — as well as the 229 national titles from its teams.

With youth baseball growing in importance each year, East Cobb is looking to be as packed as ever come the summer of 2017.

pic 1 baseballAmong many of the rare features that East Cobb offers, pitchers warm up in an isolated bullpen away from the field. The distance away from the action limits dangerous incidents from balls in play toward unaware players. (Photo by Tyler Duke)

pic 2 baseballScouting has become, increasingly, a part of youth baseball at younger and younger ages. East Cobb uses numbered seats directly behind home plate for scouts to take a look at some of the biggest prospects that take the field. (Photo by Tyler Duke)

pic 3 baseballSpending $9.7 million dollars in 1985, entrepreneur Russ Umphenhour built the complex to allow Guerry Baldwin — the current East Cobb President — the chance at developing young baseball players in top facilities. (Photo by Tyler Duke)

pic 4 baseballEast Cobb now covers 30 acres with eight baseball fields. For many of the teams and players coming from out-of-state, the complex hosts rooms on site for families to stay in during tournaments. (Photo by Tyler Duke)

pic 5 baseballThe fields feature a mixture of artificial turf, natural grass and manicured dirt for a safe and true playing surface. (Photo by Tyler Duke)

pic 6 baseballEast Cobb staffs a full-time Fields Operation Manager, Kenny Faulk, to take care of the eight fields, as hundreds of teams and thousands of players prepare to play throughout the summer. (Photo by Tyler Duke)

pic 7 baseballOf the 248 players that have taken the field for East Cobb and gone on to play Major League Baseball, some of the notables include Brian McCann, Dansby Swanson, Jason Heyward, Jeff Francoeur and Dexter Fowler. (Photo by Tyler Duke)

pic 8 baseballIn addition to the outdoor facilities, East Cobb has numerous indoor batting cages and training facilities that allow players to develop their game all throughout the year alongside, provided, coaches and instructors. (Photo by Tyler Duke)

As travel baseball continues to grow in popularity and necessity for youth players wanting to have a chance at higher levels, East Cobb has transformed into one of the premiere destinations for tournaments.

In July of 2017, more than 2000 players and 125 teams are expected to compete in a two-week event hosted at the facility to show off some of the best players in the nation.

Local firefighter brings smiles, wagging tails to hospitalized children

By ANNE-MARIE BORING

COBB COUNTY, Ga. – A few times a month, children at local area hospitals are greeted by a special, spotted, four-legged friend.

Ember, a 3-year-old female Dalmatian, is a recently certified therapy dog who loves to visit and play with the sick children residing at Marietta and Kennesaw area hospitals.

Ember’s owner and trainer is Cobb County firefighter, Aaron Salkill, 29, who said that a firefighter and a Dalmatian simply go hand-in-hand.

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Aaron Salkill and Ember pose in front of a Station 22 firetruck in Cobb County. (Photo credit: Facebook.com)

“When I walk into a room wearing my uniform and Ember is wearing her firefighter’s badge, the kids’ faces just light up,” Salkill said. “They look at me like I’m Superman. It’s the greatest feeling ever.”

Salkill has worked for Cobb County Fire and Emergency Services for five years. He rescued Ember from a local shelter three years ago, when she was just three months old. Salkill said the idea of Ember becoming certified for therapeutic work came to him during a jog on Kennesaw Mountain.

“There was a line of kids waiting to pet Ember, and it occurred to me that if these kids are this excited to interact with her, then children who are too sick to leave the hospital may want to see her too,” Salkill said.

Preparing an energetic, headstrong Dalmatian to become a therapy dog took lots of patience, time and treats Salkill said. After two years of rigorous training and hundreds of hours of practice, Ember passed her official certification testing with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs on her first try.

Salkill got in contact with representatives from Egleston Hospital, Northside Hospital at Cherokee, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Scottish-Rite Hospital, and Ember quickly became a fan-favorite at each location.

“Kids squeal and grin and hug her, I’ve never seen them get more excited than they do when they see Ember,” Salkill said. “The reactions aren’t just limited to children, either. I’ve had everything from grown women shrieking and running toward me, to a stroke victim breaking down in tears from excitement. It’s incredible.”

Salkill said that he and Ember’s first visit to Egleston Hospital will forever be a cherished memory.

“Ember and I were set up in the lobby, and lots of kids were being wheeled down to visit,” Salkill said. “One little girl saw Ember and jumped out of her wheelchair to run as fast as she could toward us. Her mom, tearfully, told me later that it was the first time her daughter had the energy to walk in weeks. I’ll never forget that feeling.”

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Salkill and Ember practice their tricks at a local area elementary school. (Photo credit: Facebook.com)

Ember’s time with kids isn’t limited to hospital visits, either. She regularly makes appearances at Cobb County’s Safety Village to help teach fire safety and education to visiting schoolchildren.

