Prep baseball: Salisbury enjoys trip to Florida
By Mike London
SALISBURY — Salisbury junior Brian Bauk watched the 1950 movie release, the “Jackie Robinson Story,” on television during the Hornets’ Easter trip to Florida and couldn’t believe his eyes.
“I’m like, ‘Hey, we saw that today — and that and that,” Bauk said. “That stuff happened right here.”
Early parts of Robinson’s story as a Montreal Royal, a Brooklyn Dodgers farm club, did indeed unfold in Sanford, Fla., in the same city block where the Hornets played four baseball games over the Easter break.
Signed in October of 1945, Robinson arrived at the Dodgers’ Spring Training home in Sanford on March 4, 1946. After the second day of practice, black pioneers Robinson and Johnny Wright essentially received a death threat from 100 or so locals.
GM Branch Rickey responded by moving all the Dodgers to Daytona Beach.
Eyewitnesses reported that when the Dodgers returned to Sanford’s ballfield for a game on March 7, Robinson got a hit in the first inning, stole second, slid home with a run and promptly was met at the plate by a police offer, who ordered him to leave the field.
History tells us things got saner after that. Robinson led Montreal to a pennant in 1946 and was Rookie of the Year in the National League in 1947.
Robinson’s debut in major league baseball on April 15, 1947, is now honored each year with everyone in uniform — white, black, Asian and Hispanic — wearing his No. 42.
Seeing all those 42s on their ESPN screen meant more to all the Hornets after their trip to Sanford.
Sanford, Fla, made a return to the news with the late February shooting of 17-year-old black youth Trayvon Martin, a tragedy that triggered a storm of outrage, commentary and media coverage.
Salisbury coach Scott Maddox wasn’t certain what he was taking his team into. The Hornets were staying in Orlando, 20 miles south of Sanford, but the games would be played at Sanford Memorial Stadium.
The coach was relieved by what he saw on the bus rides to the stadium.
“I think what we actually saw and what we saw every night on TV were two different things,” Maddox said. “On TV, you were seeing things sharply divided along racial lines, but that’s not what we saw. At the McDonald’s, blacks and whites were eating together. On the playgrounds, blacks and whites were playing basketball together.”
An appearance by neo-Nazis in Sanford gave Maddox a teaching opportunity to educate team members — white and black — who had never heard of neo-Nazis and had no idea what they stood for.
Also out of the ordinary for standard baseball, police helicopters whirred overhead.
“That was a little creepy,” Bauk said. “Not right over the stadium, but we could see them from the stadium.”
When it was clear there would be no Cliff Peeler tournament this year, the Hornets searched for a place to play.
Their first choice was the Cal Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, S.C. There wasn’t an opening, but Maddox is sure the Ripken people referred the Hornets to the Florida folks. Not long after being turned down at Myrtle Beach, Maddox got an e-mail from Rich Hoffman, one of Florida’s prominent prep coaches, inviting the Hornets to come down to Sanford.
Maddox said the total bill for the trip will be $14,000.
Hornets paid $200 apiece, and Maddox said expenses were further defrayed through a yard sale, a Jack Moore barbecue, an Outback fundraiser and donations from alumni and the community.
Orlando had its perks.
“We got to see an alligator in the pond behind our house,” outfielder Scott Van der Poel reported enthusiastically.
The Hornets got to visit Disneyworld twice — some of them for the first time — but it took them more than an hour to make the 20-mile ride from their Orlando base to the baseball stadium in Sanford.
“The tough part was three of our four games were at 10 a.m.,” Maddox said. “That meant getting up at 6, and I’m not sure how much sleep guys got. They weren’t misbehaving, but any time you put high school kids together at night, there’s more talking than sleeping.”
Salisbury went 0-4, losing to Maryland’s Bishop McNamara and to Florida’s University, St. Francis and Trinity.
“The pitching was good, especially the first day,” Van der Poel said. “But it was still a fun experience to play teams from all around.”
Bauk, a junior who will be a Division I player, made the all-tournament team and pitched brilliantly.
“We made some great plays down there,” Bauk said. “But there were games where we made so many errors we didn’t give ourselves a chance.”
Salisbury also got solid mound work from Parker McKeithan, Ryan Jones and Scott Freidrich, but the Hornets didn’t hit much.
“We didn’t play our best, but in two games we really competed,” Maddox said. “We were the only public school, and we played against some very good talent. Every team could swing it. Every team had a smooth shortstop.”
Even going 0-4, the Hornets had some fun. A rubber snake was runner-up to Bauk as far as the trip’s heroes.
“You know, the ol’ rubber snake in the hot tub trick, and the rubber snake in the door of the bus,” Maddox said with a grin.
Boys will be boys.
Now the Hornets (3-15) have to get back to work. They have three very winnable games in the CCC this week.
Take care of those, and they’re headed to the playoffs.