Apr. 25, 2016
The Allure Of A Championship
Witnessing your first championship as a fan is one thing, but it's another thing entirely when you're a member of the press...
Written by Jake Elman
Honestly, I'm not even going to bother putting a corny intro or anything to describe Thursday night's 1-0 win for the Seminole Ridge Hawks over the Wellington Wolverines in the Region 8A-12 championship. Rather, I'm going to let Hawks manager Trent Pendergast take over for a second.
“It feels awesome. This is our first ever district championship in our eleventh year and I’m just speechless,” Pendergast . “At this level of the season, it’s just the smallest things change the whole game. Our fast guys have been working all year on hitting lefties the other way, we got a nice ground ball in the hole, and both our pitching and defense were phenomenal. These are the differences in the game and you’ll see in districts and regionals that one tiny little thing will make a big difference.”
“This feels amazing. We’ve worked so hard for it. This is the first time we’ve ever done it and we are so psyched,” senior Anthony Elias, who pitched six shutout innings in the win, added. “The bond on this team is incredible and we’re a real team. We work on everything together and we win together. We came in tonight like we always do: trying to get outs, get out of the inning, and try to get on the board as much as we can.”
First off, the hyperlink in Pendergast's quote is my official writeup for the game, so go and check that out (in addition to the pictures that will be up later this morning). This, however, is just my non-censored and non-edited take on the game I saw on Thursday night; I don't mean non-censored as in bad language or insulting anyone, but this is more of my editorial, honest style than the game writeup style I'm doing for the High School Baseball Network.
There's a couple things you have to remember when reading this post, especially if you're new to the program:
1. Though I covered high school sports for my alma mater, Fox Lane (NY), in my junior and senior year of high school both for The Examiner newspaper and for this site, I never got to see a championship. This is the first time I've seen kids win a championship up close since 2010, when I watched the Mount Kisco Little League title...
2. Of the sports teams that people really care about at Fox Lane (football, men's basketball, men's soccer, men's lacrosse, and baseball), only basketball, soccer, and baseball were ever consistently good during my four years in high school.
3. In the four years I attended Fox Lane, the basketball team -- and the team that people have always cared about -- only made the County Center (the final four of men's basketball in the area) once and that was in my freshman year.
With all of that in mind, just think about this for a second: this is the first time I get to see a high school championship up close -- and my first championship of any type as a member of the press. I'm sure I'll see it more and more, but to see nearly twenty high school baseball players and staff members jump over the dugout and form a dogpile on the pitcher's mound for the first time was absolutely amazing. "But Jake, it's a championship! Of course they're going to celebrate!" some of you may be thinking. Yes, that's true, but think about it like this for a second: this is only the program's eleventh year and even with more games to go, players were still holding back tears -- or, in the case of one or two, openly letting them fly.
I mean, take a look at this picture and tell me you can't taste the raw emotion that's happening on the field.
For as good itself as the game was -- though there were some controversial calls I briefly mention in the writuep -- the cherry on top for me was just watching the Hawks interact with one another after the victory. All that talk about true men not crying goes out the window as soon as they realize that, yes, they are indeed champions. I could have sworn I even saw a platonic, brothely kiss or two as the championship trophy was handed to them following Pendergast's postgame speech that included the most important part of all:
There would be no practice on Friday afternoon.
One of the best parts of this, honestly, was how open both coaches were after the game -- especially Wellington manager Scott Riddle, who had been nothing but kind and welcoming to me in the two games I did for the Wolverines this week. Hell, Riddle and his players had no problem with me hanging out near the dugout so I could take pictures and experience the game from the sideline -- which, for what it's worth, I do prefer rather than the press box if given the opportunity. There's just something about seeing the reactions of these players up close that makes the experience much more special, even if you have to avoid a baseball helmet getting thrown to the ground once or twice.
I know that the professional media gets a really bad rep from some sports figures (and, again, that's justified when you hear some of the questions being asked), but players from both teams didn't look at me as media; they looked at me as just someone wanting to tell their story, one that hopefully ended with them holding a championship trophy. How much of that comes from me being a year older than some of these kids is uncertain, but does it feel good to not get shit for wanting to tell a story? For sure.
And for me, this is a far cry than the treatment I got when I was doing high school sports in New York, especially when it comes to the coaches. Remember, I was covering a Fox Lane football team in high school where the coach, Steve Quinn, often blew me off and treated me like dirt beneath his shoe (something that pissed off my editors...well, the fact I couldn't get quotes from him. I don't think the treatment thing really bothered them or helped my case). if you're in the game for a long time, you get used to it, but when you're just starting to break in? It hurts, and that's why I give Riddle a lot of props not only as a coach, but as a man for talking with me after such a heartbreaking defeat.
And, to Riddle's credit, he at least spoke to me with a positive outlook rather than a woe-is-me way of talking.
“We’re moving on. That’s the bottom line, and we’re not dead yet,” Riddle said as we watched his players clean out the dugout. “We’ve got a chance to beat a great team up in Lakeland and then we’ve got to beat the winner of Seminole Ridge’s game. Look, the breaks are going to go our way or we’re going to get our butts kicked. Our defense has been fine all year, our pitching obviously is very, very good. But our problem is very obvious and that’s two-out hits. I’m not going to change anything; we work every day on hitting, we work every day on a good, aggressive approach. The kids are either going to do it or they won’t. We’re going to need help from the umps, help from the other team’s defense, and help from our guys.”
All the love goes to Riddle who, unlike Quinn, at least had the courage and character to speak to me after a loss. I admit, I may have gotten a good laugh to myself on my drive home about the fact that Riddle could speak with me after a championship game loss but Quinn -- who works as a guidance counselor meaning his job is to talk to people -- wouldn't dare talk to me after a 30 point loss in the opening game of the 2014 season. It may seem like I'm taking things too personally, but there's a reason that when the announcement came through that Quinn would not be returning for the 2015 season, one Fox Lane player told me that he was angry not because they were replacing Quinn, but because he wouldn't get to "play for the new coach and finally experience winning."
We have a word for that...WELP.
My justified issues with Steve Quinn aside, I'd be lying if I said I didn't have fun on Thursday night. Had I not been assigned this game or any other game, I likely would have just came to the game in plainclothes anyway not only because both teams had been courteous and respectful to me (and believe me, that does mean something), but also because I really wanted to see a title game between two really good baseball teams.
And the best part of all this? If both teams win their games next week, they're going to face off again.
But, that's reading a bit too far into things. For now, congrats to the Seminole Ridge Hawks on their win in the district 8A-12 championship game.
Has your high school team ever won a championship while you were there? Make sure to chime in on the conversation by leaving a comment or tweeting me, and if you want to properly join the Mix, give me a follow on Twitter at @
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