Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Longhorns Season Recap

This fall was one of the more fun baseball seasons at Mt. Paran. So much so, please indulge me as I recap some memories of the season.

Henry did a great job teaching, and you could see improvement in every boy. We’ve not had the privilege of having Henry for a coach Will much, and it’s great how he challenges the boys as well makes things fun. He made moves that I would’ve never considered, but they usually worked out well, and the boys were better individuals and baseball players for it.

We had a great set of parents as well, with concerned moms and dads willing to jump in and help out.
Even the brothers and sisters were great to have around, even running around the field and helping out with practice.

So many of these Longhorns had played together in Bronco and were just moving up for their first season of Pony…a big adjustment. But because of parental involvement and hard work by the boys, hopefully the “kiddie corps” had one of their most fulfilling seasons.

Christian’s smile and great attitude showed from the first practice. Henry put a lot of responsibility on his shoulders, batting him second in the order and placing him at many important positions in the field, many that he had never played before. This strengthened our defense and allowed other boys to play featured roles as well. Christian responded by ranking as one of the top offensive players on the team, and came through with many clutch hits to drive in key runs. The Amlands always had a positive word for everyone.

I had never seen John Fulton play, though I’d seen his dad coach for several seasons. I quickly learned that JF doesn’t back down and plays aggressive ball, both at the plate and in the field. It’s great to have players like JF who know how to play several positions. According to Paul’s and my scorecards, JF pitched six innings without allowing a single run, striking out 3 and walking only one. Having George coach first also improved the team, as that’s not exactly my forte.

Michael also knows his way around the diamond, and confidently made many great plays in the field and at the plate. Pressure situations didn’t faze him, and he is a knowledgeable and confident baserunner. His memory is always better than mine, and it was fun to chat about Mt. Paran games from years past that Will and I were a part of, when I didn’t realize Michael was there, taking it all in. Frank often had timely tips for all the boys, and I thought his Gatorade always tasted great.

Josiah was another of the kiddie corps you could tell enjoyed playing, who confidentially and aggressively played the game. He loved to run the bases, and made some wonderful plays at third base, charging and backhanding slow rollers before firing to first. David’s magnetic chart was a big hit, and he was a big help keeping things organized.

It was also easy to see that Joey loved baseball. He too was unafraid to try anything, and was a better hitter because he always was looking for a hit. His hits (and some outs) were amazing to watch. Though he liked to hit low pitches, he had a good idea of the strike zone…taking his share of walks. Don had many great insights and tips…I learned a bunch – and was lots of fun as well.

Bradford has played so long at Mt. Paran…he could be the poster boy! He always has fun, and can play just about every position, including pitcher and catcher, which helps a bunch. Bob is another dad who helps a lot…at practice he usually beat me to the outfield.

In addition to the kiddie corps, Jonathan and Paul were returning to baseball after taking some time off. Jonathan’s fine athletic ability showed up particularly at the plate, where he had as many true base hits as anyone on the team. This gave him his share of RBIs and placed him in the upper half of the stats. One of my favorite things about Jonathan was when something good or funny happened, and his mouth would widen and turn up on one side into a smile, which you could also see in his eyes. We couldn’t have gotten half our practice work done without his dad, whose smile you didn’t have to look hard for.

Paul was on the Shetland Braves with Will back in the fall of 1998…our first season at Mt. Paran. Big Paul did a great job as team dad back then as well. They’ve played together many times since. So after taking a few seasons off, it was great to be back together with the Lovallos, to see how Paul has grown from a little boy into a young man (like they all have!). And even after taking time off, Paul was able to use his athletic ability to be one of the team’s leading hitters and RBI men.

After playing a couple of seasons in Pony, I knew Russell was ready to help lead the team. Henry batted him leadoff, and Russell responded by being near the top in on- base percentage, hits, total bases, and runs scored. He led the team with the most walks and fewest strikeouts. I’ll always remember him charging toward home on the perfectly executed suicide squeeze play. He did the lion’s share of catching and pitched an effective 7 innings, striking out 10 and walking only three. Rick has been such great help in the dugout and at practices in past seasons, but gracefully let other dads help this time.

For years I’ve loved watching Curtis Baker play and improve. Though quiet, he loves to patrol the outfield…but has never shied away from playing hard wherever a coach put him. My favorite play of the year was Curtis playing third-base, diving flat out to his left to make a Brooks Robinson like catch of a line drive. He quietly put together a good season at the plate. Curtis has pitched in the past, but this season became the number one starter, pitching a team leading 14 innings. He struck out 14 and walked only seven, threw an excellent 65% strikes…averaging 18 pitches/inning & 3.3 pitches/batter – wonderful numbers, besting both Will and David. One game Curtis threw 65 pitches over 4 innings…and said he could’ve pitched more.

Henry’s strategy of playing all the boys in key positions, particularly pitcher and catcher, freed up David and Will to play shortstop and other positions in the field…a wonderful luxury. But this wouldn’t have been possible had the whole team not came through. David’s contributions went much further than what showed on the box score…positioning teammates on defense, even noticing things before coaches and dads. He led the team in assists. On one memorable late-season play, a soft grounder was hit between the mound and second base…one of those where only an all out effort would get the out at first. Will and Curtis hesitated, but David charged in from his second-base position to make the fine play. At the plate Henry often called on him to bunt, and it seemed like more than any other Longhorn, the balls he hit unluckily found the opponent’s glove.

Will enjoys catching, and pitching makes him a better ballplayer (as much as it raises my blood pressure). But since he’s pitched and caught so much, those innings playing other positions this fall was a great, needed experience. Like Curtis, you know he loves to dive and get dirty…just look at my car. I was proud of the way he hustled and played hard, and his head’s up triple play will be remembered for a long time.

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