These GreenJackets represent 17 states and four South American countries, an interesting confluence of steak and salsa solidifying over six months in this steamy Georgia town.
They have called Augusta home since April and have dealt with homesickness since. This weekend they will disperse from our town and our thoughts, scattering to various points across the hemisphere.
After this championship series with the Cape Fear Crocs ends tonight with Game 3, thanks to a thrilling 5-4 loss Thursday, many of these GreenJackets hope never to see Augusta again.
Don't get them wrong. These players claim to have had wonderful times here. Pitchers Josh Hancock and Greg Miller are going to miss Tuesday postgames at Joe's Underground. Jason Norton recalls never seeing such hubbub surrounding one street as he witnessed on Washington Road during Masters Week. Norton also had a unique visit to Fort Discovery and that looping bicycle ride.
"This has been a pretty neat little place," said Norton, who will drive to Mobile, Ala., to begin his off-season employed by a health club.
But remember, to the players, Augusta is merely a stop -- temporary for some, a final destination for others.
"I hope this is my last game here," Norton said.
The game's transient nature, its day-to-day uncertainty, makes acclimation to local culture all the more difficult.
"I get to the ballpark at 11:30 each morning and don't leave till 11 at night," manager Billy Gardner said. "It's tough to get to know a new city with those hours. I've got no roots anywhere. That's what our lives become. You become gypsies the longer you stay in this game."
At least Gardner got a taste of Treybon's barbecue. And of TGI Friday's specials.
"I think I've invested a couple of thousand dollars there this summer," he said. "Their stock's gone up because of me."
And the players who have reminded Augusta what championship baseball feels like probably won't be around for an encore performance. The majority will be in Sarasota next season, one step closer to The Show.
"These guys deserve a promotion, and you're likely not going to see many of them return next year," said Gardner, who likely will be bidding Augusta adieu as well.
"That's what makes this run so special. After six months of being together, we'll all go our separate ways."
There will be little time for reflections. After a week of rest, instructional league in Fort Myers, Fla., beckons for some, including Hancock and Miller. Gardner and pitcher Marty McCleary begin Fall League in San Bernardino, Calif., next week.
"I'm driving to Fort Myers to drop off my things, and I've got a 6:15 flight to California on Sunday," Gardner said.
For cleanup hitter Tony DeRosso, he will marry his Colquitt County High School sweetheart in December. Norton's off-season includes a four-day trip to Europe.
"Hopefully, I'll stay in touch with a lot of these guys," Norton said. "And we'll see each other in spring training. But it's sad, sure. It goes by so fast that you don't seem to realize that you wake up with each other, you eat with each other, you spend all your time with these guys."
And then it's over, and lives are continued. This series almost has the feeling of the final day in the freshman dorm when everyone's hugging and saying goodbye.
Even if they never return, Augusta will always hold dear the championship feelings these Jackets helped produce.
REACH Rick Dorsey at (706) 823-3219.
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