It hasn’t been the smoothest homecoming for Joey Roach.
The catcher returned from Georgia State to play for the Holly Springs Salamanders (20-19) this summer, but he’s been mired in a statistical slump for most of the season.
Roach, a rising senior, isn’t accustomed to this kind of failure, though. The competitive side of him wanted to come home and lead the way. Instead, he’s been given a lesson in adversity that he hasn’t had while starring in college.
“I’ve always wanted to be the best that I can be,” Roach said. “Being second-best usually doesn’t sit right with me.”
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Roach hates losing, yet he’s lived his whole life as a runner-up.
On August 27, 1993, Joey was born, but twin brother Mike beat him to the punch by 10 minutes.
Since then, Joey’s been competing – with Mike, with others, even with himself.
“With everything we did, there was always competition,” Mike said. “Even with eating, whoever ate the most and the fastest always won.”
They devised the “Error Game.” Their father, Jim, would stand on one side of the backyard and hit pop ups to the two Roach boys, and they’d alternate fielding and throwing it back. Whoever made fewer mistakes won the game.
Mike won the bulk of the competitions, but that never stopped Joey.
It wasn’t just eating: Who had the best grades? Who could catch the biggest fish? Who dominated the basketball court? And of course, there was baseball.
At Holly Springs High, Joey became a three-sport athlete and excelled at each of them.
The twins led the football team on offense with Mike (quarterback) throwing to Joey (wide receiver). Joey made all-conference as a defensive back twice.
In the winter, Joey wrestled, just like his father did in high school.
During the 2011 baseball season, the twins helped the Golden Hawks win the state championship as juniors. Mike played third base and designated hitter, while Joey caught. Chicago White Sox pitcher Carlos Rodon also played on that team.
“I wouldn’t change any of my memories for anything,” Joey said.
After high school, Roach joined Georgia State, playing Division I baseball in the Sun Belt Conference.
“Going down to Georgia was going to be a different experience than growing up in Holly Springs,” Roach said. “I was kind of looking forward to that and having something new.”
It was a new setting and heightened level of competition, but Roach’s success in high school followed him to college.
He made the all-rookie team his first year and first-team All-Sun Belt the subsequent two years. Roach, a career .300 hitter and .980 fielder, also received attention nationally as a semifinalist for the Johnny Bench Award recognizing the nation’s top catcher.
Despite the intense time commitment required of a student-athlete, Roach found a way to perform on the diamond while maintaining a 3.92 GPA through three years.
“Having a strong work ethic has been one of the driving factors that has led me to be able to play college baseball and be able to play in the CPL,” Roach said.
Roach talks up Holly Springs. He loves his hometown.
The great high school athlete back from college was eager to show off his improved skills with the Salamanders. He lives five minutes away from North Main Athletic Complex, where he can get his mom’s ribs, mac and cheese and baked beans.
Ever since Roach learned about the CPL coming to Holly Springs, he wanted to play for the Salamanders and he got his chance.
“I feel like everybody’s rooting for me,” Roach said. “(The fans) are just very supportive.”
Roach’s season started off with a bang. In the Salamanders’ home opener, Roach hit a two-run homer on his first pitch, scoring the team’s first runs at home ever. The right fielder looked like he was going to make a leaping catch at the wall, but it hit the glove and went over.
“That might be my No. 1 baseball moment,” Roach said.
But those bright spots haven’t come around as often, as Roach has struggled.
He’s hitting right at the “Mendoza line” at .200, which is 12th among regular Salamanders batters, though Roach owns a respectable .324 on-base percentage.
“The average isn’t showing it, but he’s been putting the bat on the ball,” coach Andrew Ciencin said. “He looks good at the plate.”
Roach’s return to Holly Springs isn’t entirely a Cinderella story. But don’t worry about him. He has a whole town behind him.