Long ride to 700 wins

Some folks can survive on four hours of sleep. I'm not one of them.

Fortunately for the Atlanta Crackers baseball club, Kevin Meistickle can.

The 55-year-old Suwanee resident gets his rest most of the year, but sleep doesn't get top billing during his busy summers of semi-pro baseball. The Crackers' founder, manager and lifeblood, he puts loads of effort and energy into a club he doesn't make a dime on.

Last week's schedule is a good example of Meistickle's work with the Stan Musial League team. The team played four games during the week, and each night he returned after midnight because of late games and field maintenance. His day job is running a landscaping business, which requires getting up at 4 or 5 a.m. So the time in between for sleep is usually in the three- to four-hour range. The routine gets tiring, but Meistickle stays in it for the rewards - being involved with a game he loves, helping kids reach their goals and winning big games. A huge win came Monday night, when the Crackers defeated the DeKalb Astros for franchise victory No. 700.

"I really don't know if I'll get to 800, I don't know how many more years I've got," said Meistickle, who has a 700-277 record with the team he founded in 1983. "I don't know what keeps me going. My daughters ask me that all the time. When you do something for so long, I just can't imagine not doing it."

The club has lasted much longer than Meistickle originally thought. A former draft pick of the New York Mets, he spent a journeyman minor league career with the Mets, Expos, Braves, Twins and Pirates before retiring and settling in Atlanta. He thought it would be nice to start a team to help young players, calling it the Atlanta Crackers at Luke Appling's suggestion. He figured it would be a short-lived venture. Instead, the Crackers and still rolling and so is Meistickle.

They will near their 1,000th career game later this season. Over the years, 135 Crackers have signed to play professional baseball. This year's version features a pair of Gwinnett grads - Damion Overstreet of South Gwinnett and Drew Camp of Buford - as well as assistant and former Cracker player Steve Autry, who has been with the organization and its sleep-deprived manager since 1988.

"I could list 1,000 people that helped me with the team, I couldn't do it by myself," Meistickle said. "It's really nice to get to that (700-win) milestone. It's gone by so fast."

Will Hammock can be reached via e-mail at will.hammock@gwinnett

dailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays.