With five seasons in the books, the Nolan Brothers Cotton States League will embark on its sixth season with that motto in mind.
“It’s what the players do, they come spend a couple of months playing a game they love and getting better at it,” Director of Baseball Operations Frank Dodds said.
What began as a way to promote local collegiate talent has grown to include a high school and junior high baseball league, as well as a softball league for girls.
In 2013, the high school league also began operation in the fall for both baseball and softball.
“It’s a massive undertaking, and it’s not a huge money-maker, Frank and I do this because we love it. We love seeing these kids come out and play the game, to see them improve and go on to do big things at the college or professional level,” Sam Creekmore, Cotton States Baseball Commissioner, said.
Currently, four former members of the Cotton States College League have been drafted, included Mississippi State standout Jet Butler.
Some other familiar faces to swing through New Albany: current Ole Miss pitchers Jeremy Massie and Scott Weathersby.
“I also have to say that [Mississippi State Head Baseball Coach] John Cohen has been a big supporter, he’ll send us guys and ask us to put them in the league, maybe to work on pitching or to get a feel for a new position they might need him in the next season. He’s been very vocal about what we are doing,” Creekmore said.
The Collegiate League features six teams, with 22 high school baseball teams, ten junior high squads, and fourteen softball clubs.
Many of the high school teams will feature local talent from Union County and the surrounding area.
“We are proud of the league because it’s a place to get better, to grow your skills and maybe advance to the next level. We’ve had guys play here and go on to other leagues and do well, which has gotten more interest in what we are doing here,” Dodds said.
The league operates solely with wooden bats, with two companies spawned to help create them.
The two-month schedule also serves to expose athletes to a new area while also giving local talent a place to play.
“We are centrally located so that kid from Columbus can come play, or a guy drive over from Arkansas or down from Memphis. And the local guys, the Ole Miss and State players, we are close to them. For high schoolers, there’s no long travel time, its an opportunity close to home to play with great talent and watch it as well,” Creekmore said.
Above all, it’s the community feel that the league provides.
“We can’t say enough about the City of New Albany, BNA Park, or our sponsors. They have been so wonderful in helping us make this happen every year, for giving these kids an opportunity to play in such a great environment. They’ve made Cotton States what it is as much as our athletes and our coaches have,” Creekmore said.