Estrada-coached HaterBilt team off to solid start this summer
By CHRIS GOLTERMANN
Johnny Estrada spent a career handling pitchers. So when the Newnan resident and former Major League catcher was thrown a fastball from some high school baseball players and their parents, he equally had no problem getting his hands around it.
Estrada’s first crack as a head coach last week went better than he ever could have expected while leading a group of 17 and 18-year-olds to a second place finish at the CABA State Qualifier at the East Cobb Baseball Complex. A team of 19 varsity athletes includes a dozen players from Coweta County used the effort to reach next month’s CABA 18-under Wood Bat World Series in South Carolina.
The team, which carries the “HaterBilt” name of Estrada’s line of clothing and sunglasses, is back in action at East Cobb this week for the Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational among well over 50 participating teams, at least three of which include local players. Joining the HaterBilt team are the Home Plate Chili Dogs’ Childs lineup and the Atlanta Baseball Academy Braves Blue.
“We’ve done pretty good so far,” said Estrada, who had previously assisted on youth teams including those at Home Plate. “It was a chance for me to get back around baseball again. I figured with a daughter playing softball and my son starting to play baseball, I figured it was time to stop sitting on the fence and get involved.”
In their first action since Estrada agreed to try his hand as a head coach, his HaterBilt lineup went 4-2 in the CABA State Qualifier before falling 2-0 to an East Cobb Indians team it defeated by the same score only days earlier. Three of the victories came in shutout efforts. Recent East Coweta graduate and 2012 Times-Herald All-County selection Austin Dohrn pitched a complete-game shutout over the Indians that included six strikeouts during pool play.
Northgate senior Matt Farmakis added a complete-game shutout in an 8-0 win over the East Cobb Dodgers, striking out five in five innings. Newnan High’s Beau Shellnutt fired a two-hitter in the championship game while joining Northgate’s Will Abraham, who pitched a scoreless sixth.
So far the HaterBilt team has had its share of contributors. Tyler Dahlberg (Northgate) and Mitchell Perry (Newnan) had RBI hits in an opening 4-0 win over Foundation Sports. Reliever Brandon Ruston (East Coweta) struck out four in three scoreless innings in a 4-0 loss to the East Cobb Rays that included a hit from Jordan Lewis (East Coweta) and two from Dahlberg.
Clark and Ryan Goodman (East Coweta) both had doubles in the 8-0 win over the Dodgers. East Coweta’s Josh Poole is among two catchers on the roster and Northgate’s Blake Page is sharing time at shortstop with Goodman.
The rest of the HaterBilt lineup, which is also coached by Tim Shelnutt, includes players from Dutchtown, Whitewater, Ola, Luella and Sandy Creek programs.
Estrada, who caught for five National League teams from 2001-08, with his longest stint coming with the Atlanta Braves from 2003-05, sees a lot of similarities in handling young ballplayers.
“Sixteen and seventeen year-olds aren’t unlike pitchers. You’ve got to work with all different kinds of personalities,” he said. “This group has that.”
Estrada said he expects to take the HaterBilt team to at least six tournaments. After the first week of play, they’ve also been able to add more dates to the summer schedule.
“We had some teams come up to us this week and ask if we’d like to play,” he said.
The team will play a 2 p.m., doubleheader today against the Jack City Dodgers at Sandy Creek High School.
Also heading to the Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational this week are the Home Plate Chili Dogs-Childs 17-under lineup including seven local players. They include seniors Robert Massenburg (Northgate), Zach McCurry (East Coweta) and Geremy Walton (East Coweta), who were all named to this year’s Newnan Times-Herald All-County team. County players also include pitcher Alex Bollinger of Sharpsburg, senior infielders Tim Manning and Travis Williams of East Coweta and outfielder Zach Schmits of Northgate.
Atlanta Baseball Academy in Peachtree City travels to Cobb with a lineup that includes five county players participating this week on its 18-under Braves Blue lineup. From Northgate are recent graduate and pitcher Hayden Whitlow, junior pitcher Jonathan Fleckenstein and junior infielders James Porpatic and Liam Malone. That group is joined by East Coweta junior infielder Bryce Gemmel.