It wouldn't be right to say that Hephzibah's Bronson Eldridge would make a fine high school coach one day. That's because he already is. Sort of.
Eldridge, a senior catcher, has a team-high 22 runs batted in. He carries a .429 batting average that's the second-best mark on the Rebels.
But those aren't the cool parts of his job description. Eldridge is the closest thing to Leo Mazzone that Hephzibah coach Jason Osborn has on his team.
"I feel like our pitching coach sometimes," Eldridge said. "Coach and I have a little meeting every day. "We ride around in his golf cart and we talk about our pitchers. I'll tell him straight up. I know when our guys are throwing hot or cold. Who has a better seat for, or a better view, of what's going on out on the mound than me? I can tell with the first pitch whether or not our pitcher wants to win that day."
This goes beyond calling pitches for each hitter. Eldridge has a voice in who starts and finishes each particular game for the Rebels.
"He's a smart player and I trust his judgement," Osborn said. "We are usually on the right page about our pitchers. To tell you the truth, I feel more comfortable with my choices knowing I know what our catcher thinks."
Eldridge is also lead counsel for who's on his last legs on the mound or in the dugout between half-innings.
"I might have a no-hitter going but if Bronson says 'Coach, Dane is done,' then I'm cool with it," Hephzibah pitcher Dane Jennings said. "I know Bronson says that not for my benefit but the team's benefit. I know he's going to make the right choice. He's a four-year starter. He's been there long enough to know. Just like a coach would."
The first time Osborn leaned on him, the backstop was a little surprised.
"I was like 'Are you for real?' " Eldridge said. "But when I saw he was serious I just gave him my actual input. I realize that's special territory for a high school kid. Even a senior."
Every Hephzibah player respects the extra role Eldridge has on the team. Eldrdige hit in the bottom of the order for the Rebels last year.
That wasn't good enough.
"I did something about what I needed to get better," Eldridge said. "All my friends were at the lake last summer while I was out hitting baseballs. I wanted to do it. I had to. I didn't want to look back at my last year of Hephzibah baseball with any regrets."
Now, Eldridge's name is penciled in every game as the cleanup hitter.
"He just started hot this year and kept right on hitting," Osborn said. "He's the guy we feel most comfortable with up at the plate in a tight spot with the bases loaded."
There might be better players on the team, but there is no one player the team could least afford than Eldridge.
"Hey, I had to earn this role," Eldridge said. "I like it. My coach trusts me. It helps me relax out there to know I have the confidence of my coach like that."
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