Before Jake Smith entered to Eric Church’s Give Me Back My Hometown in the eighth inning Friday night, Taylor Grover received applause down the third base line for consecutive perfect innings.
It’s not often opposing minor leaguers receive equal support from a packed crowd, but Friday’s game between the Augusta GreenJackets and Greenville Drive at Lake Olmstead Stadium became a homecoming for more than one local professional baseball player.
“Besides areas like California, you don’t get a lot of times where you have two people playing against each other all the way up,” Smith said. “As spread out as we are in the South, it doesn’t happen much. It’s pretty cool.”
Smith, a North Augusta native who worked on the grounds crew at Lake Olmstead while in college, pitched a scoreless eighth inning for the GreenJackets. He allowed one hit and struck out two.
Grover, a North Augusta native who pitched for Midland Valley and USC Aiken, threw three perfect innings for the Drive. He struck out three.
“It was neat that we both got to pitch in the same game,” Grover said. “I never thought I’d play here growing up. It’s really cool.”
Smith is greeted by applause during every home appearance. He has embraced the role of playing at home by choosing to play Church’s song during his warmups. While Smith prepares for each home outing, the words, “This is my hometown,” can be heard over the stadium speakers.
Smith has allowed just one earned run with 17 strikeouts in 151/3 innings for Augusta.
The Drive made for a unique situation with Grover on the roster. The big right-hander was drafted in the 10th round last year out of USC Aiken, and he played for Midland Valley prior to the Pacers.
Grover received support during Friday’s outing, as friends, family and Pacer fans gave him a standing ovation after each inning he pitched.
“It was cool coming back. It’s really good to be home,” Grover said. “I came in and did my job. It was really cool to pitch in front of all the people here.”
Grover recently joined Greenville from extended spring training. He has allowed one run on two hits with four strikeouts in five innings.
He said he put in a lot of work during the off-season to repeat his mechanics and get the most out of his two-pitch mix. He threw a low-90s fastball with a hard slider that froze several Augusta batters.
“(Friday), (both pitches) were both on point,” he said. “It’s hard work paying off. It’s definitely a blessing to be here.”