Standing on third . . .
Standing on third . . .
Third base: the hot corner, three-fourths of the way home, 90 feet to punching a ticket. The 2016 James River Rapids varsity baseball team stands at third base heading into today’s game against Prep Baseball Reports 17th ranked Kettle Run out of Fauquier County, Virginia.
Rewinding time for a moment, as the Rapid’s 2015 season ended and knowing the team lost two stud hurlers to D1 campuses - Wake Forest and VMI - admittedly I was a doubter looking ahead to this season. I thought the stable of Rapids hitters seemed to have escaped Dave Cottrell Field as well while leaving the field that last day in May. I was a doubter only in the respect that I had come accustomed to seeing the team work to many a win, and post season play. I wasn’t sure that was in the cards looking to 2016.
Fast forward to the 2016 season opener at Thomas Dale and those doubts seemed to materialize into reality as the Rapids dropped the opener 5-6 after the Knights scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh. Five days later, the Rapids rebounded with a 3-2 win over Clover Hill but returned to the loss column in a hard fought game at Monacan, a 2-3, 10 inning decision.
In the back of mind I knew it was way too early to give up on Coach Schumacher and company, particularly since they were about to embark on their spring break trip. The spring break trips in the past seemed to sprinkle some MLB-type magic dust on the team over the course of 4 days. With this one being returned to South Carolina instead of being played on nearby local turf, that made it even more promising. This trek is about more than baseball - heck, it has to be - 20+ guys packed in vans playing a mere one game a day will absolutely force you to mix in something other than baseball. Sure, the team lost games one and two and was sitting 1-4, but what happened next was the beginning of this season’s journey. On March 30th, the magic dust had settled in on this team. The Rapids earned back to back wins outscoring their opponents 18-0 before boarding their rides to head north.
Little did the team know this was going to be the beginning of a new grind - kids reaching deep - not fully realizing what they would be capable of ahead.
Once back in Midlothian, the Rapids demonstrated stout defensive skills. Now on a ten game win streak, the Rapids have outscored opponents 96-9. Obviously, with numbers like that batting has contributed too. And as familiar hometown opponents knew the strength of Sr 1B Vinnie Pasquantino and avoided giving him something to ring up another season’s end 0.550 plus batting average, somehow the other bats found a way to compensate, and that was with Sr DH Korey Singh still on injured reserves and watching from the dugout!
Rapids teams have long been known for pitching. And as in season’s past, new hurlers emerged on the mound, young new hurlers in Soph RHP Skylar Petry and Jr RHP Peyton McCann working Tuesday’s and Thursday’s respectively. McCann has already broke the strike out records of last year’s studs, with 5 games still to go. Lesson one: if a doubter, never give up on James River’s pitching potential.
Many of this year’s teammates have had magical moments playing among the nation’s best on fields outside of South Carolina. From the looks of where the Rapids stand today, while I was preparing for a ho-hum 2016 season a year ago, these guys were hard at work in places like the Perfect Game and Cobb County facilities in Atlanta, Georgia and the MLB Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals spring training facilities in Jupiter, Florida. Rapids were playing on area elite summer teams like the Virginia Cardinals, Evo-Shield Canes, Richmond Braves and Rise Baseball helping them prepare for their 2016 season. Lesson two: as an earlier doubter, I should have known better.
The 2016 Rapids showed they were not just fair weathered players. After traveling 3 hours west from Cottrell Field in early April, the Rapids piled on a 15-3 win against Franklin County in 42 degree weather with 30 mph gusts - straight out to center field. The Rapids walked off the field with a victory as they did two years ago at home in a critical ticket punching win, a win helped by then sophomores Pasquantino and Carmody who had critical late inning hits.
Sure this team has some great talent evidenced by four seniors (Pasquantino, Singh, Carmody, Smith) who will go on to play college ball at the D1 and D3 levels.
But this team has just as much strength in the effort from guys that had to wait - and wait in the dug outs for more than a single season. Guys like Sr 3B Carter Watson, Sr LF Timothy Rader and Sr 2B Bryce Rosenberg waited, but they came back, they made it to third base and are standing waiting to punch a ticket - to punch the ticket as a team.
These guys are part of that stout defense that has allowed 9 runs in the past 10 games. Carter Watson has transferred his volleyball leaping skills, using them to snare multiple would be extra-bases hits on the hot corner. The others have delivered many a hit and RBI helping rack up 96 runs in the past 10 games. The young talent, Soph CF Tucker Bushby and Soph SS Thomas Jordan will push this team even farther in the years ahead. Juniors that have been waiting and watching from the dugouts, lesson 3: keep pushing as your day is around the corner. With this talent, there should be no doubters come this June.
So as the team stands on third base, with 5 games to go in the 2016 season, my doubts are long erased. No matter how special the magic from any other field may be, the magic of Cottrell Field trumps all. When guys step onto this field, and mix with this coaching staff, knowing who has come before them, they realize the most magical dust is the dust laid on the lines of Cottrell Field, dust that one would be wise to leave the field with some of it tucked into a pocket or sock colored purple and green. Walking on the field, players know that the team is better than any single player, and they know that a single player does not make a team. The grind begins now heading down the last 90 feet. Punch the ticket fellows, punch it as a team.
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