Prep Baseball: Salisbury's Tonseth going to West Point
By Mike London
SALISBURY — The world-shaking events that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, impacted some American youngsters the same way that listening to radio reports of Pearl Harbor affected their great-grandfathers on Dec. 7, 1941.
Salisbury senior Philip Tonseth remembers exactly where he was, remembers exactly how he felt as the details surrounding the terrorist attack unfolded.
That feeling is the main reason he’ll report to West Point in June to get started on his military career.
“Roy Dixon (now one of Salisbury’s elite golfers) had been to the dentist, and he came back to our class and told us a plane had just crashed into The Pentagon,” Tonseth said. “We were just third-graders, and I wasn’t even sure then where The Pentagon was. But we started finding out.”
Patriotic throngs of 18-year-old Americans rushed to enlist in the days after Pearl Harbor. As an 8-year-old, Tonseth didn’t have that option. He’s had to wait almost a decade, but he hasn’t forgotten the pledge he made to himself.
“That day back in third grade inspired me,” he said. “I knew that day that I wanted to do something to help.”
Tonseth has pushed himself for a decade to excel academically and athletically, and he’s stayed on course.
His father, Jim, works daily with disabled military veterans, and that’s strengthened his resolve to serve.
“I think it all just came together how it was meant to,” said Tonseth, who has been through the tough interview process and was accepted at West Point on July 31. “It’s a great education, and it’s a free education. It also means a guaranteed job.”
When he visited West Point, Tonseth’s host was West Rowan graduate Jon Crucitti, who has earned playing time with Army’s baseball and football teams as a freshman.
As he embarks on his military career, Tonseth will also extend his baseball career. He’ll be a member of Army’s baseball team, and the chances of his making a significant diamond contribution appear a lot better now than they did six months ago.
“It’s not like everybody can get in at West Point, and he’s not just a left-handed pitcher, he’s a left-handed pitcher who can throw strikes,” Salisbury coach Scott Maddox said. “He definitely has a chance.”
Tonseth has enjoyed a fabulous senior season as a two-way player for the Hornets.
He’s 4-2 on the mound, including a 13-strikeout effort against West Rowan, and he leads the Hornets in batting average (.439) and RBIs (31).
“He’s very calm on the mound, never blows up, and he’s just hit the heck out of the ball for us,” Maddox said.
Tonseth’s athletic career has been successful in a variety of arenas, even with an ongoing tug-of-war between running and baseball.
Tonseth’s discipline and a smooth, long stride has made him a gifted distance runner in cross country and track.
He’s the reigning county champion in cross country, and he placed sixth in the state 2A meet in the 3200 last spring and was ninth in the 1600.
Baseball and track are both spring sports. Tonseth’s priority is baseball, but he still helps out the track team whenever he can.
“Philip is a perfectionist, he expects a lot of himself, and he’s put a lot of pressure on himself because he’s always wanted to be the best runner he could possibly be and the best baseball player he could be,” Maddox said. “He’s been hard on himself.”
Tonseth has found some peace as a senior, focusing on baseball and excelling like never before, while learning to live with not winning every track meet.
He placed fourth in the recent Rowan County Meet in the 1600, running two seconds slower than his personal best. He was disappointed, but it was a heck of a showing competing against strong runners who concentrate on track every day.
Maddox admits he and Tonseth used to butt heads, but now Maddox looks at Tonseth as a team leader. He’s responded positively to increased responsibility.
“He’s such a bright kid, but he could be a headstrong kid, and we didn’t always see eye-to-eye,” Maddox said. “But now he’s the guy I go to if there’s an issue with the team, and I know he’ll address it. He takes baseball very seriously. He takes winning very seriously. He’s someone I can depend on.”
Tonseth entered this season thinking he might focus exclusively on pitching, but he swung the bat so well that Maddox moved him to the vital No. 3 spot in the lineup and left him there.
Tonseth has powered two grand slams and has accumulated more RBIs as a senior than any player Maddox has coached in his 11 seasons at Salisbury.
“My hitting really has come around,” Tonseth said. “You have to give that to the coaches and the drills they have us working on.”
Because of work, Tonseth’s father can’t make it to every ballgame. He missed his son’s tremendous mound performance at East Rowan — the Hornets lost 4-3 in extra innings — but he was there on Salisbury’s Senior Night. He watched as Philip rapped three triples in the first three innings and pitched a perfect game, one of the more amazing individual efforts in school history.
“Dad works 20 hours some days,” Tonseth said. “But he’s got one certain spot where he always stands (on a bench high above the bleachers, directly behind the plate) if he can make it, and I always look to see if he’s there.”
In a few months, Jim Tonseth will watch his son enter the gates at West Point.
“Dad’s done his part to help veterans for a long time,” Tonseth said. “Now I want to do mine. Four years of school, then five years of active duty. I’m thinking infantry. I want the front lines. I want to do this right.”