Eli Dickens, Mason Ward, Bryan White and Tanner Shelton were all 2013 graduates of local high schools, with Shelton and White from Etowah, and Dickens and Ward from Cherokee.
The Yankees complied a 55-4 record over the summer, but they almost didn’t make it to the World Series.
The Yankees actually lost in the Southeast regional, but they were able to advance to the World Series when the team that beat them was disqualified for using ineligible players.
“It was a weird situation,” said Shelton, a Georgia Tech signee. “We played in the regional to qualify and we ended up losing in the championship game. The team we played had illegal players and we ended up qualifying later that day when they had to forfeit. We were all moping around kind of upset, and then we got an email from coach (James) Beavers saying we were going. I’m pretty sure everyone just got a huge uplift at that point. I know I did.”
Shelton, who has been a part of the Yankees team for three years, knew this would be his last shot at the World Series, and he made the most of the experience.
“Finding out that we would get a chance to go was amazing,” he said. “I was looking forward to it from the day we found out, for sure.”
It was the sixth Connie Mack title for the Yankees program, which has sent 24 players to the major leagues, including current major leaguers Marlon Byrd, Stephen Drew, Dexter Fowler and Gordon Beckham.
For White, playing in the World Series was just like the tales he had been told.
“Our coach always told us that it would be the best experience in your baseball career so far, and he was completely right,” said White, a UNC Greensboro signee. “Regardless of the fact that we won, having a host family and all that was just a great experience. Then, actually winning it was amazing.”
In the double-elimination Connie Mack World Series, it can take as few as five games to win the title. The Yankees did it in five and outscored their opponents by a combined margin 33-6.
White, a right-handed pitcher, entered in relief and recorded the final six outs of the title game.
“I struck out the last guy to win it,” he said. “When I threw that last pitch, I was just in complete shock — the dogpile and everything.”
Shelton, a left-handed pitcher with an 8-0 record during the summer season with East Cobb, pitched in the World Series semifinal, an 11-2 victory.
“In the Connie Mack World Series, specifically, our hitting really came around,” Shelton said. “Our hitting was on fire in the Connie Mack. We had good pitching and thought that would be our strength as they carried us all year.”
Uniting with players they often faced during the high school season was another highlight.
“During travel ball during the summer, we just get really, really close,” White said. “We would hang out outside of baseball. It’s an experience I will never forget.”
The Reinhardt-bound Dickens felt it was chemistry that set the Yankees apart.
“When you combined that chemistry with the talent, it was just nearly unbeatable,” he said. “In New Mexico, it was (unbeatable).”
As for playing in the World Series, each of the players agreed it was an awesome experience.
“It was huge,” Shelton said.
Dickens, who joined the Yankees last year, took it a step further.
“It was probably the greatest experience of my life,” he said. “There was 6,000 to 8,000 people per game there. It was almost like playing in a minor-league stadium. There was a whole section behind home plate for college and pro scouts.”
The summer of baseball didn’t leave much time for other activities, although White said several of the Yankees players went fishing when they were in New Mexico.
Still, White, who was moving into his dorm in Greensboro, N.C., when reached by phone, said he wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“It was a life-changing experience,” White said. “The whole thing was.”