Area baseball finally took the field Friday with teams shaking off the rust and frustration of two months’ inaction to rediscover the joys of being the boys of summer. And no one had to wear a winter coat!
Pleasant Hill, OH – Roger Kahn, the man who wrote the iconic book, The Boys Of Summer, would have loved this. Kahn’s book, of course, detailed the trevails of the Brooklyn Dodgers during their glory years in the 50s. It’s still one of the best baseball reads of all time!
But in a different sense – in a pure baseball sense – the story was all the same Friday evening as Jeff Sanders’ Fort Loramie Redskins traveled down route 48 to Pleasant Hill to play Jordan Kopp’s Newton Indians…finally! It marked the first actual on-field action for both teams, courtesy of spring sports being cancelled as a result of the coronavirus, and it served as a reminder that there’s probably nothing healthier for body and soul than baseball…on a 74-degree day.
Played with a scrimmage format, no one even kept score. That’s how good – how fun – it was.
About a hundred people showed up to watch. Social distancing didn’t seem to be a concern, or problem. No one wore a mask on a breezy spring day, or had to wear a winter coat to watch high school baseball. What a concept!
The baseball, itself, was rapid – predictable. There were no pitchers…both teams hit off a pitching machine.
“Kids arms just aren’t ready,” said Indians coach Jordan Kopp. “We’ll hit off the machine for few days until they catch up.”
But there was mid-season contact at the plate. Fort Loramie’s Clint Hilgefort hitting the hardest ball of the day, a line drive that struck the base of the fence 380 feet away in left center field.
And both teams made plays in the field, mostly out of instinct, proving that while they haven’t been able to physically play, the mind and the reflexes play on just the same.
Newton junior Dylan Huber scored from second base on a single to center field in the fourth inning, and while he didn’t need to…slid with all the gusto of scoring the winning run in the bottom of the ninth of game seven of the World Series.
“With the quarantine going on…this was just so nice to get back out here and do what we love to do,” said Huber. “None of us thought it was fair to have the game taken away from us like that, and you know…it’s just nice to come back out today and play in nice weather and have people show up to watch. We really appreciated that.”
It was a theme spoken by more than one…the frustration, the discouragement, the disappointment, and even a little anger of having a third of the school year taken away as a result of an invisible threat.
“I’d say frustration, probably,” said Huber. “Because this is one of my favorite things to do. It hurt when we learned that we couldn’t come out here and do it. So to finally be out here and do what we love is pretty nice.”
One even said, “I won’t take it for granted again.”
“Well, it’s not just being able to play, it’s being able to play in good weather on a 74-degree day,” said Newton’s Kopp. “And it’s good to see the kids out here, enjoying it, hearing the crack of the bat…seeing some good base hits and some good defense. As a coach you want to see that, even though it’s early.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to get 16 to 20 games in over the next month. That’s the goal. If we could get to 20 games that would be a really successful summer for us.”
Loramie’s Sanders, who guided the Redskins to their third state title two years ago in his first season as coach, pretty much echoed Kopp’s sentiments.
“You come out here, there’s sunshine, baseball, some sweat, get dirty…we’ve had a couple of practices leading up to today and the players have been excited to be there,” he said. “It’s refreshing after being cooped up all this time. Now we’re doing the things we normally do, and hopefully we can get to a place where we can feel the normal routine of the season. Hopefully, our goal is to try and play 20 to 25 games.”
But as good as it was to play, experience, and watch baseball…nearly everyone conceded that high school baseball played in summer-like conditions is a concept that deserves to examined, and considered over all the objections as to why it can’t be done.
“This weather is just unbelievable, to play on a day like this,” said Kopp. “I would say this. If high school baseball was played in the summer it would be very hard to get a coaching job. No one would EVER retire. Think about it…you could be at the ballpark at 10 am to get ready for a 5 o’clock game if you had weather like this every day. It’s nice, and the smile on the kids’ faces tells you they enjoy playing in warm weather. That’s reason enough to try and play baseball in the summer.”
Sanders agreed, but conceded that it’s not as easy as just wishing it could be so.
“The weather is nice,” he added. “But there are so many demands on kids’ time now, not like it used to be when we played high school baseball. There are other sports competing for their time and focus. And I think that after they graduate they tend to move on with their life. Yeah, it’s great to think about playing baseball in the summer, but kids’ summers are packed. Every sport wants some of their time. They don’t have much of a chance to be a kid anymore. So there’s really no black and white answer to the question of playing summer baseball. When we played it was different. Now, it’s a different era. There are different demands, and so many more hours and commitments.”
But a lot people who watched took notice of the difference – baseball on a warm summer day. Kids with a broad smile…the crack of the bat…plays being made. And don’t tell Mike DeWine, but there some ‘high fives’. And why not?
Friday represented the boys of summer reprised, without worry, frustration, disappointment…and threat. This was natural…and warm.
What a good idea!
Roger Kahn would have approved.