Last week, assistant coach Jiwan James was named the new head baseball coach at Union County (Lake Butler).
He takes over for Travis Rimes, who recently resigned after leading the Tigers to the Class 1A-District 6 title this past season.
“It feels awesome,” James said. “The amount of love and support that has been shown since the announcement has been amazing, almost overwhelming. I’ve had so many people from here in the Lake Butler community reach out and offer to help me in any way that they can and for that, I’m very thankful.”
The former Williston star said he has felt the love since he arrived in Union County, where he has served as an assistant for the past couple of years.
“This isn’t a place where I’ve been thrown to the wolves,” he said. “The people here really care and I’ve felt that since day one two years ago.”
Union County athletic director Andrew Thomas said that James “was an easy choice.”
“He is a highly respected coach in the baseball community,” Thomas said. “He has an elite baseball mind and has been with our program the last two years.”
The foundation has been laid.
In addition to this year’s district title, the Tigers (14-12)—who played one of the most difficult schedules in the state this past season—finished 21-5 in 2021.
“Kids love him,” Thomas said. “He relates well and we look forward to him continuing to build on the success here in Union County with what Coach Rimes had going.”
James said that he can’t say that he’s always wanted to be a head coach.
“It’s just something that has grown on me throughout the past few years coaching high school baseball,” he said.
He’s very passionate about the game and those who play it.
“Obviously I love being around kids and teaching them the game of baseball, but at the same time accepting this position gives me the opportunity to impact these young men’s lives,” James said. “Your high school years are the most important years of your life growing into adulthood and if I can be just one screw on that springboard that sends them off to be successful adults in this world, I’m grateful for it.”
James made the most of his high school career, exploding on the scene during the 2004-05 season.
As a sophomore at Williston, he excelled in football, basketball, and baseball. But his best sport was baseball.
As a pitcher/outfielder that season, James was named one of the Gainesville Sun’s top baseball players in 2005 after finishing 8-0 with a 0.82 ERA, a .477 batting average, 28 RBIs and 25 runs, earning him second-team all-state honors as a sophomore.
By the time he was a senior, the three-sport athlete was ranked as the No. 105 overall player in the country by Perfect Game.
James, who hit .423 with 48 stolen bases and also went 5-1 as a senior in 2007, was very close to becoming a Gator.
However, after getting selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 22nd round of the 2007 Major League Baseball Draft, he turned down an opportunity to play for the University of Florida and signed with the Phillies organization.
He ended up playing pro ball for nine seasons.
“I loved every bit of playing professionally,” James said. “The bus rides, the clubhouse, traveling city to city, interacting with the kids, playing in front of thousands of fans night in and night out and the relationships you build through it all. It was an amazing experience.”
Despite having so much success on the field at Williston, one of his top memories with the Red Devils was as an assistant baseball coach.
A few years ago, Williston defeated rival Chiefland, 4-2, to win the Class 1A state title under head coach Jim Smith.
“Easily the 2019 state championship,” he said. “Doesn’t get any better than beating Chiefland for a state title.”
He’s hoping to have that same feeling again in the purple and gold.