One, he works with Oxford’s pitchers and calls every pitch during the Yellow Jackets’ games. Headed into this weekend’s semifinal series at Spain Park, they have given up just eight runs in six postseason games. Factoring in one 13-inning game against Pell City, that’s a span of 48 innings.
Two, all three of Oxford’s starters have signed with Division I programs, two with SEC programs, and the major league draft looms.
And three, Oxford’s head coach, Wes Brooks, an old catcher whose path includes playing for Jacksonville State University and Wellborn High School, turned over the pitch calls to Wright, an old pitcher whose path includes old rival Troy and Pleasant Valley.
A 10-year member of Oxford’s staff, Wright has called Oxford’s pitches on game day since 2008, a span that covers the careers of ace Tucker Simpson, a Florida signee, No. 2 starter Jackson Stephens, an Alabama signee, and two seasons of Trey Pilkington, now at Alabama.
That span also covers Oxford’s run to the 6A finals in 2009.
How hard was it catcher/Gamecock/Panther to turn the calls over to a pitcher/Trojan/Raider?
Not nearly as hard as one might expect.
“Me being the head coach and a catcher — and I’ve always called pitches — it was tough for me to do,” Brooks said. “But my first year was ’06-’07, and, in the middle of ’08, I was like, ‘He knows what he’s doing.’
“So, I just kind of stay out of his way.”
That’s not to say Brooks has no input.
He and his staff scout hitters, and Brooks gives Wright a call sheet reflecting what hitters can and can’t hit. Wright takes that and compares to his own sense of what’s working for each pitcher on a given day.
Brooks, meanwhile, positions the defense based on the spray chart.
“If the hitter can’t hit a curve ball, but our pitcher’s curve ball is terrible that day, he (Wright) knows that,” Brooks said. “I don’t. The other coaches don’t. The players don’t, except him and the pitcher.
“He does a good job of understanding what that guy throws best, where as I, as the head coach, want to throw what the hitter can’t hit or maybe set him up for what he can’t hit, but he really does a good job.”
The results speak for themselves.
Not only has Oxford held Hewitt-Trussville, Pell City and Buckhorn to a combined eight runs in 48 innings, but Simpson threw a perfect game against Hewitt. Brooks, meanwhile, positions the defense based on the spray chart.
He and Stephens teamed up to hold Pell City to two runs in the 13-inning opener to their second-round series.
It helps to have three starters who can register 90 or higher on a radar gun.
“Obviously, the talent level on the mound has a lot to do with it,” Brooks said. “At the same time, Coach Wright does a really good job of throwing what’s working for the pitcher best that day.”
Brooks came to Oxford at a time when the school wanted a baseball coach with head-coaching experience and value as an assistant football coach. He had an idea what a treasure he inherited in Wright, having seen him up close during their days in college ball.
Brooks was a graduate assistant at JSU when Wright beat the Gamecocks 1-0. JSU had Bill White, a Cincinnati Reds draftee, on the mound that day.
When Brooks was a senior and Wright a junior, they went head-to-head.
“He hit a home run off of me, but I won the game,” Wright said. “That’s what I keep telling him. We won. I think It was, like, 13-2.”
Both coaches acknowledge debating strategy, away from players. Brooks likens it to offensive and defensive coordinators going at it in football.
Wright said he became more “head strong” with catchers later in his playing career, which included a stop at Gadsden State. Brooks laughs when asked how often Wright would shake him off, if Brooks was catching and Wright pitching.
“Probably 50 percent of the time,” Brooks said.
There’s no debating at game time, and Wright’s touches have come to play during Oxford’s postseason run.
In the perfect game against Hewitt-Trussville, he switched on Simpson’s tendencies when Hewitt came ready to sit on Simpson’s fastball.
“I noticed during that game that he (Simpson) would throw a first-pitch curveball for a ball, and 99 percent of the time, in years past, we’d come back with a fastball,” Brooks said. “Well, we doubled up on a lot of curveballs on a 1-0 count.
“They were like, ‘He’s not throwing fast balls on fast ball counts, so we can’t just sit there for a fast ball now.’”
Simpson said it was like he and Wright shared a brain that night.
“Every time he called something, it was exactly what I was thinking,” he said. “Whether it was with two strikes, an 0-2 count and call a fastball up, we were right on the same page.
“That was important to keep the flow of the game going.”
Wright normally likes to attack the strike zone, and Simpson said that aggressive approach works well with Oxford’s pitchers.
They have the option to shake off Wright’s call.
“With his breaking down scouting reports, especially when we’re playing against guys I’m not too familiar with, more than not I’m going to go with his opinion, unless I’ve seen something first time through,” Simpson said. “I would say, almost 100 percent of the time, he’s exactly right.”
Wright doesn’t just work with pitchers. He also coaches a base --- he done third and first --- when the Yellow Jackets bat. He throws batting practice.
“He’s ready to be a head coach,” Brooks said. “Obviously, I want him here as long as I can have him, but … he’s pretty much a head coach, already.
“If any job comes open that he wants, I’m definitely going to highly recommend him for it.”
Wright, 33, said he has fielded offers, including some from schools within Calhoun County, but he’s waiting for the right situation.
“I like my job. I like where I’m at,” he said. “I’m not going to go somewhere just to be a head coach. Why leave somewhere that you like if it’s going to be for something that you don’t like?
“If the right situation comes along, then I’ll take that opportunity. If it don’t, then I’ll be here, I guess.”
For as long as the old pitcher/Trojan/Raider is coaching under Brooks, the old catcher/Gamecock/Panther is glad to yield the pitching calls.
“It just works good,” Brooks said, “and why try to mess with something when it’s working good.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.