Ember is also familiar with local elementary schools and universities. She has been involved with university-sponsored stress relief during “Dead Week” and finals week at Georgia Tech. Salkill said he hopes that he will eventually be able to bring Ember to help relieve students’ stress and anxiety during finals at Kennesaw State too.

“It’s one of the most rewarding feelings to see the positive impact Ember makes on people’s lives,” Salkill said. “I can only hope to spread her happiness to as many people as possible.”

KSU guest speaker discusses difficulties overcoming gag order

By LAUREN LEATHERS

KENNESAW, Ga. – Lesli N.Gaither, a lawyer who represents several media platforms, met with Kennesaw State University students this week to present information on a recent gag order, as well as to give advice to future journalists going into the field.

Gaither, an attorney with Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, represented the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, WSB-TV and the Associated Press in successfully challenging a gag order issued last week in South Georgia. She spoke to Dr. Carolyn Carlson’s Media Law class this week.

Lesli

Lesli Gaither. (Photo credit: LinkedIn.com)

Judge issues gag order

The gag order was issued in the highly publicized death of schoolteacher Tara Grinstead, who went missing from Ocilla, Georgia, in 2005. Last month, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced the arrest of Ryan Alexander Duke in connection with her disappearance and death.

The defense attorney came forward with a stack of articles asking the judge to issue a restraining order stopping everyone involved in the case from talking to the media.

“They said this was getting out of control and we’re a small town and we don’t have a large jury pool,” said Gaither.

As a result, a gag order  was put into place almost immediately.

“Gag orders in Georgia are fairly rare, but this one came out in a fairly rare circumstance,” said Gaither.

Gaither said she feels the GBI, believing it had solved a 12-year-old cold case, wanted people to know about the case to see that its agents were doing their job well.

“It became a big deal,” said Gaither. “I think the GBI kind of wanted to talk about it.”

Difficulties arise obtaining  gag order

When Gaither requested the motion of the gag order from the clerk’s office she said she was denied. She requested any information the clerk’s office could give her in relation to the case and was, again, denied.

“This is, in my career, the first time I have challenged a motion that I have not read, and gone to argue a motion I have not read,” said Gaither.

Gaither said she told the judge upfront that she had not read the motion prior to challenging the gag order.

“It’s actually the high profiles that get the publicity,” said Gaither. “That doesn’t mean you should shut it down. It just means that’s what people are interested in and what they want to see. When things are gagged we only have rumors to go by.”

Gaither was able to receive  the judge’s gag order from a reporter. It is unknown how the reporter obtained the motion.

Gaither argued in a motion last week that the gag order was too vague and covered too many people. She presented a number of cases in her argument, arguing that the restraints should be narrowed significantly.

Gaither said the judge issued a modified order last Friday as a result of her arguments, and said she has no intentions to appeal.

“In our opinion, it’s still pretty wrong,” said Gaither.

Students react to  challenge of fighting  gag orders

One student in the class asked how it felt to challenge a motion without reading it prior.

In response, Gaither said that she openly admitted to courts that she had not read the motion prior and was unable to obtain a copy of the motion from the clerk’s office.

“It was not a big deal, but it was definitely different” said Gaither.

Senior journalism major Andrew Connard said he respects Gaither for the way she carries herself while speaking of her profession.

The biggest thing that stuck with me was that, as a journalist, I need to always be aware of, and stand up for, my rights,” said Connard.

Lesli speaking

Lesli Gaither speaking to a media law class. (Photo credit: Lauren Leathers)

Gaither said connecting a person who is unaffiliated with a case has become a common mistake that leads to libel lawsuits against the media.

“It is so easy to grab a piece of information, but can be very difficult to verify that your information is really about the same person,” said Gaither.

Gaither said that journalists have to be very careful when using social media to get pictures or additional information about someone, because there are often many people with the same name.

Gaither said her number one piece of advice for journalists going into the field is to be aware that myth identification has become the biggest liability issue for newsrooms.

Media litigation and counseling has become the focus of Gaither’s practice, along with complex commercial litigation.

She has been recognized on multiple occasions from 2011 to 2013 as a Georgia “Rising Star” in the area of First Amendment and Media and Advertising Law. In 2014 to 2016, she was, again, recognized by Super Lawyers magazine in the area of Media and Advertising Law.

 

 

Local baseball talent garners attention

By WES BLAKEY

COBB COUNTY, Ga. – Despite his size, Brian Williams, a junior third baseman for the Lassiter High School baseball team, shows extraordinary potential, attracting the attention of colleges, scouts and his coach.

