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Leaning over a fence, taking photos and taking notes for five nights over the past couple of weeks may not sound exciting, but following the Spencer County Bears baseball team as they made a historic run in the postseason is one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever covered.
People critical of baseball often say the game moves at too slow of a pace, but to me, that’s the beauty of the game. The long pauses between pitches and the respites between innings gives you a chance to think, and baseball is a thinking man’s game. That’s what makes it perhaps the most difficult of the team sports to master.
Football is the ultimate team sport and for a couple hours on a Friday night or a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, it can be the most enjoyable game to witness. It’s controlled combat on the field and the teams operate like armies in their objectives to gain ground, reach objectives and defeat the enemy.
In Kentucky, we’re born and bred to love basketball. The sound of a ball dribbled on the hardwood inside the gym followed by the swish of the net is music to the ears of most of us raised in the Commonwealth. Basketball is our passion and for countless youth, it’s their rite of passage.
But baseball is pure America. It’s about team and working together, but more than any other sport, it’s also about individual confidence, ability and composure. When nine individuals on the same team can perform their task at a high level, the team moves forward.
Football requires strength, a certain amount of toughness and depending on the position, some extra weight or some blinding speed are pretty much requirements. In basketball, speed and height on a team can make the difference between good and great. In baseball, the advantages are less about a particular player’s build or athleticism, and more about their mastering of skills.
What’s the hardest thing in sports? Hitting a baseball. Any major leaguer who completes his career with a .300 batting average is considered a very good hitter and there are plenty who have made it to the Hall of Fame with lower averages. Willie Stargell, the Pittsburg Pirates slugger from the ‘70s and ‘80s summed up the difficulty when he said, “They give you a round bat, throw you a round ball and they tell you to hit it square.”
Then there’s the art of pitching. It’s not simply about throwing the ball hard or straight, but it’s a mind game with the batter. Those individual contests put both pitcher and hitter in the spotlight. Unlike basketball, they can’t pass the ball to a teammate to let them make the play, and unlike football, they’re not protected by the anonymity of the facemask. There’s simply more pressure on the individual in baseball during the game than other sports.
Even the fielders, while they may only get a few balls hit their way all game, must be engaged on every pitch. In their mind, they must play out every scenario before it happens and have the ability to focus through the boredom. There’s a reason the little kids who play this game are often seen chewing on their glove, watching planes fly overhead or playing in the infield dirt – and there’s a reason why those who don’t grow out of those habits never make it past coach-pitch.
I thought about these things while leaning over the rail, waiting between pitches. I also thought about other things, like:
• Kids. The seniors on this Bears team are familiar faces. I enjoyed a little coaching when my son played and I remembered the names and the faces. They’re good kids and it was great watching them have so much success in their senior season. For some, more baseball this summer or at college next year awaits. For others, the next time they pick up a bat it will be in the church softball league. For all, my wish is that they’ll be better young men for having put in thehard work and commitment it took for them to achieve a memorable season.
• Loyalty. I saw that on display with a kid named Travis Jamison. Travis was a good player for years and a valuable member of the high school team until he made a personal decision about his own future and joined the cooperative program at UPS that will help him afford college. His work schedule conflicted with his baseball practice schedule and he had to choose. I’m sure it was difficult, but it took a certain amount of maturity for the young man. What’s special is that Travis made it to every game in the post-season, helping serve as a manager, cheering on his former teammates from the bench.
• Remembering. In addition to a broad smile, Travis also often wore a shirt with the name Goodlett on the back, in memory of a former teammate and friend, Chaz Goodlett. Chaz played ball with most of these seniors during their youth and during middle school. He was killed following an accident early in his freshmen year but he was not forgotten. Chaz’s mother was in the stands this season and said it’s been tough, but said she was so thankful the boys remembered her son.
• Small towns. I love how the Spencer County community will rally behind a team. It’s evident on Friday nights when the football team plays. It was evident a few years ago when the basketball team made their own history by reaching the region final and taking close to 3,000 Spencer Countians to Henry County’s 5,000 gymnasium for that championship game. Sports has the power to unite a community, and it’s something these high school kids can be proud of for years to come. The Spencer County students and adults made up the region’s largest and most vocal fan base at the 8th Region baseball tournament.
Good luck to the Spencer County baseball seniors and to all of the class of 2013. Good luck also to Coach Steve Slaughter who got to exit the game on a very high note.
One last congratulations goes to Spencer County catcher Nathan Conard. Slaughter reported over the weekend that Conard had been voted to the East/West Sophomore All-Star game to represent the 8th Region. The game will be played at Pleasure Ridge Park in late June.