BRADENTON -- The Grayson-Loganville baseball game always has a bit of significance even if the two are in separate counties and only get to play once a year. The two high schools are separated by less than five miles and share a Loganville, Ga., address. Many of the athletes grew up playing baseball or attending summer camps together.
LHS was lucky enough to be the host in 2013 when the local tradition became a national sensation. In the days leading up to the March 12 meeting between the Rams and Red Devils, Austin Meadows met with a scout or executive from nearly every MLB team. He did interviews with every local television station and newspaper. Even Sports Illustrated was there to see GHS' Meadows, the No. 1 player in the country, go against LHS' Clint Frazier, No. 2, in front of nearly 1,000 spectators and scouts from pretty much all pro teams at Loganville Middle School.
"It was awesome just being able to have that support from the community," Meadows said. "It was pretty surreal."
Frazier and his Red Devils won the showdown 14-4 -- Frazier went 2-for-4 with two home runs -- and three months later he was taken fifth by the Indians in the 2013 MLB Draft. Meadows was selected by the Pirates four picks later. Even now, they're only separated by seven spots in the MLB.com's list of top prospects -- Meadows is No. 38 and Frazier No. 45. On Saturday, Meadows will become the first to be a midseason All-Star when he represents the Marauders in Port St. Lucie for the 2015 Florida State League All-Star Game at Tradition Field.
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"With the ability that Austin had he pushed me every single day to try and go out there and out-compete him on the field," Frazier said.
They grew up playing on travel ball teams together at 9 actually never played against each other until high school. The two always have been, and inevitably always will be, linked by proximity even if their playing styles were dramatically different.
Frazier was a 6-foot-1, 190-pound outfielder with Popeye forearms and a puff of red hair popping out from beneath his cap. He looks like a Georgia power hitter should, and at the time the righty had the numbers to match his appearance.
Meadows was the natural. Before the game he was the No. 1 player in the country and Frazier was No. 2, according to Baseball America. He was an outfielder, too -- 6-3 inches and 200 pounds -- and was probably more accurately described as lanky than muscular with a sweet left-handed swing and sweeter personality.
The hype really began to swirl around Meadows during the summer before his senior year, and the only ones who seemed to make a big deal out of the scouts lining the bleachers at nearly every game were Meadows' teammates.
"They kind of gave him a hard time about it," Grayson head coach Jed Hixson said, "which I think in some ways kept Austin humble. They would kind of poke fun at him and stuff and he'd take it in stride.
"He didn't want a whole lot of that on him."
Before an exhibition game leading up to his senior year, the Rams traveled about half an hour southeast to Winder-Barrow for a preseason scrimmage. It was a cool and windy day in February with temperatures down in the 30s, and when GHS stepped off the bus there was a mob waiting for Meadows -- grown men clutching Meadows Team USA or All-American baseball cards and hawking for the top prospect's autograph.
His senior year at Grayson was a whirlwind of college coaches, professional scouts, television cameras and magazine profiles. Meadows shared classrooms and eventually a graduation day with Robert Nkemdiche, the No. 1 football recruit in the country who now plays defensive end at Mississippi, and just about every day during their senior year there was a scout or reporter around.
As juniors, both solidified themselves as truly elite prospects. Led by Nkemdiche, the Rams won the football state championship in 2011 and Meadows, who played wide receiver and punted, caught a touchdown during the semifinal. The following summer he solidified himself as the top baseball prospect in the nation and stopped playing football.
"I got phone calls from professional teams," Rams head football coach Mickey Conn said. "It was funny to hear them talk about they were impressed that he was a two-sport athlete. I was kind of taken back by it because being a two-sport athlete was like nothing to him."
He was smooth on the football field, too. Hixson remembers throwing batting practice to Meadows during his freshman season and marveling as the scrawny freshman effortlessly whizzed balls past the L-screen like he was a broad-shouldered professional.
The same sort of talent was visible on the football field where Conn watched Meadows, the son of a Division I football player, dominate punt, pass and kick competitions as a young child at youth camps.
"He's always been a terrific athlete," Conn said. "He's just not a boastful person. He's just real quiet and he did his job. He's just a real sweet kid."
In his first season with Bradenton he's been a reliable presence atop the lineup and in center field for the Pirates' Class A-Advanced affiliate, and with a .279/.354/.367 slash line, he remains Pittsburgh's No. 4 prospect and the top one with the Marauders.
Still, it feels there's more potential to unlock.
In a game against the Miracle last week, Meadows used his speed to stretch a routine single into a double and manager Manager Michael Ryan could have celebrated his star player's standout play. He knows Meadows ability and instead confessed, "I wish he'd do that more."