The Valdosta Daily Times
From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Jim Bennett is a local attorney in Valdosta. After that, he is simply known as coach for a select group of local baseball players.
Bennett, who is a partner at Bennett Law Firm in Valdosta, is the head youth baseball coach of the Georgia Batmen, which are traveling youth baseball teams that play out of Valdosta.
Earlier this week, Bennett and his oldest Batmen team, the 12U Batmen, a team comprised of local 11- and 12-year-olds, were informed they will be competing in Cooperstown, N.Y. next June.
Cooperstown, the home of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, hosts an annual 12U youth baseball tournament each June. One hundred and 10 teams will compete in the tournament, including Bennett’s Batmen.
“It is the top of most kids’ and coaches’ bucket lists, as far as travel baseball goes,” Bennett said. “We have run into people that have experienced it and they said it was a once in a lifetime trip.”
Nearly two dozen states will be represented at the tournament, which will feature six pool play games and then a single elimination tournament producing one 12U tournament champion.
The Batmen are not the first team to compete in the Cooperstown tournament, says Bennett.
“Other people have said it has been the best experience of their life,” Bennett said. “So we have been waiting on these guys to get old enough.”
The Batmen were picked to compete in the tournament after applying for admission. Their application was reviewed in September and they were informed on Oct. 1 that they had been selected to participate in the annual event.
Now that the Batmen have been selected, the fundraising for the event will hit full-swing. Bennett said the fundraising efforts are off to a “great start” but it is an ongoing process.
“It is an ongoing fundraising effort,” he said. “It is expensive to take 11 kids to New York for a week.”
To help pay for the trip, the Batmen themselves have started to establish fundraisers. Bennett said the team has already hosted a 10U tournament at the Batmen’s home field, located on Bennett’s home property, bagged groceries at Harvey’s Supermarket, and helped worked at Chick-fil-a and Zaxby’s. The team will also host a Boston Butt sale during the holiday season and more fundraising efforts at Chick-fil-a and Zaxby’s are planned for the near future.
One cost the Batmen won’t have to worry about paying on the trip is the cost of lodging. All 11 members of the team and coaches will stay in their own cottage within the Cooperstown Dream Park, where they will have the opportunity to mingle with members of other teams.
Bennett, a graduate of Valdosta State University and then Mercer Law, started the Batmen in 2006 when his oldest son, who is now a member of the 12U team, became old enough to play competitive baseball. At first, the Batmen was simply a T-ball team playing within the local recreational department, said Bennett.
“It started when my oldest son was 2-years old. He said Batmen would be a cool name,” Bennett said. “When he started playing in 2006, his first T-ball team was called the Batmen and it just stuck. It started as a local Boys Club (recreational) team and it kind of morphed into a travel team.”
Bennett said the decision to move the Batmen to travel ball was to expose the players to a higher-level of youth baseball. Bennett later established other teams for other age groups. He has coached up to three teams at one time, although he is currently coaching two teams — a 12U and a 9U.
“It became difficult to manage three teams at such a high-level,” Bennett said.
Both Batmen teams participate in 8-10 tournaments around the southeast throughout the spring season and anywhere from 3-4 tournaments during the fall. Usually, Bennett says, the teams don’t compete during the summer because of the heat.
At tournaments, the Batmen have competed against teams from at least 12 different states plus Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. They have also run into several children from national celebrities, including Florida State head football coach Jimbo Fisher’s son, who the Batmen retired as the final out of a tournament to secure the championship.
“It is kind of amazing the people you come across,” Bennett said.
While the Batmen compete throughout the southeast, they occasionally play against other local youth baseball teams that compete through the Boys and Girls Club and the Valdosta-Lowndes County Parks and Recreation Authority leagues.
The players eligible for the 12U team destined for the trip to Cooperstown will all must turn 12 years old between May 1 of this year and April 31 of next year.
