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Baseball: The debut of West Rowan Junior Legion

An unremarkable doubleheader for the record books

Bruce LaRue

For the Salisbury Post

On Saturday, May 18, 2013, about three dozen teenage boys, parents, grandparents, relatives, and friends gathered at West Rowan High School to take part in, or simply take in, what may well have been the most historically significant sporting event of that day in Rowan County.

After a gestation period comparable to that of an elephant, West Rowan celebrated the arrival of a bouncing baby Junior Legion baseball team. The blessed event came and went without a lot of fanfare, no half-page ads heralding what may have been the social event of the season for those of us who have had little social exposure outside of youth baseball for the last 10 years or so.

Parents were not be-bopping around exchanging high-fives, jubilant over the prospect of West Rowan baseball talent staying in West Rowan and not spread out over several different Legion teams based on the location of a player’s domicile. In fact, most seemed collectively introspective, trying to stay busy or making small talk. For the most part we settled into opening day mode as a default setting, uncertain as to the proper etiquette for participants in a county-shattering historic event.

The players seemed unaffected by the magnitude of the day and its long-term implications. Teenage boys are not mentally developed enough to be at the mercy of such complex emotional twists and turns. They are sharks, baseball playing sharks. Give them matching uniforms, a line-up card, and a 50-pound bag of sunflower seeds and they will take care of the rest.

The weather may have played a role in the relatively subdued mood of the parents. While the temperature was warm, the skies were overcast and gray with intermittent precipitation ranging from light mist to light showers bringing out a few umbrellas. It was hardly the sort of weather one would order to ring in a new era in West Rowan baseball.

While the event was important in the present as a historical first, and important as a springboard for future teams, I spent a good bit of time in the past, reminiscing. Most of the players on this fledgling team have played with or against each other for the last 10 to 12 years. In addition to Little League these young men have played a considerable amount of travel ball and on school teams. Of the thirty or so players who tried out, only 18 made the cut. The team is made up of four eighth -graders, eight ninth-graders, five tenth-graders, and one eleventh-grader. The assistant coaches, as well as most of the players, are a blend of components from two successful travel teams, the Longhorns and the Rangers.

My son played with a couple of his current teammates on Tee-ball teams when he was four years old and was one of the original members of the Rangers. Even as I reflect on the past I realize that this culmination is simply the latest chapter, the next step. We cannot know how far these players will go, but we will enjoy the ride as we work the gate, make popcorn and hot dogs, and keep garbage cans emptied.

The manager, Jesse Link, is as nice a person as you will ever meet, but he is very competitive. He and I were teammates on a church league softball team in recent years, and I got to know him a little during that time. He was a left-handed hitting crusher, I was the token old guy. He was supportive and encouraging, but expected 100 percent from me, regardless of my age. I was impressed by a calm demeanor which belies his intensity. He will do well and the boys will learn a lot from him.

Among the firsts, Bryan Ketchie recorded the team’s first base hit, and Brett Graham is the team’s first winning pitcher. In fact, “The Graham Reaper”, an eighth-grader, pitched a one-hit shutout. Oh, yeah, by the way, we lost the first game to Mooresville Post 537 by a score of 7-2. We won the second game of the twin bill 10-0 in five innings. It was, all in all, an unremarkable day, one for the record books.

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