When it was over, the Shoreham-Wading River baseball players tipped their caps to their counterparts from Hauppauge. Sure, it was thoroughly deserved, but it was also part of the new protocol.
Welcome to high school baseball 2020, the condensed version. The sanitized version (thank you, COVID-19). The Town of Brookhaven Wood Bat Tournament.
After watching the school season do a going, going, gone thing, a victim of the pandemic, the Town of Brookhaven director of baseball, Sal Mignano, thought of a way to give high school players a chance to play this summer. The main impetus, he said, was to do something for the seniors.
A survey was put out to gauge interest and 45 teams said they were interested, said Mignano, the former longtime SWR coach. Thirty-five teams eventually competed, playing games on four fields in Moriches, two in Medford, one in Eastport and one in Yaphank.
How has the tournament, which started Wednesday and was to conclude Monday, fared?
“Beyond what I thought it could be,” Mignano said. “The feedback from the coaches has been phenomenal, from the parents it’s been phenomenal.”
It amounted to only four games for SWR, but those four games meant more to the Wildcats, especially their seniors, than one might guess. The tournament afforded those seniors the opportunity to play one more time with their teammates and represent their schools one last time.
“It was absolutely amazing, just seeing everyone for one last time, playing with them,” said SWR senior first baseman Pat Mahan.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the boys of summer became the boys of July 8-13, 2020.
“It’s been difficult for the entire world, I think,” SWR coach Kevin Willi said. “We saw that here. It’s something that we’re all passionate about, the baseball program and all the kids that are involved in the program and it was difficult emotionally to deal with. The hard part about it is the winter it was, ‘Let’s go! We got a good team. We’re working out hard.’ And three days into tryouts …”
Everything was halted.
In this oddest of years, this baseball had a little different look, concessions to social distancing. The home-plate umpire could have been called the pitcher’s-mound umpire because instead of crouching behind the catcher at home plate, he was positioned about 10 feet behind the pitcher and wearing a facemask. No more than three people were allowed in the dugout at a time, sending most players to the bleachers. Tips of the cap replaced postgame handshakes.
Sure, it was a little strange, but it was still baseball, and that was perhaps appreciated most by the seniors playing for the last time. It was, in a sense, an unofficial senior day, though certainly not what they would have expected several months ago.
“Honestly, I just wanted to have fun playing the game for one of my last times,” said SWR senior second baseman Jason Fioto.
An 8-0 trouncing by Hauppauge Sunday at Moriches Athletic Complex (a result that sends the 3-1 Eagles into Monday’s playoffs again Miller Place) left SWR with a 1-3 record, completing its tournament experience. The Wildcats suffered earlier losses to Eastport-South Manor, 2-0, and Bayport-Blue Point, 2-1, before recovering for a 4-2 victory over Islip Saturday.
Hauppauge came ready to play, and that included its pitcher, Pat Kelly, author of the four-hit shutout. The only SWR batters to get a hit off the righthander were Billy Steele, John Keane, Danny Kockenmeister and Liam Bowes.
Kelly was supported by a defense that turned two double plays and an offense that produced 11 hits. Joe Ferreri led the way with three hits and three runs batted in, two from a single he belted in a five-run fourth that saw two bunt singles. Two-hit games were turned in by Alex Oh, Ryan Levenberg and Anthony Russo.
The game marked a farewell for a SWR senior class that included T.J. Riess, Keane, Aiden Hutchins, Jared Sciarrino and Blake Osness.
“I feel really bad for the seniors that waited their turn for many years now and that maybe sat on the bench behind another senior last year,” Willi said. “This was their time to shine and I don’t feel like they got the opportunity to do that.”
Speaking of the crazy spring, Mahan said afterward: “It [stinks] because it’s something else we lost — our whole season and just coming out here right now, it’s amazing that we get to play one last time. All the seniors, I’ve been playing with them since North Shore Little League, and it’s just like hard seeing that all go away.”