Water fountains, short sleeves, and constant heat flow. One would think that on a wintry March weekend, Fords baseball would seek refuge indoors. Sub-forty temperatures and twenty mile-per-hour wind gusts are what forecasters describe as a day to read The New York Times by the fire, or at least practice indoors. This group of eager ball players could not disagree more.
“The cold is just a mindset,” Sixth Form second baseman Jacob Stacey said. “We love it out there.”
Coach Joe Martin responded to Stacey’s claim: “I hate the cold. The boys hate the cold, and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. That being said, it will never stop us.”
Despite being outside for the previous three days in temperatures dipping to thirty-one degrees, Head Coach Bob Castell ultimately decided to move practice indoors to 11 a.m. on Saturday.
“We value the time we have, and we have to set a good example for the younger guys.”shortstop Jonny Flieder ’21
But as I walked up the gymnasium stairs, met by an aromatic blend of chlorine and sweat, the entire team was already hard at work recreating the outdoor field, indoors. By 10:45, players and coaches had rolled out two astroturf mats, lowered batting cages, and measured pitching distances.
Sixth Form shortstop Jonny Flieder said, “We get here at least fifteen minutes early so that our practice can be the entire two hours. We value the time we have, and we have to set a good example for the younger guys.”
A nine-man lineup with eight starting upperclassmen provides both an easy way out—taking on a senior-first attitude—or an opportunity to unite. They chose the latter.
“We want the underclassmen to feel included,” Sixth Form pitcher Grayson Walker said. “We get them involved in warmups and drills.”
Fourth Former Ryan Getz has been promoted to starting right fielder. Very rarely does an underclassmen receive this role, but his blazing speed and down-to-earth work habits are undeniable.
“[The Sixth Formers] are my guys. We’re friends in school, and they’ve welcomed me to the point that I’m not nervous about my role,” Getz said.
Fifth Former Ryan Reed shared this sentiment. “I’ve been with the current seniors since freshman year. They make me feel like I’m one of them,” Reed said.
The Sixth Form not only sets an example through high-quality repetitions and vocal leadership, but also through Coronavirus protocols. Needless to say, many teams have struggled with the balance between safety and effective practice all year. Baseball has found the balance.
“I’ve been beyond impressed by the boys,” training intern Caitlin Hargrave said. Hargrave attends every practice, attending to hit-by-pitch wounds and bandaging turf burns. For the majority of practice where players are injury-free, she has closely witnessed how seriously the team has taken precautions. “In the outfield, they’ll take their masks off. In close quarters, it’s always up, and they even use their own equipment.”
Not only do the players abide by health and safety protocols, it has become second nature.
“There’s an understanding that we could be done at any point, and if wearing masks keeps us on the field, I’m wearing mine,” Sixth Form outfielder Ben Fosnocht said.
Players and coaches will do anything they can to avoid a repeat of last season. Long story short, in the span of twenty-four hours last year, everything disappeared.
“It came from nowhere. We had a game scheduled with Germantown Friends on a Friday last year. They cancelled, and with that, I was informed that we would have no more practices,” Coach Castell said.
In the fall, sports were heavily limited. Winter sports saw Inter-Ac competition only. Spring sports will shift into full throttle.
Barring a dramatic turn of events, this season will live up to the anticipation. As practice that Saturday transitioned from individual to intrasquad work, a tangible gratitude filled the room from players and coaches alike.
“We have twenty-seven games this season. Last year, we had one game,” Coach Castell said. “I’m excited. The kids are excited. The parents are excited.”
“We’ve been waiting so long for this,” Sixth Form catcher Eric Genther said.
“They have no fear of anything.”pitching Coach Michael Palumbo
Some players are anxious to take the field on game day, others to feel the camaraderie; Sixth Former Chris Griggs is ready to resume his pregame ritual.
“I eat two Rice Krispies on the way down to the field. It gets me in the right mindset,” Griggs said.
Fords baseball culture is defined by cold Saturday morning practices, unity amongst all classes, and the lighthearted spirit from players like Griggs. But a decision by one former player— notably selected to the 2019 first team all Inter-Ac—will define this season: Luke Kania ’19 has returned to coach.
“I came back for the closeness, the desire to help each other improve. I helped build this culture, and there’s nothing I want more than to help continue it,” Kania said.
Players, former players, and coaches seek a state championship, and they are well-positioned to compete.
“They’re united, and they have no fear of anything,” pitching Coach Michael Palumbo said.