Those members are: Austin Bennett, Jake Bennett, Cameron Vickers, Parker Ellis, Spencer Culp, Nick Herndon, Riley Hudson, Jeremiah Lawrence (who has played for Bennett since he was 3 years old), Damon Collins, Cole Rogers and Nathan Trees.
Bennett said players on the Batmen teams do not try out. Kids are added to teams when spots are available.
“People call and if we have a spot to join the team then they come to join the team,” Bennett explained. “It just sort of developed through the years through friends at school and people you meet at tournaments. I added a kid whose dad I met in court one time.”
To help better develop his teams, Bennett turned to his inner ‘Field of Dreams’ character and built the Batmen their own field at his own private property. The field opened in 2007 when he and a players’ father built Bennett Field.
“In the movie ‘Field of Dreams’, Shoeless Joe Jackson summed it best when he said ‘Man I did love this game…..The sounds, the smell…..Did you ever hold a ball or glove to your face,’” Bennett said. “Anyone that’s ever played the game knows what he means by that. I am lucky to get a chance to be involved with the game and to have teams like I do. None of this would be possible without the support that I get from my own family including my wife Lori as well as by law partners who also happen to be my Dad (Mike S. Bennett, Sr.) and my brother (Michael S. Bennett, Jr.). The community has also been great in its support of our boys and our teams through the years and for that we are greatly appreciative.”
As Bennett described in a 2011 Times article, the thought of building his own field initially was a joke.
“A couple dads were standing around and said we should build a field at my place. I thought it was a joke,” Bennett said in the April 2011 story. “One of them had a construction business. Two days later we had excavators and dump trucks out here pushing up wood.”
Today, Bennett said the 2007 construction was kick started because of the lack of youth fields available in Valdosta and Lowndes County.
“Really it is the center of a whole other story,” Bennett said.
“But there are limited youth fields in town. It became kind of a pain to call and reserve fields.”
Now, Bennett and his Batmen have their own field to work and master their craft. The work has paid off, too. The Batmen are notorious for winning several tournaments each season, against top competition from other states.
Bennett grew up in Valdosta. A baseball player for the Lowndes Vikings, his playing career never made it to the college level. After high school, Bennett attended Valdosta State University and then Mercer Law. He returned to Valdosta after graduating from Mercer University. That is when he got into coaching youth baseball.
“I coached baseball long before I had kids,” Bennett said. “Growing up, I loved baseball. I was either playing baseball or trading baseball cards. When I got back from law school, I started coaching at the Boys and Girls Club. When my oldest won was old enough to play, I stopped coaching the other kids and started coaching him and his friends teams.”
Both of Bennett’s oldest two sons are members of the Batmen. Austin is on the 12U team headed to Cooperstown. His middle son Sam is on the 9U team. Bennett’s youngest son Cole is just five years old but is a future Batmen.
“I love the game of baseball and I enjoy working with kids and I love to compete so coaching youth travel baseball is the perfect fit for me,” Bennett said. “We already have shared a lifetime of memories on the ball field, memories that we will talk about until I am an old man. In the end, in addition to just having a good time and making memories, I hope my sons and their teammates, come out of this with a passion for the game of baseball and also learn some good life lessons along the way.”
Bennett receives help from several assistant coaches. Shannon Vickers, Scott Cupl and Sid Williams all help coach the 12U team. Jeremy Caraway, Steve Trees and Ed Joyner help coach the 9U Batmen.
The 9U Batmen include: William Joyer, Sam Bennett, Caleb Trees, Jordan Caraway, Samuel Clements, Connor Clemons, Brady Register, Brady Skipper, Gabe Vining, Kyler Oathout, Riley Borgert, Matt Pearson and Blake Steel.
Those interested in helping the fundraising efforts of the 12U Batmen may write checks payable to payable to Batmen Baseball, Attn. Jim T. Bennett; Bennett Law Firm, P.O. Box 1685 Road; Valdosta, GA 31601.