Many years ago when I was coaching little league, a good friend and I were discussing our love for the great game of baseball. We were marveling at the great metaphor for life that is sports and in particular America’s Pastime. I made the comment that baseball developes character and he looked at me and said “no Ray, it exposes character”. That thought has never left me and I have repeated it a thousand times since then as I have watched the character of men, boys and boys on their way to manhood be exposed.
Baseball, on an individual level, is about dedication, committment, work ethic, battling back from adversity and recovering from failure. On a team level, it is about trusting and believing in teammates and coaches. It is about sacrifice and believing in a process and it is about execution. It is about serendipity, karma, winning and losing and it is about never giving up or giving in! It is the most difficult of sports to play and if you doubt that consider that failing 70% of the time with a bat in your hands can lead to the Hall of Fame. It requires the highest degree of mental toughness an athlete can possess, for to perform requires a combination of focus and looseness that is most difficult to attain. Baseball can and has eaten many a good boy and many a good man alive!
Hmmmm, sounds a little like life.
This past weekend, while these guys known as the Boston Red Sox were recovering from the adversity of an abysmal start and getting back to even with a win over the Orioles last night, I was in the company of these guys who play and coach the Venice High School baseball team in Venice Florida.
The Venice Indians stayed loose during a rain delay before their State Championship baseball game, against Brandon High School, Sunday at Digital Domain Park in Port St. Lucie Florida. Using cups, they turned baseball bats into “rifles” and “field glasses”, baseballs into “grenades” as they took on their opponents with an “army exercise” while passing the time waiting to play.
Their quest was to win two more games to earn the title of Florida State Champions. And as I returned to my routine yesterday, I contemplated just what these “Road Warriors” had accomplished.
To start, they dedicated the season to the memory of a 45 year supporter of their program, who also happened to be a seven time Purple Heart recipient of WW II, Korea and Vietnam.
As any baseball season does, it had its up and downs as this team sought to find their legs and identify themselves. They did so and became a team that would be built around pitching. A half a dozen guys would make mound contributions but the bulk of it was handled by these guys,
Playing a tough schedule against a lot of very good baseball teams, the Venice Indians were prepared for the post season, and this is how that works in Florida prep baseball. The state is divided into “classes” based upon school size and those run from 1A to 8A, Venice is a 7A school, pretty big.
Each team plays in a district which in the case of the Indians had six different schools. At the end of the regular season each team engages in a district playoff round. In Venice’s case they earned the first seed in their district and earned a bye. They played the winner of a lower seeded matchup which they won 2-1 in 11 innings and advanced to the District Championship game. The importance of getting into that game is that the District finalists earned the right to participate in the Regional playoffs. However, to win the District Championship means to play at home. Well, the Indians fell short in that endeavor losing to the Mantee High Hurricanes and thus to make it to the Final Four they would have to do it on the road.
That set into motion the “Redemption Tour” of the Venice Indians who became the “Road Warriors”.
Stop one, a 200 mile bus ride to Florida’s east coast to face Martin County High School, 26-1 and ranked number one in 7A. They were disposed of 3-1 and it was back to the west coast and a rematch with the Hurricanes. This bus ride was but an hour but well worth the trip as Venice came home with a 7-4 win in stop two of their redemption tour. (Manatee had not only taken this years District crown but last years as well)
This set up stop three of the tour, an hour and a half bus ride to take on the Cowboys of Tampa Gaither High School. It was literally the Cowboys versus the Indians. Well last year the Cowboys ended the Indians season 1-0 in the first round of the regionals. This year it was the Indians who won 2-0 and with redemption accomplished it was on to stop four, the State Final Four and another 200 mile bus ride back to Florida’s east coast.
The semi-final matchup pitted the Indians against Atlantic Community High School of Delray Beach. The top of the first inning found the Eagles first five runners getting on base and when the sixth hitter in the line up stepped in Atlantic led 3-0 with runners on second and third and nobody out. The inning ended with the Eagles not scoring again and when Venice came to bat in their half of the first, they were down “only” 3-0. They scored a run to cut it to 3-1 but the Eagles kept a coming! They loaded the bases with one out in the second but did not score and in the bottom of the second frame, the Indians went to work. A couple of Eagle miscues and some timely hitting plated three Indian runs and with five innings to go, it was Venice up 4-3.
The Indians placed the game in the hands of “Coop” and that was a safe place for it to be, as the final score was 4-3 and the Indians were now just one game away from their second State Championship in five years.
The championship game found a sophomore on the mound for the Indians as they took on some more Eagles, this time from Brandon High School just south of Tampa.
“Elmo” was equal to the task, holding the Eagles at bay for four innings to garner the win.
And once again Venice found themselves down early, 1-0 after two! Undaunted they continued to battle and after four found themselves ahead 4-1. In the fifth, the ball was back in the hands of “Coop” who had thrown but 58 pitches the previous day and he snuffed out a rally with the help of a great defensive effort by his shortstop and third baseman, the brothers Guthrie, which ended the threat and virtually the season for Brandon High School.
The final out was a one hopper back to Coop and the celebration was on!
Nick and Tyson
This past weekend in Port St Lucie Florida, I have watched baseball expose the character of a special group of young men. I have watched them battle back from adversity, endure their individual and team tribulations. I have watched each player fill a role and contribute to an effort that will shape them and which they will carry for the rest of their lives.
Coach “K”, head coach Faulkner and the “Sunshine Boys” Coach “Cally” and “Sini”.
Led by a coaching staff whose hearts pump baseball through their veins and whose own character will accept nothing less than the best from each of them, they will move forward better equipped to handle what life will hold, what they do with it will be their’s for the telling!
Thanks men, the Colonel would be proud!
Game photos Dennis Maffezzoli
And so it is on this day in Fenway Park history, the day that the 2012 Red Sox can eclipse the .500 mark for the first time, May 22, 2012.