The sun is shining through the left field trees onto the outfield of the Lassiter High School baseball field. It’s just a quarter until 5 p.m. as Williams stretches with his team during pregame warm-ups. Once the team completes their daily stretching routine, Williams caps it off with a handstand push-up, something he dubs “a weird superstition, just because I can.”

Hitting the baseball seems to come just as easily to the 5-foot-10, 190-pound infielder as his pregame handstand push-up. Williams has not produced a batting average below .350 since manning the hot corner for the Lassiter Trojans. He spent his freshman and sophomore seasons playing for the junior varsity team before earning the starting third baseman role for the varsity team his junior year.

“My summer ball coach did a really good job recruiting for me,” Williams said. “I was talking to Kennesaw State, East Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas and Michigan, but none of these schools show any interest in me as a player right now because my height is not project-able.”

Williams has been having an excellent senior season so far, as the Lassiter Trojans have gotten off to a good start with a 12-4 streak. He is hitting near the .450 mark with two home runs, and has driven in around 30 total runs.

picture 1 Williams rips a line drive to right field for an RBI single at Etowah High School. March 16, 2017. (Photo credit: Wes Blakey)

“This year’s team at Lassiter is the best it has been since I’ve been in high school,” Williams said. “We have a pitching staff that comes out every day and give us the opportunity to win every game, and we have the best line-up in the state one through nine. End of discussion. All we have to do is continue to hit and we are going to win.”

One thing Lassiter’s head coach, Kyle Rustay, pointed out was Williams’ willingness to do whatever he can do to help the team win.

“He cares more about winning than personal statistics and accolades,” Rustay said.

picture 2Williams walks back to the plate after a quick talk with Coach Rustay during a mound visit at Etowah High School. March 16, 2017. (Photo credit: Wes Blakey)

Rustay says Williams is a really humble kid who is extremely coach-able and wants to improve as much as he can.

“His work ethic is the biggest thing that has separated him from his peers,” Rustay said. “I don’t want to say it separates him from his teammates entirely, however, because they are a very hard-working group overall.”

Middle infielder and right-handed pitcher, Matt Christian, said that Williams is one of his best friends.

“He’s a hard-working kid and a talented young man,” Christian said. “I remember last year in the sixth inning, in a game against Walton, when someone hit a chopper, he jumped in the air at third base and threw a kid out at home while still in the air.”

These are just a few players under six feet tall that have exhibited success at the major league level. Rustay mentioned Hall of Famer, Craig Biggio, as being comparable to Williams.

“He may be a bit undersized, but he is capable of taking over a game and doing a lot of things to help the team be successful,” Rustay said.

Williams, however, said he tries to model his game by watching the 6-foot-3 All-Star third baseman for the Baltimore Orioles, Manny Machado.

Rustay said that another thing that makes Williams stand out is his positive attitude.

“He doesn’t get down on himself when something doesn’t go his way,” Rustay said. “He just looks to the next at-bat or the next defensive play.”

Williams said his favorite part about the game of baseball is that there is always another game to be played.

“If something goes wrong one at bat, or one play in the field, or you just have a bad day overall, chances are there is going to be another at-bat that game or another play in the field,” Williams said. “There is always another game to be played the next day.”

Rustay said Williams plays the game at a really high level and isn’t afraid to push the envelope, both offensively and defensively.

“Aggressive, fearless and selfless,” Rustay said when describing Williams as a player.

picture 3Williams does his best Chipper Jones impression (1:10 mark) as he makes a nice play at third base throwing off the wrong foot at Etowah High School. March 16, 2017. (Photo credit: Wes Blakey)

Currently, Williams is verbally committed to Birmingham Southern College to play baseball at the next level. He has offers from Emmanuel College and East Georgia State College, but Augusta University and Cal State University, Northridge have also been in contact with him.

“I met a Toronto Blue Jays scout this past fall at a camp, and he watched me play all weekend,” Williams said. “He decided to approach me that Sunday and ask me how I did last high school season, and during the summer. I told him I hit around .400 with a fielding percentage of about .950.”

Earning the accolade of a 2016 All-State Honorable Mention behind Josh Lowe, the 13th overall pick in last years MLB Draft and Carter Kieboom, the 28th overall pick, Williams garnered some interest from a Pittsburgh Pirates scout whom he met while watching a game.

“He told me he had seen me play last high school season, and he liked what he saw and would be around,” Williams said.

Rustay has spoken with the coaches from Mercer, North Georgia, Florida Gulf Coast and Florida Southwestern junior college about Williams.

“I keep telling these coaches that if they add him to their roster, they are getting an absolute steal,” Rustay said. “He’s super athletic and can do whatever you need on both sides of the ball.”

Williams said he has been playing baseball since he was six years old and doesn’t plan stopping anytime soon. For the time being, he said that his goal is staying focused on the season and getting the Lassiter baseball program back to where it should be as state champions.