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Back to the Future for Posey, Heyward

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

ATLANTA -- As I scurried back and forth between the Atlanta and San Francisco clubhouses Thursday afternoon at Turner Field, hoping to find rookie phenoms Buster Posey of the Giants and the Braves' Jason Heyward eager to reminisce in colorful detail about the 2005 GHSA Class AAAA State Championship series in Leesburg that their high school teams played against each other, one thing quickly became apparent.

Posey and Heyward both like to live in the present -- but they certainly haven't forgotten about the past.

"I don't think I'll (seek him out this week) to talk about it because we're both pretty focused on what's going on in front of us right now. But it is kind of cool (to think) that five years ago we were playing for a state title against each other ... and now here we are," said Posey as he sat surrounded by reporters in the Giants' dugout just before batting practice. "We were trying to win it -- but they came in and got it from us."

I wasn't living in Southwest Georgia at the time, but as I spent time talking to Posey, Heyward and Lee County baseball coach Rob Williams about that series leading up to Thursday night's opener between the Braves and Giants, hearing the stories surrounding that wild three-game set sure does make a fella wish he was.

"It was a great -- truly great -- series of ball games between two great teams," Williams told me Wednesday night before I traveled to Atlanta. "It's (a series) I sure wish we'd won -- but it's also one I don't think anyone will ever forget."

It was the classic battle of Big Dog vs. Underdog -- Posey's Trojans were the No. 1 seed and came in with a record of 32-3, while Heyward's prep team -- the Henry County Warhawks -- were a lowly No. 4 seed, had a 23-9 record and rode Heyward's big bat all the way to the finale.

"It was just a matchup of class teams with two class players in Buster and Jason," Williams recalled. "Buster was a senior and Jason was just a sophomore -- but it was apparent they were in a class all their own."

And with that, the stage was set.

By the time the state finals arrived in early June 2005, Lee County had been sitting idle for almost a week, waiting on Henry County to finish its rain-delayed semifinals. Henry County came in red-hot (winning 17 of its last 20 games that year), while the Trojans were well-rested, although Williams said Posey was still recovering from a back injury suffered in the quarterfinals.

"Ahhh ... I don't know (how much of an injury it was). It really wasn't that bad," Posey remembered Thursday. "It wasn't anything real big."

And looking at the numbers Posey posted over those three games -- he went 6-for-8 with a home run and four RBI, and also pitched five innings of one-run ball in Game 1 -- he's telling the truth.

"(Buster) really swung the bat well the whole time," said Heyward, who arguably was just as good -- or better -- in the series as Posey, going 6-for-10 with a HR and 8 RBI. "He did then, and he still does now."

Posey also took notice of Heyward.

"I didn't really know who he was coming in, but I knew afterward," Posey said of the towering, 6-foot-4 Heyward. "I didn't find out until after it was over that he was a sophomore -- and I was really surprised when I found that out because he was just so big. I remember being really surprised to find out he was that young.

"But he was a good player. Dangerous hitter. Dangerous runner."

Game 1 saw Henry County draw first blood, winning a pitcher's duel, 2-1, despite Heyward going 0-for-2 with two walks and Posey allowing just one unearned run from the mound, while going 2-for-2 at the plate with two walks, one of which was intentional.

"That loss was a tough one (to swallow)," Williams recalled. "The game was tied, 1-1, when we pulled Buster. He played great. He gave us all he had."

But while Game 1 was as tight as it could get, the same could not be said for Game 2, which saw Lee County win, 14-10. And both Heyward and Posey had a big hand in the staggering run output.

Posey served as Lee County's designated hitter in that contest, going 2-for-3 with a home run, a double, three runs scored and 4 RBI, while Heyward went 2-for-4 with a double, two runs scored and three RBI.

"Both hit long home runs that (series)," Williams said. "Buster's was long, but Heyward's (in Game 3) was longer. We're talking, like, out to the parking lot on Jason's."

Heyward actually started Game 2 on the mound, but got absolutely rocked, as Williams tells it, lasting just 1 1/3 innings and giving up one run in the first and five in the second before being pulled.

Although, Heyward flashed a sly smile Thursday when he recalled Posey's at-bat against him in that contest.

"I think we only got him out, like, one time in that whole series -- a deep fly ball -- and it came when I was pitching," the 20-year-old Atlanta rookie said before quickly adding with a laugh: "But (we caught) it right at the wall. The guy almost hit a home run off me."

While Lee County prevailed in that wild Game 2 which featured Henry County coming to within one run of the Trojans at one point after Lee County had built an 8-0 lead -- thanks to a seven-run fourth inning in which Heyward batted twice -- Posey and Co. forced a decisive Game 3 on their home turf with the hope of the school's first state baseball title on the line.

Unfortunately for Trojans fans -- and Posey -- what happened next was arguably one of the most painful endings in the history of Lee County athletics.

And it had everything to do with Heyward rising to the occasion, while Posey missing his chance in the final inning to play one-up him.

Lee County -- which lost a coin toss before the game to decide the home team -- jumped out to a 14-8 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth inning and looked to be cruising to that elusive state crown. But then -- with one out -- Heyward, who'd already hit a massive three-run shot in the first inning that Williams eluded to earlier, came to bat, laid down a bunt, reached safely and eventually scored, sparking a six-run inning. The Warhawks' order batted around in the sixth as Heyward later came up with the bases loaded and two outs.

The result?

"He hit a bases-clearing double and they scored three more runs," Williams said with a hefty sigh. "And just like that, the game was tied, 14-all. Heyward got it going with that bunt, then he finished it off (with that double)."

Henry County would score two more runs in the eighth inning -- "I always tell with people that they went for a two-point conversion and were successful," Williams said -- to go ahead, 16-14, and set the stage for a ninth inning they're still talking about in Leesburg -- even five years later.

Long story short? Lee had one man on base with one out in the top od the ninth -- and Posey on deck. But the Trojans hit into a double play, ending their dream season -- and leaving Posey trudging back to the dugout wondering, "What if?".

When asked Thursday if he ever played the scenario back in his head, only with a different ending, he stuck by his mantra of not forgetting the past, while staying focused on the present.

"I probably did a bunch five years ago," began Posey, "but not much anymore these days.

"Like I said before, I think (these days) we're both pretty focused on what's going in front of us right now."

That would include Heyward leading the Braves to first place in the NL East, while batting .264 with 11 homers and 50 RBI in the 90 games, compared to Posey's .355 batting average with eight homers and 37 RBI in the 57 games with the Giants, who sit in second place in the NL West behind the San Diego Padres.

And with that state title series now five years in each star's rearview mirror -- and each putting together seasons that have arguably turned the NL Rookie of the Year award into a two-horse race at this point -- there's certainly nothing wrong with looking to a pair bright futures.

But at least for a day, it was fun to look back.