By: John Knebels
PHILADELPHIA – There’s nothing quite like the sounds of aluminum bats smashing baseballs, leather mitts corralling fastballs, coaches shouting instruction, players bellowing encouragement, and umpires commanding, “Batter UP!”
The tragic coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, however, prevented multitudes of high school athletes from entertaining teammates, coaches, fans and family this spring while simultaneously denying life lessons that competitive sports have a tendency to teach.
In an effort to take us behind the scenes of preparation, performance, competition and consequence, 14 Philadelphia Catholic League baseball players were asked to describe a first-person point of view regarding several specific aspects of America’s favorite pastime.
Thanks to the never-ending wonders of video technology, one representative from each PCL school taped himself explaining what it is like to experience the following nuances:
Preparing for the season– The chill of winter still hangs around, but the promise of pounding gloves and swinging aluminum bats – despite the resulting numbed fingers and palms – makes March feel like June. About nine months after the last play of the previous season, it is time to begin again on an even slate, and most everyone can’t wait to get started.
Perspective: Neumann-Goretti senior Joe DiFebbo
Preparing for a home game– It’s not quite noon, and the stomach begins to turn in anticipation. In less than a few hours, inhabitants from a rival school will hop off a parked bus or exit several vans and trudge toward a field and bench area/dugout soon to be transformed from pristine to sullied. Excited classmates donned in school apparel will group together and try to intimidate the opponent . . . community support at its finest.
Preparing for an away game– It’s an academic day that won’t include a full curriculum. After lunch, it’ll time be time to switch from school dress code to baseball uniform. Shortly thereafter, the distinctive scent of idling bus fumes will permeate outside the gymnasium, from where players will leave school about 90 minutes early and load personal bags, equipment, and water coolers onto whatever seats they can find. As the carriage departs for a trip to foreign land, out come the cell phone accessories to aid in some last-minute meditation or shuteye.
Perspective: Lansdale Catholic senior Brendan Keyser
Warmups– The moment of truth is beckoning. Time to stretch and throw . . . and smash warmup pitches in a batting cage or, more likely, drill a soft toss into an oversized mesh screen.
Time to catch a quick glimpse or two of how the other team looks and how they prepare – especially the pitcher. Does he throw a variety of pitches? Is his fastball zipping toward the catcher’s glove at an accelerated speed? Are the pitches consistently near the target, or are they occasionally hitting the ground or perhaps flying overhead toward a cluster of unsuspecting, ducking players? Do the fielders appear able to execute basic flings to each base, a double play, or a relay execution from the outfield? Is the catcher’s arm strong or weak? Is the umpire affable or a curmudgeon?
Perspective: St. Joseph’s Prep senior Owen Beisty
The Art of Pitching– The distance between a pitcher’s mound and home plate is 60 feet, 6 inches, and it takes less than a second for a hurler’s fling to reach the catcher. The complexity of what occurs before that seemingly innocuous athletic feat, however, is profound. A thrower simply rears back and throws as hard as he can, but a pitcher? Depending on his arsenal, he can manipulate a fastball, curve, slider, splitter, or some other variation to make a hitter look, well, flummoxed. Then there’s the mental part of pitching, which can border on absurd anxiety depending on the situation. This is one position that is notfor everyone.
Perspective: Conwell-Egan senior Brady Trimble
The Art of Fielding– Every pitch offers the possibility of a ball hit in your general direction. You need to make a split-second decision. Charge the ball? Take a step back? Hold your throw? Prepare for a relay throw? Back up a base? Experience and instinct usually dictate the success of a fielder.
Perspective: Bishop McDevitt senior Eric Wilson
First inning– If playing defense, the pitcher needs verbal support from the jump. Since no one is more invested than the hurler who stands 60 feet, 6 inches from the plate, the other eight starters are most likely shouting encouragement even before the first pitch. The crowd is on high alert. The fielders are anxious to get that first play out of the way, thus calming the nerves and putting themselves in a different mental state. If playing offense, seizing an early edge is essential. Last season, PCL baseball statistics showed that the team leading after one inning were victorious 67.4 percent of the time.
Perspective:Cardinal O’Hara senior Joe Kelly
Middle Innings– The nerves are long gone. Unless it’s become a total blowout, the outcome still hangs in the balance. If the earlier innings brought about success, now is the time to protect. If behind by a run or more, there’s still time to maneuver back in the game and etch a victory. The end, however, is rapidly approaching. No time like the present to focus hard.
Perspective: Father Judge senior Lenny Gibson
Trailing by a run in the bottom of the final Inning– After all the hustle and bustle, and maybe even some cuts and bruises, you find yourself one run behind with three outs to go. And it’s not just one run you need, ’cause that would only tie the game. At some point, you’ll need to cross the plate at least twice. But first things first. Get on base. Get creative.
Perspective: Archbishop Wood senior Ryan DiVergilis
Leading by a run in the bottom of the final inning– The only obstacle standing in the way of a celebration is getting three more outs. Way easier said than done. All it takes for a heartbreaking consequence is one bad pitch, one misplay, one questionable call, or an umpire who suddenly becomes stingy at calling balls and strikes.
Perspective: Roman Catholic senior Jason Kelly
Trailing by multiple runs– It’s easy to lose heart. Instead of needing one or two breaks, an enormous supply of kind kismet must come your way. Fact is, the likelihood of turning a certain loss into a stunning win is almost nil. However, as the saying goes, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over, especially when the sport is not determined by a time clock. Can’t make a comeback all at once. It starts with a single tally. Patience . . . fortitude . . . trust.
Perspective: Archbishop Carroll senior Owen Noonan
Losing a regular-season game– Disappointment, but nothing catastrophic. In most cases, you can simply re-board and start anew . . . work out the kinks during the next practice. But there’s no avoiding the reality that a lousy taste will persist until future fortunes are reversed.
Perspective: Archbishop Ryan junior Cameron James
Participating in a playoff game– Unlike the regular season, which consists of 12 league games and as many as eight non-league games, teams face one-game eliminations once they reach the postseason. Every decision – every play – is magnified.
The combination of mental aptitude and physical execution separates the pack. This is when performers develop reputations for coming through in the clutch.
Perspective: Bonner-Prendergast senior Nate Furman
Winning a playoff game– You just bought yourself at least 24 hours of tranquility. Who knows what will happen tomorrow, but as for tonight? Relaxed eyes, contented muscles, pleasant recall. Get back to school the next morning and enjoy the high fives and braggers’ rights.
However, keep humble, especially if scheduled to meet the same foe in the future.
Perspective: Devon Prep junior Paul Grycewicz
Winning a championship– Ask athletes who have just captured a title to explain how their team got the job done.
First response almost always includes reminiscing about how all of their year-long diligence – weight training, cardiovascular improvement, nutrition, sleep, sacrifice – was beyond worth it in the end. Plus, since only one team can win a league crown and spend the rest of their life in constant celebration via storytelling and reunions, the moment of inducing that final out or igniting a game-winning rally is, in a word, indescribable.
Perspective: La Salle senior Colin McVeigh
Tag(s): Home Schools Philadelphia Catholic Baseball Philadelphia Catholic League Arch. Carroll Baseball Arch. Ryan Baseball Arch. Wood Baseball Bishop McDevitt Baseball Bonner & Prendie Baseball Cardinal O'Hara Baseball Conwell-Egan Baseball Father Judge Baseball La Salle Baseball Lansdale Cath. Baseball Roman Catholic Baseball Saint Joseph's Prep Baseball Neumann/Goretti Baseball West Catholic Baseball Devon Prep