Columbus versus Russell County baseball is a showdown among two elite programs from their respective states.
For the most part, it’s been treated as such.
Players and coaches from both teams understand the talent that they are up against every year.
Russell County coach Tony Rasmus made clear the fact that a slew of graduations didn’t diminish the difficulty in playing a team like Columbus. Columbus’ Bobby Howard stressed what it means to have a good “program” like Russell County does versus simply having a good team.
“A good program is coached well and does the right things whether they are the most talented or not,” he said.
Despite the mutual respect and competition between arguably the two best teams in the Bi-City area, however, the game appears to lack some of the fanfare of other true rivalries.
Perhaps it’s time we give this game the same respect.
There, of course, are reasons that it is difficult to put too much emphasis on this one game. While Rasmus said he certainly always wants to beat Columbus and we know Howard certainly always wants to beat everyone, the game means little in the long run.
It doesn’t affect either team’s postseason status. It’s not make-or-break when it comes to region standings.
As a non-region/area game, the teams, while focused on winning, are perhaps more focused on improving and getting a chance to test themselves against top-tier competition.
Another reason it’s tough to put so much emphasis on this game at this time is that Columbus, frankly, has dominated the series. In six games, the Blue Devils have won five, losing only the first meeting between the two teams.
A win by the Warriors on Thursday would go a long way in helping balance the competition.
Despite these factors that clearly scream “exhibition game,” the matchup deserves marquee status. Right now, there isn’t another game in the area that can match the talent level in both dugouts.
Perhaps a way to increase the excitement is to make the game a true home-and-home rivalry.
When the teams meet on Thursday at Columbus it will be the first time either has hosted the other at its home park. Games have been played in the LaGrange Invitational, at Smiths Station or even at Golden Park, among other locations.
A home-and-home series, alternating every year, could increase the anticipation and excitement for both fanbases.
On Thursday, we will see some of the best players in the area square off whether we call this a rivalry game or not. That’s not going to change.
But for super-fans like myself, that extra mustard can always add to the excitement, and anything that makes this thriller even more exciting is fine by me.
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571, firstname.lastname@example.org; Follow on Twitter @leprepsports.