Justus preparing for 2nd edition of fundraising baseball camp
Connor Justus thought the inaugural Garrett Black Baseball Camp went well, but the former Cartersville High star and current minor league player is hoping for bigger and better things in Year 2.
The first camp, which raises funds for the Garrett Black scholarship, took place this past February with 40-50 youth players in attendance. Justus is looking forward to an even larger turnout this time around for the camp that will take place 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Jan. 11 at Richard Bell Field in Cartersville.
“Obviously, we want to make the number [of attendees] grow a little bit and hopefully see some more kids out there,” Justus said.
Those interested in registering their children for the camp can either do so in person the morning of the event, or they can preregister at GBbaseballcamp.com. The website also has a place where individuals can sponsor a camper or make donations to the scholarship fund, which is awarded annually to a senior on the Canes baseball team.
The scholarship and camp are named in honor of Black, a former Cartersville Little League player. Black, a family friend of Justus, died in March 2011 at the age of 8 after being struck by a school bus.
“It’s an amazing cause,” Justus said of the scholarship fund. “Garrett, it’s all inspired by him. He left a legacy for us about having fun when you’re out there. Whether you’re playing baseball or going to school, it’s about putting your best foot forward and having fun with everything.
“That’s the whole camp, that’s the whole point of being able to bring everyone together is to have fun and to give back. We’re all very blessed, and if we’re able to make an impact in the community, then that’s obviously what we’re going to do.”
Justus will be the lead instructor for the camp and brings a wealth of baseball knowledge.
After starring for the Canes on Richard Bell Field in the early part of the decade, including winning a state title his senior season of 2013, Justus became a standout at Georgia Tech. In 2016, he was selected in the fifth round of the MLB draft by the Los Angeles Angels.
A versatile infielder, Justus played the entirety of the 2019 season for the Double-A Mobile BayBears. The 25-year-old finished the year slashing .184/.286/.254 with 17 doubles, two home runs and 23 RBIs.
“It’s the same game that we all play,” Justus said of any advice he would give camp attendees about playing in the professional ranks. “Whether you’re 5 years old or you’re my age, we’re all chasing after the same thing: We want to play at the highest level.
“But what comes first is being the best person you can be, and then the rest will take care of itself. If you take care of the little things off the field, you’ll take care of the little things on the field.”
While Justus hopes to begin the 2020 season with the Salt Lake Bees, the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate, there’s a chance he will start the year still at the Double-A level. If so, Justus will have to get used to new surroundings.
After 23 seasons in Mobile, the franchise is heading north. Beginning in 2020, the Angels’ Double-A affiliate will be the Rocket City Trash Pandas, who will play their home games in Madison, Alabama, just outside of Huntsville.
“Excitement is a big one,” Justus said of the feelings around the move. “Mobile had a good run, but it was ready for a change. I think Huntsville will be a great change for everyone in the organization.”
There’s plenty of other potential changes coming to the minor leagues. If an MLB proposal is instituted, 42 MiLB teams could be eliminated ahead of the 2021 season. Those reportedly on the chopping block include Rocket City’s Southern League opponents in Chattanooga and Jackson, Mississippi.
Other changes that could go into effect include shortening the draft. All of the moves would lead to a shallower pool of potential players within a given organization’s system.
“Obviously, it limits roster spots, but I think the biggest thing minor league baseball is moving towards is something you can’t really worry about,” Justus said. “It’s something that is part of the game. It’s part of what makes baseball fun, because it never stops changing. …
“You have to take care of your business. You can’t worry about everyone else, what their journey looks like and how everything else in the organization is taken care of. Every time you go out there, you have to play and play to the best of your ability.”
Justus, who lives in Atlanta with his wife, Sidni, has tried to do that since his days in Cartersville Little League. It’s the type of wisdom he hopes to impart during next month’s camp, because for him, passing on what he has learned is one of his ways of giving back to the community that inspired him to chase his dream of making it to the majors.
“It’s why I do what I do,” Justus said. “I do it for my family, I do it for my wife and I do it because every day I run out there I think about the people in Cartersville — my family, Garrett and the people who inspired me. It’s just about being half as good as the people who surround me. …
“I feel like that’s the basis of coming from a place like Cartersville, it’s all rooted in family. I think that’s what my ‘Why’ is.”